Movers & Shakers Q&A – Clare Johnston, joint-CEO, The Up Group

Brought to you by Retail Insider and K3 Retail

Clare Johnston, joint-CEO, The Up Group

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

The Up Group is Europe’s leading digital executive search and networking firm, finding exceptional talent for companies across the growth curve. Our clients are fast-growing pure-play businesses and more established multi-channel organisations undergoing transformational change, and they all increasingly require seasoned digital leaders to drive their plans. Demand for our expertise has never been higher.

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

Digital businesses and incumbents are now increasingly fishing in the same talent pool, meaning competition for those with the right skills and experience is fierce. Our challenge is to continuously unearth great business leaders. This means we have to stay on top of market trends, rely on our decade’s worth of pattern recognition, and continue to grow our network internationally to help our clients find the best talent, fast!

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

I would have avoided opening an office above a cheese shop!

4. What will the necessary skill-sets of individuals in retail look like in a decade?

In 10 years’ time, retailers will be offering truly seamless customer experiences, across all platforms, on- and off-line. The world will be smaller, with greater competition from international players, and therefore retail leaders will need to be creatively-minded to identify their company’s point of differentiation beyond just price and brand. They will need to be fluent in technology to ensure that they constantly innovate, and seize competitive advantage from advances as soon as they arise.

5. What two bits of advice would you give to CEOs in retail about future-proofing their businesses?

Hire true leaders who can drive a culture of constant innovation, at all levels of the business and across all functions. Invest now in building a powerful employer brand to attract the very best of the next generation of talent.

6. What retail businesses and executives in retail do you admire?

Alex Baldock has led a wholesale digital transformation at Shop Direct, shifting a traditional catalogue business to online-only in just a few years. He’s done it by investing in data and technology, as well as building a great culture that has attracted some fantastic talent.

7. If you hadn’t been running The Up Group what would you have liked to do?

Before I founded The Up Group, I wrote countless strategy plans for ideas I had for a whole range of e-commerce businesses, so ideally I would have launched one of those!

8. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

A strong eight. I’m exceptionally proud of the quality of the work we do in finding rock stars for our clients, but we’re always challenging ourselves to do even better.

9. Who would you place in the Top 25 Retail Movers & Shakers?

Jose Neves and Andrew Robb at Farfetch, Sébastien Fabre and Olivier Marcheteau at Vestiaire Collective, Philippe Chainieux at MADE.COM and Chris Morton at Lyst.