Matt Grest’s move from the BBC to The Very Group demonstrates once again that previous retail experience is not a prerequisite for senior leaders so long as you have the correct skillset.
Nowhere is this truer than in tech roles where talented individuals often move fluidly between different industries and the public and private sectors.
Grest, who will join the etailer in December as chief information officer, is a case in point. His current role at the BBC is director of technology platform where he has led the transformation of the broadcaster’s digital and broadcast products into a fully integrated platform, powering services such as iPlayer and the BBC Sounds audio app.
Prior to the BBC, Grest worked for another broadcasting giant, Sky, where he was responsible for its digital technology platform, and he has also been in charge of the delivery of the NHS’s digital platform.
The BBC and NHS in particular are huge, much-cherished institutions that are also subject to intense external scrutiny. When technology goes wrong, there is no shortage of political opponents lining up to denounce the institution’s dysfunctionality. As a consequence, people like Grest tasked with delivering technology platforms are used to dealing with pressure.
With a 350-strong team beneath him at Very, Grest will move into an influential role in a multi-billion pound business – but it’s unlikely he’ll be fazed by the prospect given his past experience.
As for his leadership credentials, former colleagues praise Grest’s ability to strike the right balance of hands on leadership with empowerment of his team and describe him as practical, pragmatic and no-nonsense.
With the BBC entering a new era under a new director general it’s easy to see the appeal of a move to a stable, dynamic business such as Very that looks set to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic in a stronger position than ever thanks to its digital focus.
Under chief executive Henry Birch, Very has recently strengthened its technology division with 100 new recruits at the same time as it made over 100 head office and customer care roles redundant.
The business broke the £2bn sales barrier in its latest annual results and Birch has expressed confidence it will have a very strong Christmas driven by a surge in new customers.
Expressing his excitement at joining the business, Grest alluded to the fact that “more people [are] shopping online than ever”. With more customers to satisfy and with Birch speaking of the need to “make changes to the customer experience faster than ever before”, Grest’s ability to cope under pressure looks set be tested once again.