What makes young talent stand out? Retail Week finds out.

John roberts stamp

John roberts stamp

Retail is known for being the biggest private sector employer – and it’s one of the only sectors where chief executives can start off stacking shelves.

That’s all very well, but how in an industry which employs nearly three million people do you spot the next Terry Leahy or Paula Nickolds?

Talent and hard work are a given but, what else do you need to be on the look-out for?

Energy and adaptability

Morrisons chairman Andy Higginson believes that while personality is important, it is how an individual fits themselves into a workplace that is crucial.

“You’ve got to find that nice mix of personal qualities and a degree of hard-nosed realism”

Andy Higginson, Morrisons

“It’s a combination of people’s natural personality and how they adapt it to the workplace,” he says. “Ultimately it’s about results. You’ve got to find that nice mix of personal qualities and a degree of hard-nosed realism.”

Former B&Q and New Look chief executive Jim Hodkinson, who started as a shop worker himself, picks out two key qualities that he looks for when fostering junior talent.

“Understanding the strategic direction of the business as well as knowing their day-to-day job is important. But the person has also got to have a lot of energy”

Jim Hodkinson, New Look

“Understanding the strategic direction of the business as well as knowing their day-to-day job is important,” he says. “But the person has also got to have a lot of energy.

“From my point of view it’s pretty simple really. They have to have the desire and the energy to get on. Those sorts of people bring a lot to a business. They are not there to sit on the sidelines.”

To junior members of staff, he says: “Be ambitious and go for it and you make sure what you’re doing is recognised and is different from the normal, mundane way people do things.

“I used to run graduate recruitment for Kingfisher and when I was addressing the new intake of grads, I told them not to expect me or Kingfisher to manage their careers.

“Of course we are here to help facilitate that, but you have to manage your own career and do what’s necessary.

“You can’t sit around wondering why you haven’t got a promotion, you have to drive yourself forward. That’s not the kind of person you want in your organisation.”

A line manager’s role

While attracting top talent to your organisation is crucial, equally as important is making sure that junior staff with potential are visible.

The role of the line manager cannot be underestimated here. In vast organisations it it is crucial that individuals’ immediate superiors are on the look-out for talent.

“The key to a lot of [career progression] is based on the capability of line management”

Simmone Haywood, M&S

“The key to a lot of [career progression] is based on the capability of line management,” says M&S head of talent Simmone Haywood. “It’s key, but it is also one of our biggest challenges.

“Developing the skills of the line manager to identify and grow talent at those early stages, and then back and sponsor that talent to progress into more senior roles, is essential.”

Boots employs 60,000 people in the UK and Ireland and many of its top team have been promoted internally. “Most of the people in our business have benefited from being spotted by someone,” says HR director Nathan Clements.

That includes Walgreens Boots Alliance co-chief operating officer Alex Gourlay, formerly chief executive of Boots, who joined the retailer as a Saturday boy more than 40 years ago.

Clements says that “spotting successors and future leadership” is ingrained in Boots and that leaders are “out in the business, walking the shop floors and driving performance through people” to ensure this continues.

Nurturing talent

Spotting and nurturing that talent is crucial at AO.com too.

“We know that any success we experience stems entirely from our people loving what they do and striving to be the best they can be”

John Roberts, AO

“We know that any success we experience stems entirely from our people loving what they do and striving to be the best they can be,” says founder and our guest editor John Roberts.

“This is why we put a huge emphasis on developing our people internally. I am proud to say that a number of our group executive team have been with the company from early on in their careers.”

Among their number is brand and people director Andrew Kirkcaldy, who began his AO career as a web analytics executive in 2008.

“Within 20 minutes [of starting his new job] his role grew, and eight months later he’d taken charge of the whole marketing team,” Roberts adds.

“The retail industry is a great example of how the right work ethic and application can get you all the way from the shop floor to sitting at the board table.”

Celebrate the rising stars in your business and enter the Retail Week Rising Stars Awards in association with Theo Paphitis Retail Group here.

Final deadline for applications is May 26.