Notes from a headhunter's desk

Great leadership is the key to success

In a fast-changing world leading from the front has its rewards

HMV, Comet, Blockbuster - the demise of these well-known names over the last few months has lent an air of doom and gloom to the high street.

Yet at the same time, there are plenty of brands doing well. At the budget end, Poundland is estimated to have seen a 20 percent rise in sales over Christmas, Aldi experienced sales growth of more than 30 percent, Lidl's market share hit a new high and Primark delivered a 25 percent rise in sales for the three months to 5 January.

Holding their own in the middle ground are John Lewis, House of Fraser and Debenhams, all of whom reported strong Christmas sales, while luxury brands such as Burberry and Jaguar Land Rover are forging ahead with impressive sales and expansion plans.

Why are some companies getting it so right, and others getting it so wrong? I believe it is down to great leadership.

Staying in touch with your market, keeping the checks and balances in place to enable you to adapt quickly to change and maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of innovation are the mark of those who are doing it right.

Knowing your customers is essential. Rather than having an online presence, Primark’s success came off the back of a good performance at existing stores, focusing on price competitiveness, keeping up with fashion trends and expanding its retail space.

Argos embraced technology and has reported healthy sales growth thanks to its successful move to click-and-collect online ordering, some 42 percent of its business is now done online and orders placed online via mobiles and tablets have more than doubled.
Click-and-collect sales now represent one-third of John Lewis' online sales and over 8 percent of total sales, further evidence of its ability to change with the times.

In the aviation industry, while regional carrier Flybe has announced plans to cut jobs, rival airlines Ryanair and easyJet have achieved success by adapting to changing markets. Ryanair recently increased its profit forecast for the full year after a better-than-expected performance in the last three months of 2012, and easyJet is reporting increased numbers of passengers and saw total revenue grow 9.2 percent to £833 million for the quarter ended 31 December.

Stark contrasts also exist in the technology market. Robust demand for Samsung’s Galaxy models has seen the company record a 76 percent jump in profits for the last three months of 2012.

Apple is also doing well, its phone shipments grew by 46 percent in 2012, but Nokia saw smartphone sales down 55 percent over the year as a whole, although they did rise 26 percent in the last quarter. Meanwhile BlackBerry has pinned its hopes of recovery on its new BlackBerry 10, launched in the UK at the end of January.

What lessons can we learn from these very different stories?

The IMF has already warned of a weakening global economic recovery and over the next two years says growth is likely to be at a slower rate than previously forecast.

What we can’t afford to do, is use that as an excuse not to move forward. Strong CFOs have the opportunity to deliver change and the success that comes along with it.

As the companies listed above demonstrate, the opportunities are out there and it’s time to grab them with both hands.

And while at one time the budget brands probably wouldn’t have figured particularly highly on a top CFO’s radar, today these are the ones setting the bar higher than ever for others to follow. Take note if you are making plans for a move this year, now is not the time to be a brand snob.
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Tags: blackberry, easyjet, house of fraser, jaguar land rover, john lewis, lidl, poundland, primark

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Mark Craddock specialises in CFO and senior finance appointments at Eton Bridge Partners and works with listed and private businesses within commerce and industry.

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