The glass ceiling has been broken. A woman has the top job in the most influential organisation in our world.
A cultural beacon from which many around the globe take their lead and benchmark their progress.
Alas, not Hillary Clinton. I am of course talking about Paula Nickolds’ appointment as managing director of John Lewis.
In an era when expertise and experience – certainly within the sphere of politics – have been portrayed as a liability, not an asset, John Lewis has appointed someone who started on the shop floor 22 years ago.
“At the heart of John Lewis’s enduring success has been the feeling that the business understands and cares about its customers”
As the political tectonic plates shift and hard-fought gains in social equality across race, gender and sexuality – many of which we’ve championed at Ann Summers – appear under threat, it’s reassuring that an influential business such as John Lewis has made this appointment.
It highlights its core values and those shared by us as an industry and a nation: hard work, loyalty, meritocracy, to name just a few. It also speaks volumes to its customers.
At the heart of John Lewis’s enduring success has been the feeling that the business understands and cares about its customers.
Promoting a colleague who has worked in the business for more than two decades says to them that their favourite shop is being run by one of their own.
In an age when corporate transparency is as important as brand advertising in the communication mix, this is not to be underestimated.
Sphere of influence
On a separate but connected point, I must congratulate Sainsbury’s for its charming new Christmas campaign.
There’s real warmth to the story and it’s great to see a modern, inclusive, multi-cultural Britain celebrated in the ad.
The connection is that as individual retailers and as an industry that employs more people than any other, we are powerful influencers.
We have the opportunity to set the right example – as expressed through everything from our advertising to our HR polices – based on core values and a positive tone of voice: something that our politicians and media have rarely done since the EU referendum.
“There’s no doubt that one of the reasons Donald Trump won the US election is people like the idea of having a businessman in charge: someone who’s made a success of their life could make a success of theirs”
There’s no doubt that one of the reasons Donald Trump won the US election is people like the idea of having a businessman in charge: someone who’s made a success of their life could make a success of theirs.
I dare say that if the senior management teams at our favourite retailers – Amazon, John Lewis, M&S, Asos, Apple – stood together for Parliament as The Retail Party, they’d do very well at the polling booths.
Something that I suspect Paula’s predecessor as John Lewis boss is banking on too.
It’s difficult to look beyond the appalling rhetoric and vitriol of the US election, but it is clear that voters did just that and elected a man who, for all his faults, spoke like them and sounded like he was on their side.
Whether you’re in politics or in retail, if you want people’s trust, loyalty and custom, you need to make it obvious, in words and action, that you care deeply about your customer.
- Jacqueline Gold is chief executive of Ann Summers