Robbie Feather’s next executive role could hardly be more different to his last. Feather will join etail giant The Very Group as its new retail managing director 18 months after his abrupt departure from Fenwick where he was in the process of making an analogue retailer fit for the digital age.
The transition from digital laggard to digital leader serves as a reminder of how versatile Feather has been during his career to-date. He trained as a barrister before embarking on a career as a consultant until pivoting again to spend three years as a category manager at Asda.
Feather then earned his entrepreneurial stripes by co-founding lifestyle retailer Feather & Black with business partner Adam Black.
A decade later he was on the move again, joining John Lewis as a buying director before spending six years at Sainsbury’s Argos in a variety of roles including digital director, general merchandise director and commercial director.
Feather was a key figure in overseeing the digital transformation of Sainsbury’s Argos and it’s this experience in particular that will have proven attractive to his new employer.
As a catalogue retailer-turned pureplay, The Very Group now generates around 80% of its sales from mobile devices and is well along the journey of transforming itself into a world-class digital retailer.
Feather will have big shoes to fill in his new role belonging to outgoing retail managing director Sam Perkins who is stepping down at the end of the year. Perkins has been credited with transforming the business during his 7-year tenure in areas such as category management, pricing and customer communications.
But the experienced Feather isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. When he joined Fenwick at the start of 2018, Feather became the department store’s first ever chief executive hired from outside the eponymous family. Then chair Richard Pennycook described his new colleague as “tenacious” with a strong “sense of vision” and a “good strategic brain”.
He achieved a considerable amount in his short tenure, before the Fenwick family decided it was time to wrest back control in 2020. Feather led the transformation to a more centrally run, multichannel business, launching Fenwick’s first ever transactional ecommerce platform and spearheading plans to invest in new IT systems
Pennycook also highlighted how “rounded” a leader Feather was, an observation reflected in his endeavours since he left Fenwick. Feather has variously been a consultant to 5 Hertford Street, the influential private members club that counts A-list celebrities and politicians among its membership; a non-executive director with fitness equipment and training provider Muscle Squad; and an adviser at consultancy giant Bain & Company.
With such an eclectic CV there’s every chance Feather could have been tempted away from a job in retail.
It’s the sector’s gain that he has decided to step back into the fold.