At a time of great change and disruption, acquiring and retaining talented individuals has arguably never been more important.
This is as much true for the retail sector as a whole as for individual businesses; which is why it was heartening to see Rachel Eyre swap one big four grocer for another this week following her appointment as Morrisons’s new chief customer and marketing officer.
Eyre has spent the past five years at Sainsbury’s, but her profile points towards someone whose skills would lend themselves to a variety of different industries and roles.
Eyre is multi-lingual (she has an undergraduate degree in French and German with Dutch) and boasts Masters qualifications from Cambridge University in Philosophy and from Imperial College Business School in Business Administration.
Since completing her undergraduate degree in 2006 Eyre has rapidly climbed the career ladder, first at Barclays where she spent six years in various brand and marketing roles, and then at Sainsbury’s – initially as head of marketing design and delivery and currently as head of brand communications and creative across all of Sainsbury’s brands, including Argos, Habitat and its Tu clothing label where her responsibilities include overseeing Sainsbury’s campaign management and in-store communications.
Announcing Eyre’s appointment to succeed Andy Atkinson, following his promotion to group commercial director, it was notable how chief executive David Potts talked of the hire in the context of Morrisons’s “plan to develop the next generation of retail talent”.
If Potts – who joined Tesco at 16 and worked his way up through the ranks to become chief executive of its Asian operations – represents a type of leader with retail in their DNA, Eyre represents a different breed of executive with her eclectic academic background and skillset that is transferable across a range of sectors.
I would argue a modern retailer needs a healthy mix of both, not least in the current climate where consumer habits are changing at an unprecedented speed requiring new alliances to be formed and strategies to be reset, accelerated or simply torn up and restarted from scratch.
Morrisons is no different as evidenced by its tie-up with Amazon and growing focus on its wholesale channels.
In pure marketing and customer terms, which will be Eyre’s domain, the grocer continues to play to its strengths as a value-led fresh food maker and retailer, with a strong local approach and a focus on everyday low prices. Indeed, Potts’s turnaround strategy has been built around reasserting these traditional strengths rather than trying to ape competitors like Sainsbury’s.
Eyre, who grew up in Yorkshire and whose family shopped at Morrisons, will swap one distinctive brand proposition for another when she moves next year. The good news is that the retail sector will remain the beneficiary of her talents.