Chris Dee was appointed as Director of Home & Food at Harrods in 2018. Prior to this, Chris built his impressive career with Booths, the historic northern grocery chain, resulting in him leading the business as CEO from 2015. Chris has a history of entrepreneurship, having started his own wine business in 1990 which he then sold to Oddbins in 1994. He has a real commitment to curiosity, and we are delighted to have spoken with him to glean his advice for emerging leaders.
You were with the same business for two decades and your career flourished– how did you ensure constant self-growth and learning?
During my 22 years at Booths, I was fortunate enough to take up several roles. Whilst working for one business for this length of time does induce a sort of comfort-zone, I was conscious that I needed to reassess my progress on a continual basis. Therefore, I took responsibility for pushing myself to ask for, and take on, a new role every three years. We often make the mistake of associating progression solely with promotions and upward trajectories however, there is much to be gained from making ‘sideways’ career moves and increasing the breadth of your abilities and experiences.
I think I was able to secure new roles and push for more because of my curiosity. I believe it is one of the most important traits in striving to become a successful and well-rounded leader. Whilst Booths has huge positives, it is a privately held, family-owned business with a relatively closed culture and as a result, is not necessarily at the forefront of innovation and ‘the new’. Upon noting this, I made sure that I made the most of every networking opportunity, sharing learnings and asking as many questions as possible! This sort of curiosity helps you to take a step back, get a real picture of what’s happening and what the challenges are, you can then re-draw your mental map and adjust your approach accordingly.
No one is ever the ‘perfect’ leader; it’s a moving feast! And because of this, your curiosity can never let up! I joined Harrods in September 2018 and took advantage of every opportunity to learn all manner of things, including shadowing the excellent Simon Wolfson.
During your career to date, what have been the main challenges you’ve faced and how have you dealt with them?
There have been three particularly big challenges:
Four years into my career with Booths I moved into the role of Marketing & IT Director. Prior to this, I had owned my own wine business, which I later sold to Oddbinns, and initially joined Booths as Wine Buyer. This was one of the first challenges I faced of real magnitude – I went from being a specialist to having to put on a much more generalist hat and, despite having ran a business, this felt more challenging. My biggest tool during this time was to listen to peers and other senior leaders in the business.
The ‘dot.com’ boom was a very strange time for retailers. Up until that point I had always seen myself – as had many others – as a ‘shopkeeper’. Whilst I had always taken an interest in the pace of online development, I did not have any in-depth knowledge but knew that, in order to adapt, I needed to gain some and fast! As a result, I undertook the role of Director at everywine.co.uk, alongside my duties at Booths. If you don’t have enough experience in something, go out and get it.
During my time at Booths, I progressed from Director to CEO. Upon joining Harrods, I turned this process on its head and went from being a CEO, to a Director – I have a boss now! This was an interesting challenge and admittedly, I think the change in product category helped with overcoming it. It has meant that I truly value the time I get from my leader and have been able to learn so much and become much more agile.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
Edwin Booth always told me that if somebody wants the next job, then they have to be actually doing the job before they get it. Ultimately, you need to have your eye on the next prize and be very willing to develop yourself and the business, without initial monetary gain. Thinking long-term is a must. Equally, I’d also encourage emerging leaders to look at the dimensions of a role rather than just the job itself. I spent 32 Christmas trading periods in food retail, and it stretched me in all sorts of directions.
What do you believe to be the key leadership skills or qualities required in today’s world?
There’s lots of things that you can read on this and people have lots of opinions, but one particular thinking has always resonated with me. Kevin Roberts ex-CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi and NED at Booths had a formula that he believed was the recipe for a successful business, but it definitely also applies to individuals becoming successful leaders:
IQ + EQ + TQ + BQ, powered by CQ.
We all know about IQ and EQ, but TQ and BQ?
TQ – Tech intelligence. We must have a strong awareness, understanding and curiosity of innovation in technology and how it can help advance us and our sector. We must have a hunger for data, but also be capable of turning this into insight and without EQ, this is impossible.
BQ – Be bloody quick! Be agile; fail fast and fix fast.
All underpinned by CQ - Creativity Quotient. A measure of an individual's creative intelligence.
When thinking about your own self-development, what would you have done differently during your career?
I didn’t go to university and was determined to prove that it wasn’t necessary. I still stand by that but, having said that, I wish I had then studied later in my career and taken the time to complete a degree or an MBA. I guess it comes back to being curious, and I wish I had been curious from an academic perspective too. I have always been an avid reader tough, which I think is very important!
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For more information on anything we have disucssed in this blog, please contact Kathryn Gill.