With a keen eye for data and background in publishing the new Amazon UK managing director seems the perfect fit for the online giant.
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Christopher North may have taken the reins of Amazon UK under difficult circumstances, but those that know him say he has long been touted as the natural successor as UK head of the online giant.
The new UK managing director took over at the beginning of the year, when Brian McBride stood down for health reasons. Since then, North’s feet have hardly touched the ground as the etailer completed the takeover of DVD rental firm Lovefilm last week, and was due to announce fourth-quarter results as Retail Week went to press.
One retail consultant, who counts North as a friend, said he is the “perfect candidate” for the top job. In his previous role as vice-president for media, he was often used as a spokesman
for the UK business. He also comes armed with an economics degree from Harvard University, and a CV peppered with senior executive roles at top publishers HarperCollins and Phaidon, which plays to Amazon’s heartland of books.
“You couldn’t design a better managing director for Amazon,” says the consultant. “Not only has he got the publishing background and the maths degree, he’s also a very charming man. He’s built for the role.”
An erudite character, North likes the finer things in life - a wine connoisseur, lover of fine art, and prior to joining Amazon he was managing director of uber-stylish publisher Phaidon, which specialises in art, architecture and design books.
He is also viewed as one of the most outgoing characters in the traditionally low-profile world of Amazon, says the consultant, and seen as a popular choice internally for the promotion.
North is said to be fiercely analytical, constantly weighing up the opportunities and threats for the business. This stems from his background, as before he entered the world of publishing, he started his career as a management consultant with media and entertainment practice Booz & Company.
His mathematical prowess is plain to see, according to former Amazon director of development Peter Fitzgerald, now retail industry leader at Google, who marvels at North’s skill at scrutinising masses of data, which he says is a necessity at a data-centric business like Amazon.
“He is one of the most gifted people I have met from an analytical perspective. He can digest and understand a huge amount of data, and always asks good, challenging questions,” says Fitzgerald.
The native New Yorker moved to Slough in 2006 to join Amazon, starting as head of books, before taking up the role of vice-president of media a year later. His two roles have given him the experience of the etailer’s core business including books, music and DVDs.
The core business has now been bolstered by the Lovefilm acquisition. The buy was a “no brainer” according to the consultant, who said Amazon was the perfect company to manage Lovefilm’s transition into digital downloads. As well as building on its core business, the source thinks North will expand Amazon’s offering.
Fashion has been one of Amazon’s big growth target areas in recent years with founder Jeff Bezos claiming the category was receiving a lot of attention from the online giant. Although not known for its dominance in fashion in the UK, the marketplace started selling clothes here in 2008 and launched Javari, a standalone footwear and handbag site, in 2009. In the US, Amazon snapped up footwear site Zappos in 2009 for £561.1m - a clear sign of its ambition in the fashion market.
The consultant said: “North could be the man who could truly crack Amazon’s venture into fashion.”
Whether it’s fashion or films, North has plenty of growth to go for. And no doubt every opportunity is being carefully analysed already.
Amazon UK vice-president of media; head of books
Phaidon Press global managing director
HarperCollins Canada chief operating officer
Booz & Company management consultant