Strong family values, openness and a clear commitment to staff development have earned M&Co a reputation as one of the best companies to work for in the UK.
To make it on to The Sunday Times’ list of the 30 Best Big Companies to Work For in the UK is a big deal. The survey asks staff at more than 300 businesses to rate their employer across several categories, including leadership, team working, well-being and its willingness to give something back to society. All details submitted by employees are completely confidential and sent directly to The Sunday Times Best Companies website. The top-rated employers – among them industry leaders such as McDonald’s, Halfords, Admiral and EE – invest heavily in staff development.
Only one fashion retailer made it on to the list this year: M&Co. Born out of the McGeoch family’s chain of pawnbroking showrooms, which were converted into clothing stores in the late 1960s, today M&Co has more than 270 UK stores and concessions, another 20 internationally, an operations support centre on the outskirts of Glasgow and a London buying office. The survey was sent to its 3,000-plus-strong workforce, who gave it a 72% positive score overall. As a result, it is now ranked the 14th best big company to work for in the UK – not just in retail, but across all industries.
M&Co chief executive Andy McGeoch says the business carries the values instilled in it by his father, Iain, who is still involved as a non-executive director – namely being “extremely hard-working”, “honest” and “caring about people as well as being commercial”.
He argues that M&Co is a good size – neither too small nor a huge corporate entity where workers become just a number: “You can make a difference here – you’re not just swallowed up in a big machine.”
M&Co’s buying director, Sue Swannie, who returned to the company in 2015 after stints at Asda, Peacocks, Monsoon and Shop Direct, agrees: “In much bigger, corporate organisations you get a very top-line view – you don’t always get under the skin of things. At M&Co we roll up our sleeves and muck in. We develop some very good buyers because they have a fuller understanding of the whole product development process.”
The company strives to be open. Last year, Andy introduced Facebook at Work, which connects the whole business on the social networking platform and allows staff to use its Messenger application. Staff can stay up-to-date with what’s going on in the business via their news feed.
You can make a difference here – you’re not just swallowed up in a big machine
Andy McGeoch, chief executive, M&Co
“Because of the geographical spread of our stores, sometimes a store manager turning a key in Stornoway or Penzance thinks they’re the only ones coming up against certain challenges,” explains McGeoch. “Facebook at Work lets them connect with others, feedback any issues and celebrate their successes.”
M&Co has a proud history of growing its own future managers and leaders. Last year a programme called Step Up was introduced to help sales advisers and other store staff to move to the next level of management. Of the 19 people who completed the programme last year, 16 have already been promoted. Step Up has been expanded this year to accommodate around 60 employees.
The firm’s social conscience was also recognised by staff taking the survey. In addition to raising more than £2.6m for Cancer Research UK, M&Co supports Children’s Hope, a charity that was set up by one of the company’s long-term suppliers in Bangladesh. M&Co supports more than 30 slum children through full-time education. It also provides micro-bank funding to help their parents and families become self-sufficient and move out of the slums. Since it started more than 15 years ago, the charity has helped more than 500 children who would not otherwise have completed their education beyond primary school to qualify as doctors, teachers and accountants.
“There’s a sense of giving back,” says McGeoch. “People feel it’s important that we’re a force for good, as well as a commercial entity.”