Jon Rudoe has been appointed as Shop Direct’s new retail and technology director. What will the grocery guru bring to the etailer?

Harvard University graduate Rudoe may have cut his teeth at some of the UK’s biggest grocery businesses, but his working life did not start in the world of retail.

Like his new boss Alex Baldock, Rudoe began his career at management consultancy Bain in 2000.

He then enjoyed a stint at venture capital group Smedvig Capital, before returning to Massachusetts to study for an MBA at Harvard Business School. 

It was only upon graduating in 2006 that he turned his hand to the grocery sector.

Starting fresh in grocery

Rudoe joined Ocado as head of marketing and trading in 2006, with his time at the etailer culminating as head of retail and customer, a wide-ranging role that saw him assume responsibility for trading, marketing, user experience, data science and supply chain.

After five years at the online grocer, Rudoe moved on to Sainsbury’s, where he was initially given the director of online role.

Having served just under two years in that position, Rudoe’s remit was broadened to inlcude digital and cross channel, and he was eventually promoted to digital and technology director in May 2014.

It was such diverse experience across different aspects of the two grocery retailers, combined with a keen focus on technology, that made Rudoe the stand-out candidate for Shop Direct in their search to fill the newly created position.

’An ideal leader’

Baldock tells Retail Week: “Jon is the kind of leader, and has the experience, we want at Shop Direct.

“He stands out for his deep digital and technology know-how, as well as marketing and trading expertise.”

The pure play business has made a number of senior hires this year, poaching Groupon’s Sasha Berson as group strategy and customer director and wooing Pets at Home logistics director Phil Hackney to become its group operations director.

Practicology chief executive Martin Newman says that Rudoe, who joins Shop Direct from Sainsbury’s next April, will add a much-needed outsider’s viewpoint to the etailer’s board.

’Broader perspective’

“Shop Direct may be at a place where they want to appoint an industry heavyweight who has had significant commercial responsibility,” Newman suggests.

“Lots of the people who are there grew up with the retailer, so Baldock may think that they need someone with more experience who brings a broader perspective.”

It’s testament to the significance of Rudoe’s hire that a new role has been created for him, combining Shop Direct’s IT and retail functions for the first time.

“This new structure will reflect our increasing focus on delivering an easy, inspiring and personalised customer experience underpinned by our investments in technology,” Baldock says.

“In particular, bringing our ecommerce and IT teams more closely together will enable us to respond more quickly to our customers’ rapidly changing needs and to be faster to market in identifying and implementing new tech-focused opportunities.”

It’s not the first time Rudoe has stepped into a newly created role.

Creating IT action team

Prior to becoming digital and technology director at Sainsbury’s, the grocer only had an IT director in its senior management line-up. 

Since taking that title two-and-a-half years ago, Rudoe has overseen the development of the supermarket’s technology at the helm of a 700-strong team. 

He has been instrumental in launching the Chop Chop app, offering shoppers in central London one-hour delivery, and piloting the SmartShop scan-as-you-go smartphone app in a handful of Sainsbury’s larger supermarkets.

However, the grocer’s acquisition of Argos owner Home Retail Group – and the subsequent promotion of Bertrand Bodson to chief digital and marketing officer at a re-branded Sainsbury’s Argos – may have made the prospect of pastures new more appealing to Rudoe.

A digitally focused business

“At Shop Direct he will have a broader remit, he’s got what will be a more senior role in the context of the company and he’s joining one of the leading digitally focused businesses in UK retail,” says Newman.

Shop Direct has launched chat bots and invested heavily in artificial intelligence – and it is clear that such a keen focus on innovation appeals to Rudoe.

On his impending move, Rudoe says: “As a pureplay etailer with a clear, proven strategy and a hunger to be at the forefront of customer-centred technological change, Shop Direct is arguably the most exciting place to be in UK retail right now.”

Such a bold statement, considering the rapidly-changing retailer Rudoe is poised to leave behind, emphasises the magnitude of the role he is about to take on.