Now in its 80th year, the Oxford Summer School has a remarkable track record for developing tomorrow’s retail leaders

What is it?

This week 212 junior retail managers from 62 companies gathered at Oxford University’s Keble College for one of the most well-established events in the retail calendar.

The week-long summer school helps develop the key skills up-and-coming retail managers will need to make the next step in their careers.

Among the retail industry supporters are John Lewis, Harrods, B&Q, House of Fraser and Oasis. John Lewis has sent delegates every year since 1923 and more than 14,000 retailers have attended during the school’s history.

Who runs it?

The event is organised by the British Shops and Stores Association, with a dedicated committee that has been chaired for the past 20 years by former Allders managing director Stan Kaufman.

Kaufman steps down this year to be replaced by Jessops retail director Dominic Prendergast.

What do the delegates do?

The teams are divided into 25 small teams for the week, working on projects under the leadership of more experienced retailers.

During the week the delegates work on a project to devise a new retail chain, looking at all aspects of running a business from financing to branding and merchandising.

A series of lectures and tutorials from key experts help inform their decisions, and then their projects are assessed and feedback given at the end of the week.

They also hear speeches from retail leaders, this year including John Lewis Partnership chairman Charlie Mayfield and Asos chief executive Nick Robertson.

Is it hard work?

The course is designed to be very intensive, but there is a programme of social activities through the week, gearing up to a black tie ball in the college’s stunning quad.

Does it work?

Many graduates of the summer school have gone on to have successful careers at the highest level in retail, among them Sir Richard Greenbury, Belinda Earl and Kim Winser – and employers say their staff come back engaged, motivated and with more rounded skills.

“The delegates are the most alert, attentive and questioning audience I have ever presented to,” says former Selfridges chief executive Peter Williams. “As a delegate it is probably your first opportunity to learn about a retail business in the round. The interaction with your contemporaries from other retailers provides a network you can use for the rest of your career.”