In our latest edition of ‘Five minutes with…’ Fran Grant, Consultant in our Technology practice was joined by Jo Graham, CIO at Boohoo.com. Jo has an impressive career history with over twenty years’ experience that includes working for major FTSE 100 companies such as Lloyds, HBOS, Capita, Morrisons and BUPA. She has a proven background in defining strategy, driving transformational change, and delivering through teams. She has demonstrable experience leading from the front through the most challenging of times, whilst retaining a service-led focus. With such an admirable record of achievement and a winning personality, speaking with Jo was not only insightful and energising, but incredibly enjoyable.
What attracted you to a career in technology? Was it intentional?
It was somewhat unintentional. I started out as a systems analyst before moving into the role of a BA in IT which was slightly more technical. I have always enjoyed analysing things - solving problems, getting involved with diagnostics, looking for creative solutions, which naturally led me into tech. We don’t always identify technology with creativity, but in tech we solve problems, and we design things which is all pretty creative.
Do you think technology could be marketed differently to attract more females?
Technology is clearly miles away from the old server rooms, full of mainframes and the old ‘socks and sandals’ stereotypes that come with IT roles. Although tech has evolved, we haven’t kept up with the marketing of it, the rebranding. We need to re-educate people as to what a career in tech could look like. Women are more intuitive and empathetic, and have a natural ability to communicate, to take the complicated and translate it into layman’s terms. We have a great ability to think in terms of ‘what I think they’re saying is… which can be extremely powerful in how tech is positioned and seen’
What drove you to want to become a leader?
There was no grand plan, and I’m not ambitious, I just can’t walk past a problem. I always wanted to make a difference or add value, which naturally raises your profile, and when you’re always willing to roll your sleeves up, get stuck in and lead from the front, people will always gravitate towards you. I found my natural fit within organisations, and this created an upward trajectory. So, moving into leadership was more subconscious than conscious.
Have you faced any barriers as a female leader?
No, I can’t say I have. I’ve always gravitated towards organisations that suit me. I’m of the mindset that if you’re not getting the support or recognition you deserve in your career, why would you stay? Move on, to somewhere you’re appreciated. Don’t fight it, change it, leave them to it as it is their loss, go put your energy into positive environments.
What excites you most about your work?
Who doesn’t love fashion and clothes? I’m personally interested in and passionate about what we do and what we’re about, and I love the pace. I love the culture here, it’s very collaborative, and nothing is insurmountable. I love the journey we’re on and the challenges, and I have a phenomenal team who continue to drive things forward.
What are the most exciting things about retail?
It has to be the metaverse – it’s exciting and interesting! Is it the next big thing? Who knows, but we all interact with it every day whether we know it or not. Is it fully formed or mature, and do we all really know how to use it yet? No. But there’s definitely something in it. Another exciting thing is what’s next in VR and AR. If we can get it right, it will be incredible. The customer journey is always changing – there’s a whole spectrum of shopping channels and entrants disrupting the market, which established retailers need to be mindful of. Tackling returns and the cost of returns will also be game changing, and there’s also a growing market around online loyalty points that can be earned via, for example, likes and shares on social media. We need to be talking to the younger demographic more, the kids in high school, they’re driving what will come next, and we need to listen. The answer lies with them.
What are the biggest challenges in retail?
Like most of the world, we’re analysing what things look like post-pandemic. Supply chain issues and the cost of freight are still big issues, as is the terrible situation in Ukraine. Macro factors have always been important, and we should all operate at a macro level. Sustainability is another key issue, at a macro and micro level and one that permeates the decisions being made in every area of our business, design, tech, marketing, infrastructure. And the big one - the global shortage of IT talent, but that’s not new. It’s become key to shift the focus to retention.
On that note, what do you do to improve retention?
The market is busy, and people are getting offered more money. I don’t like to get involved in promoting salary inflation. We’ve seen this cycle before. It’s only going to enforce moving technology out of the customer facing space and offshore. I prefer focusing on being a place where someone wants to be. People are moving around too much. I try and encourage people to think of the bigger picture - if you stay somewhere, you get the whole kit bag of experience and tools, but if you’re constantly moving around, you barely get to pick your kit bag up let alone put anything in it. I always like to remind people that a career is a marathon not a sprint.
Thank you so much to Jo, and Cheryl Chung (Group Head of Corporate Affairs, Boohoo.com) who joined us. It was an absolute pleasure spending time with you both!
Fran Grant is a Consultant in our IT & Digital Leadership Practice specialising in recruiting Senior Technology and Digital professionals in Retail, Retail FS, Leisure and Hospitality, with a UK wide remit.