Q&A with Laura Wade-Gery – Non-Executive Director at John Lewis

Author
Lynn Barlow
Assistant Vice-Chancellor, Creative and Cultural Industries Engagement | University of the West of England
20th March 2019
Member roleInitiative member

UWE, in partnership with Business West, runs an annual lecture series that brings top business leaders to Bristol. We caught up with Laura Wade-Gery, Non-Executive Director at John Lewis, before she gave her address:

1. You’ve held a number of leadership positions in your career, but most of them recently have concentrated on digital transformation, what is it about this that attracts you?

I think I discovered that I’m a natural re-inventor or rebel.

My dad always used to say that “why?” was a question that toddlers should go on asking for the rest of their lives.

I think that’s probably what’s happened with me. I’ve drifted to bits of the business world where there is enough change happening that the instinct to see how things can be done differently is valuable.

2. You’ve had leadership roles at Marks & Spencer and John Lewis. Give me a ten-year forecast for the retail industry.

When I started in retail in 1997, e-commerce was almost zero. Today it’s in the high teens.

Prediction is really dangerous, but I think it’s fair to say e-commerce will comfortably grow from here.

I don’t know where it will settle at, but I think it’s almost academic as digital is influencing almost all sales, so where the actual final transaction takes place I think becomes increasingly irrelevant.

It’s the fact that digital has been part of the purchase process that’s the material change.

3. What advice can you give business students regarding the future of digital?

I think that probably the most important quality as you embark on the world of work is perhaps what has gotten you to university in the first place.

The interest in and enjoyment of learning.

I think that going into a career thinking that you’re going to continue learning is really important.

Have a sense of curiosity, willingness to experiment and do different things, as well as looking to change your career, would be my advice.

I also think you should be a bit careful of fashion. I’ve always found if you really enjoy something – the chances are you’ll be better at it.

Finding things where you flourish and that you enjoy is really important.

4. You must really enjoy retail – given you’ve spent most of your career in it?

Yes, I do. I’m intrigued by human behaviour.

Shopping is one of those things that can help you understand why people do what they do.

It’s very immediate and you tend to know very quickly whether you’re doing it right or not.

5. What do you think about the changing nature of our high street?

To me the high street does have a future, but not every high street as currently constructed.

I think that physical retail is an important aspect of the whole shopping experience. I don’t think our high street will end up as complete deserts, but I do think they will be substantially reconfigured. 

I don’t think we’re necessarily tackling that as a society as energetically and sensibly as we might.

In my view, there’s no point in pretending it’s not happening, we need to acknowledge it and think about things such as business rates and think about how to create more vibrant places for communities.

This series of free public lectures brings top level business leaders to Bristol. You can discuss these events on Twitter using the hashtag #BristolLectures and view further content from Laura Wade-Gery’s lecture here. For more information please contact events@uwe.ac.uk.

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