When Ed Connolly joins Dixons Carphone from John Lewis Partnership in May he will trade one retail transformation project for another.
This week, Connolly was named as Dixons Carphone’s new chief commercial officer, bringing to an end a 15-year career with the John Lewis and Waitrose owner.
For the past two years Connolly has worked as JLP’s director of partnership strategy – an influential role at a time of significant introspection that culminated in the decision to merge the two businesses in an effort to shore up falling sales and profits.
The strategy, it should be noted, has not been met with universal support by industry observers. Indeed, new chair Sharon White has hinted that she may make some adjustments to the ‘future partnership’ structure in order to retain the distinctiveness of the Waitrose and John Lewis brands.
Vindication or otherwise for Connolly, and other influential architects of the new structure such as former chair Charlie Mayfield, will be some years in the making. For now, he faces a whole new challenge at a business that is undergoing its own transformation as it seeks to deliver a seamlessly integrated store and digital experience.
The bulk of Connolly’s JLP career was spent in commercial roles having previously spent three years as a buying manager at Tesco. Dixons Carphone boss Alex Baldock has remarked on Connolly’s focus on building “customer-obsessed and highly commercial teams”, but I’ve no doubt his reputation as an innovator will have held just as strong appeal for Baldock – himself one of retail’s most disruptive thinkers.
At JLP, Connolly was director of JLP Ventures where he oversaw the development of future propositions such as Home Solutions and Rapid Delivery. Speaking to Retail Week in September last year, Connolly gave a strong hint as to his own retail philosophy when he said: “Disruption is surely just the way it is now. To succeed, brands need to accept that challenge and become the disruptor. If you are not constantly reinventing yourself then you will be left behind very quickly.”
Connolly has written about how leaders must be the facilitators of innovation, setting the vision and then working hard to unblock barriers so that a culture of innovation can thrive. He also advocates creating diverse teams, believing they bring with them a broad range of experience and skills that can create a “cultural advantage” when tackling challenges.
A willingness to embrace risk and learn from failure chimes with the attitude of his new boss, Baldock, who has spoken previously about how the bold decisions he took as Shop Direct chief executive did not feel like gambles because they were made within the context of a clear strategic direction for the business.
In Connolly, Baldock looks to have found a kindred spirit. The acid test for the pair, along with new chief digital officer Mark Allsop, will be in how they overcome a weak electricals market to hit Dixons Carphone’s ambitious transformation targets.