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Karen O'Rourke, UK and Ireland sales manager at H&M

Travelling the country allows H&M’s UK and Ireland sales manager to see the bigger picture while staying close to the shop floor

Karen O’Rourke

Karen O’Rourke

What does your typical week involve?

Each week begins with a review of the previous week’s sales. Mondays are usually jam-packed with meetings, answering emails and liaising with the visual, marketing, merchandising and area teams. I also talk to the area managers about the previous week and look ahead at the focus for the coming week. We discuss our stores, how they look and the customer shopping experience. This will include all aspects from product to styling to point of sale. Our stores have to excite our customers and have clarity, especially in the way we present the collections.

I like to be out in the stores as much as possible. Tuesdays to Thursdays usually involve travelling throughout the UK and Ireland to see the stores and meet our teams. We also have some amazingly talented colleagues in the stores, so part of the role is to identify future talent to help our business grow. Fridays are usually back in the London office to set the objectives for the following week with the sales team.

How do you feel your role is changing as the industry evolves?

As the way people shop evolves, we have to make sure we are offering the customer the best choice regardless of sales channel, so I will liaise with the online team regularly to see how our customers are shopping online.

The UK has one of the most competitive high streets globally, and this is no different when it comes to online shopping. Adapting to change is something that comes with any role at H&M.

What are the three defining moments of your career?

I have enjoyed all my roles at H&M, but the defining moments would start with becoming area visual manager in 2008. This was my first role within an area team. I was based in Birmingham and covered the Midlands region. Having started my career at the H&M store in the Merry Hill shopping centre near Dudley, I only had experience with the area team when they came to visit us in-store. When I became part of that team I realised it was extremely rewarding, but also lots of hard work. Being based in London, you have to learn how to lead from a distance and follow up without being physically present every day.

I absolutely loved the role of area manager, which I started in 2011. I jumped at the chance of relocating to Glasgow, where I looked after 25 stores as area manager for Scotland. In this role I worked closely with the store teams in developing the store look, as well as managing the customer experience. As an area manager, you lead an area team but also a team of store managers. The most rewarding part of this role was seeing my team progress to different functions, areas or stores.

When our country manager, Carlos Duarte, asked me if I would like to become UK and Ireland sales manager in 2013, I was so happy. It was something I believe encompassed all the aspects I love about retail: marketing, visual, merchandising and our stores. It is a huge responsibility, but something I really enjoy as the challenge of changing consumer shopping behaviour means we always have to be one step ahead.

Who in the industry do you aspire to emulate?

Sophia Amoruso, founder and owner of US young women’s fashion etailer Nasty Gal, which sells clothing, shoes and accessories. I think she is an extremely driven woman. She launched her business in 2006 at the age of just 22. I’m always drawn to driven individuals who go out and get what they want.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Take every opportunity that comes your way and don’t worry so much about what other people think or the time it takes you to achieve it. I’ve always been competitive and driven and often felt I should have done more with my career, but that’s just me always pushing myself. In hindsight, I see that I needed to experience what I have in order to be ready to move onto the next step.

What are the key skills needed to keep progressing up the career ladder?

Flexibility, adaptability and courage. Throughout my career, someone has always believed in me and I’ve been lucky to have been given the opportunities I have, but you need courage to take the next step and also to be open to whatever comes along. I also think you need to remain humble in your approach and not take yourself too seriously.

How do you see your career progressing?

I really enjoy being a UK and Ireland sales manager, because I can affect the bigger picture while still remaining close to the stores. Fashion retail is and always has been my biggest passion, so whatever role comes next it would still need to be connected to the stores in some way.

If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?

I studied fashion and textiles at university and have always loved print, so perhaps a print designer. I like the idea of creating a design and then seeing people wearing it.

CV

2013 Sales manager, UK & Ireland, H&M

2011 Area manager, Scotland, H&M

2008 Area visual manager, Midlands H&M

2007 Visual manager, Nottingham H&M

2004 Assistant store manager, Birmingham, H&M

2002 Department manager, Birmingham, H&M

2000 Visual merchandiser, H&M

1999 BA (Hons) Fashion & Textiles, University of Nottingham

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