Do what you love…by Cathy McCabe, CEO, Proximity Insight
I don’t think of myself as a woman in retail or a woman in tech and I certainly don’t think of myself as a vendor or a supplier. I do think of myself as a retail aficionado who has had the great fortune to have enjoyed a hugely diverse and rewarding career in retail since the age of 15 when I first worked as a Saturday girl in the Wood Green branch of Woolworths.
It therefore pains me to recognise that at a time when the industry is changing so significantly retail is still considered such an undervalued career. I gave a lecture last week to a group of students and I was somewhat surprised that out of a room of 40 people only two people were actually working in retail and only one of them was considering pursuing a career in retail. I strongly believe that you can learn so much by working on the shop floor and those skills are hugely transferable regardless of where your career path takes you.
So let’s encourage more young people to spend time in retail or hospitality. It is not just about serving people and filling shelves – it is about running a business, working collaboratively, teamwork, the excitement of a new store opening or a new product launch, managing numbers, analysing data, understanding a P&L, communication – the list is endless. I fondly remember my initial management training course at W.H.Smith “MOFA” when I was promoted to run my first department. At the time I was overwhelmed at the amount of content I had to consume to pass my course but that training was fundamental and provided me with the basics to move onwards and upwards. I am grateful to have had such a great foundation.
I worked really hard to forge my career path from that first Head of Department role but I feel that I have also been extremely lucky. Lucky because I have been able to try lots of different roles, learn new skills and to understand what I am best at and along the way I found something that I loved doing.
I have been lucky in the sense that my career in retail allowed me to raise a family as well as enjoy a successful career spanning shop floor to shop tech. Bringing up a family is hard regardless of gender and circumstances and you realise early on that you can’t please everyone all of the time. I was lucky that I had a great support network and my retail career allowed me to flex my hours to meet the demands of bringing up a young family.
I feel I have also been lucky to have had amazing role models and mentors throughout my career who have helped me to find my path, given me opportunities and helped me to grow.
My first boss, when I was age 18, Carol Hubbard, taught me all about the customer and the importance of excellent service and those principles still remain despite the huge changes in the way in which we purchase in today’s digital and social world.
I have also worked alongside inspirational female role models such as Angela Ahrendts, Stacey Cartwright, Christine Cross, Suzy Ross and with great colleagues, many who have become good friends, too many to mention individually.