In the past fortnight, we’ve seen several high-profile departures from big fashion businesses.
Last week, it was “knickers queen” Janie Schaffer from Marks & Spencer, while this week, Malcolm Collins’ exit from New Look shocked the industry and many were surprised to see Asos’s international director Jon Kamaluddin leave after nine years at the etailer.
People moves can have a huge impact on a business and these three individuals got me thinking about the different effects their departures have had and will have on the companies they’ve left. I thought the difference was particularly striking between Schaffer and Collins.
When news broke last week that Schaffer had left M&S, the national press went crazy. M&S’s ongoing troubles - poor womenswear sales and a string of staff departures - have been perfect media fodder and this was another headline-grabbing blow for the retailer. Collins’ departure, by contrast, has had little media effect so far.
Not that this is surprising. It’s crystal clear to a good national journalist which will make the better story. But media attention aside, I think Collins’ departure is far more important. It’s partly M&S’s fault that Schaffer’s exit attracted such attention. When she joined as director of lingerie and beauty from Victoria’s Secret, M&S couldn’t stop talking about it. It was obviously proud of such a cool appointment, but I think the appointment had more style than substance. M&S’s lingerie business is pretty solid - it has an impressive 20% share of the market and its Rosie Huntington-Whiteley line is lovely. Admittedly, when I first covered the lingerie market as a reporter seven years ago, its share was more like 26%, but that’s less down to poor product and more a result of improved lingerie ranges from multiples’ own labels and international competition.
So the fact that Schaffer left after just three months will have little impact on a department that was relatively healthy anyway. The impact will be predominantly on staff morale. For Collins, on the other hand, his exit will leave a much bigger hole. After 16 years at New Look, he has been credited - and rightly so - for making New Look the high street footwear giant it is today. Coincidentally, the retailer took home the Best Footwear Offer in a Fashion Multiple award at the Drapers Footwear & Accessories Awards this week. When we last interviewed him for Drapers in 2010, his leadership had led New Look to become number one in the women’s footwear market by volume.
Collins has also been called a “father figure” by a former colleague. Clearly, he will be missed for both his product and sourcing expertise, and management skills.
But what every great leader also does is pass on his knowledge. If Collins is as good as his record suggests, then the team at New Look will have learnt from the best. Now the business needs a leader to step up and fill - ahem - some pretty large shoes.