The business is bigger than the family
I have had the privilege of chairing our 168-year-old family business for 18 years, supported by two family directors. It is my role to inspire colleagues to perpetuate the founder’s idea in a modern context. Edwin Henry Booth was an entrepreneur who was passionate about his retailing values. It is my job to recreate his hunger to succeed throughout our enterprise.
There’s no such thing as a dull member of staff
Allow your team to look to you for guidance, not the answers. Allow their minds to breathe. The outcomes will surprise you. Look for the good in everyone and your organisation will derive great power, which will manifest itself in their levels of productivity and customer service. Give young people the opportunity to try new things while being there for them through success and failure.
Always be available to your teams
Your availability and visibility are so important. It is easy to underestimate the power of MBA – managing by walking about.
Strategy goes out of date quickly
Don’t cling on doggedly to a strategy. Allow it to live and become an instrument of growth and prosperity. Customers don’t always want the same things and you will not always attract the same customers. Set a direction and be prepared to alter the route. Regular conversation is a fundamental given in our connected world. Only that way will the route become clear.
Be an owl
Listen, then interact. Never allow yourself to frame a response before the person with whom you are talking has finished.
Look for the good in everyone and your organisation will derive great power.
The board bathroom
Getting the key to the board bathroom is not a reward for having worked your way to the top. A pilot examiner once told me: "You’ve got your licence – now you’re really going to learn to fly." He was right. You have to learn how to be collaborative and resolute in your decision-making. Directing at board level is accepting that you are there for the business, not the other way round.
Buy well, sell well
I had been a junior buyer for a week when a senior colleague told me that if I bought the right product at the right price, the stores would be able to play their part in generating profitable sales. Our trading team is the nerve centre of the organisation. The marketers are the game-changers who provide the stimulus for customer engagement. I love selling and experiencing shop floors with visual stimulus and a sense of commerce.
Cruel to be kind
Sometimes the changes you believe need to be made seem insurmountable. Ask yourself just how much you believe in the ones you propose. Deliver change with humility and understanding. You will not always be popular with all your colleagues but, if your customers love the result, the business is on the road to success.
I work with an increasing number of talented women, more of whom are taking senior roles in the business. This has created a more balanced approach to our retailing and the effect is visible on our shop floors. They see things differently and their appreciation of the aesthetic is vital to a retailer seeking to entertain customers and create a sense of place.
Forty years and there is still so much to do
I have been in the grocery trade for a very long time and used to wonder how innovation could be sustained to reinvigorate our retailing. I now know that there is always so much new to do, both immediately and in the future.
What’s the next big thing?
There is never one big thing that fuels business success, but more a plethora of initiatives and actions. There are always many ideas in my mind – some will fly; others never see the light of day. These will not always be my ideas. The important thing is to bring forward the right ones in a timely way.
Rachel Barnes on the ethics of smart drugs and algorithms in our new virtual reality