John Lewis has been among the most active recruiters since the turn of the year and this week it revealed another significant senior hire with Kathleen Mitchell joining as trading director.
Mitchell has been brought in to lead the department store’s trading strategy across all categories and I can see several reasons why she ticks John Lewis’s boxes.
In many respects Mitchell is the archetypal modern retailer whose experience combines traditional retail roles with more entrepreneurial endeavours.
For the past nine months, Mitchell has been driving the transformation programme at Accessorize as managing director, prior to which she spent three years as its brand director.
Her early career was spent in FMCG with L’Oreal which she joined as a graduate trainee before spending over a decade in a variety of managerial and marketing roles.
But it’s perhaps her experience with fashion tech start-up Stella & Dot that will have most piqued the interest of her new employers. Stella & Dot sells jewellery, accessories and clothing online and through its network of thousands of ‘ambassadors’, including working mums, who are provided with assets that enable them to sell direct to customers via their own online shop and Stella & Dot parties.
Mitchell joined back in 2011 as managing director of the UK business and subsequently ran the global business between 2017 and 2018.
It’s the kind of innovative, socially-driven business model that is disrupting traditional retailers like John Lewis, a core part of whose strategy is to rebalance the business to take advantage of the consumer shift to digital channels that has accelerated during the pandemic.
Mitchell has said she is looking forward to delivering an inspiring retail experience “wherever, whenever and however” customers choose to shop with John Lewis in an indication of the shifting sands of retail. As someone with her finger on the pulse of the latest trends, Mitchell will bring a fresh perspective to a business in need of modernisation.
As we enter the holiday season, I would normally expect the brakes to be applied to the jobs market as we all take a moment to recharge and recalibrate. This year, however, we’ve not yet seen the market for senior appointments reach the pace of activity we would usually expect.
I believe that will change from the autumn. As the weeks of trading pass, and assuming no further restrictions are imposed, retailers will gain more insight into how consumer habits have been altered permanently by the repeated lockdowns and restrictions of the past 18 months.
Businesses will shift from survival mode into the recovery phase and for many this will require fresh eyes and new skills at the top of the organisation.
So enjoy the summer break, and let’s look forward to the rest of the year with optimism that the worst of this crisis is finally behind us.