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“Opportunity is at your feet, just pick it up”

Retailing and luxury goods legend Marty Wikstrom speaks to Cass women

by Amy Ripley (Senior Communications Officer)

Retailing and luxury goods legend Marty Wikstrom spoke at Cass Business School on Wednesday 13th June, serving as keynote finale to the year’s Global Women’s Leadership Programme.  Ms Wikstrom was interviewed by Professor Marianne Lewis, Dean of Cass.  She spoke about relationship building and networking in a digital age, thriving through discipline and creative outlets in the fashion, luxury goods and retailing industries. Ms Wikstrom also answered questions from Cass women about how to build their careers and leadership experience.

Ms Wikstrom, who has been inducted into the World Retail Congress Hall of Fame, is a previous President of Nordstrom’s Full Line Stores Group and former Managing Director of Harrods.  She is a Founding Partner of Atelier Fund, specialising in the acquisition and development of luxury brands.  She has worked with brands as diverse as Liberty, Kurt Geiger, Farrow and Ball, Bally, Chloé and Cath Kidston and was the first woman on the Board of Compagnie Financière Richemont SA.

Ms Wikstrom began her career as a salesperson at Nordstrom, rising through the ranks to become President of the Full Line Stores Group, helping lead the business to the success it still enjoys today.

“I did everything there - I was a sales person, buyer, merchandiser and store manager.  It was so much fun, it never felt like working. Opportunity is at your feet, just bend over and pick it up,” she said.

Ms Wikstrom then moved to London, to run Harrods, following a call from Mohammed Al Fayed.  She remains the only woman in its 185-year history to lead Harrods, having remodelled the store, its systems and its masterplan.

“It taught me the value of getting to know your customers,” she said.  “They can teach you a lot about your business – they should be your friends.”

She then founded Atelier as she wanted to “get closer to products and invest in companies.”

Ms Wikstrom said she enjoyed blending creativity with leadership.

“I have an analytical brain but I love the creative part of business and the ability to see both sides. It involves both art and science. Just think of a handbag in a store. A lot of work goes into this handbag – you have to design it, pick fabrications and hardware, find the manufacturer, create prototypes, , package it, do the marketing and advertising campaign, ship it and finally you see it in store where you then have to sell it.”

Professor Lewis asked Ms Wikstrom about the challenges of building relationships and a workplace culture based on respect in a digital age.

“It is so important to have respect and to build a great team around you.  It’s a real joy for me to be around young people – the next generation. Every month I take three or four days to meet young people who want advice or guidance.  A lot of people who have worked for me are now around the world, doing many different things and it is very rewarding to see their progress.”

Professor Lewis described Ms Wikstrom as a “model of resilience and leadership” and asked how she built that resilience and her advice for others facing challenges.

“I was an athlete, swimmer and skier and I stay active today – it clears your mind and keeps you healthy.  Get outdoors; it helps you think about life and obstacles in a different way.  Be prepared to fail.  You are the sum of your experiences - failure is just a learning moment, shake it off, get up and go.  We can be too hard on ourselves.  Failure is a great teacher.”

Ms Wikstrom also revealed that, while she doesn’t utilise social media for herself personally, instead prefering to focus on people and building relationships, she is strongly invested and involved in the social media platforms and strategies of her brands as critical tools for success.

“Networking is an exchange of ideas, meeting people and helping each other.  We should think of it as building friendships,” she said.

Ms Wikstrom advised Cass women to “work hard, performance is your interview.”  She also spoke of the importance of being fair and said: “it doesn’t matter if you’re tough as long as you’re fair.”

Speaking at the event, Dr Canan Kocabasoglu-Hillmer, Director of the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme said she was delighted that Ms Wikstrom was able to share her knowledge and insights with Cass women.

“Our goal is to support women who want to grow professionally and are seeking their unique version of success.  We want to celebrate those who have modelled the way and those who are now climbing their own ladders,” she said.

“It has been an honour for us to host Marty this evening.  She is an amazing woman, at the very top of her game and with an exemplary career spanning fashion, business and retail.  You only have to look around the room to see the levels of engagement from our students and how much they enjoyed hearing Marty’s thoughts and advice on leadership and development.  I’d like to thank Marty for taking the time to be with us tonight.”

The Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme offers scholarships and leadership opportunities for high potential women and runs regular networking and development events.  Find out more here.

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