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Editor's Comment: Surprise as retailers cast the net wide for talent

The past few weeks have brought some surprising appointments at some of the largest UK fashion retailers – not least the news last week that Goodwood boss Alex Williamson will take the reins at House of Fraser.

While Williamson’s background at the Goodwood estate, home to the Festival of Speed, could be leveraged to give HoF an experiential edge, there is a stark absence of retail roles on his CV. A strong general business leader he may be, but is that what House of Fraser needs to survive in the highly competitive world of retail? Running a complex department store group requires a sound understanding of product, store operations and digital channels. He will have a lot to learn. 

Nevertheless, HoF chairman Frank Slevin argues that “transformation isn’t delivered by more of the same” and it will certainly be interesting to see how Williamson transforms the in-store experience. 

The surprise appointment came a week after news that Halfords CEO Jill McDonald will join Marks & Spencer as managing director of clothing, home and beauty – an announcement that also raised eyebrows.

The world of retail employment and the skills required within those roles are changing

M&S fashion has been struggling for many years and the obvious move would be to hire a strong product person to revitalise that offer. Like Williamson, McDonald brings strong skills to the table, but I imagine M&S clothing and beauty director Jo Jenkins now has a big job on her hands, as one of the most senior people in the business with product experience.

What has become clear is that the world of retail employment and the skills required within those roles are changing. Retailers are increasingly looking outside the industry to bring in new skills, particularly in digital. It’s something we discussed at the Drapers Next Generation event last week, where nearly 300 first-, second- and third-jobbers gathered to hear from influential individuals in the fashion industry.

This event always leaves me feeling extremely positive about the industry’s future leaders. These tremendously smart individuals challenged our speakers and soaked up the advice on how to progress their careers. Speakers urged the audience to take control of their own destiny, trust their own instincts, and not to be scared of making mistake. One of my favourite quotes of the day has to be from Peter Williams, chief executive of Jack Wills, who said: “Have a bad day or an excellent day – just don’t ever be average.”


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