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Life Lessons From Andy Lightfoot, Space NK

When it comes to beauty retail, Space NK chief executive officer Andy Lightfoot is well-versed in the industry. Lightfoot, who was formerly at Amazon joined the the luxury beauty retailer in 2016 and has big plans for Space NK. From focusing on inputs to testing and getting teams in order, here are some lessons that we can learn from Lightfoot.

Focus on the inputs not the outputs.

I spent a long time in Amazon. I joined when there was just over a hundred employees and left when there were several thousand employees. They obsess about the inputs. What I, what I mean by that is so many retail companies talk about ‘We need to make, we need to sell more stuff. We need more sales, more revenue, we need more profit. How are we going to do those things?’ Those, those are outputs. Those are things you get from doing something else. 

And if you relate it to your salary. I want to earn more money. Earning more money is an output. The input is get a promotion or do more hours. If you’re earning an hourly rate, change jobs, and then you get back a level further, what do I need to do to get that promotion? Maybe I need to raise my profile. So to raise my profile, maybe I need to take on a project. What do I need to know to take on that? And so you break it down and break it down to the point of these are the things I’m going to do. The tangible inputs. So from a business point of view, we look at the high level inputs are footfall. So the number of customers that come into our shops or go onto our website. Conversion, the number of those people who come in that buy something and the average transaction value, the amount of money those people spend and you can make more money, you can increase your revenue unless you change one of those three things. 

More people come in and buy stuff or the people that buy stuff spend more. I am obsessive about thinking about those inputs. I think the other thing that comes out of that is that forces you to be strategic. It forces you to think on a longer term horizon because those things don’t change quickly. When you start to think about sales and profit, you become very tactical. You get into, well let’s take 20 percent off because we know we can drive sales by discount and you get caught into that side. Can you become very short term thinking, very tactical. So focusing on the inputs forces sort of strategic thinking and consistently building and building and building on a firm foundation. 

Get your teams in order.

Get your teams right and your structures right so you won’t be able to sort of optimize anything unless you’ve got your, your people right and they know what they’re supposed to be doing and they’re pulling in the same direction. So I can relate it back to sort of the Space NK three years ago, that siloed nature of those two teams, both individually successful but the, some of those policies are greater to the ability to get those teams actually working together. And collaborating, you, you remove so much duplication, you remove conflict and friction where people are working on opposing projects are drawing on the same limited resource and therefore need to, are getting what they need. So I think it was incredibly important to get your teams right and allow the framework within which you want them to work in. 

That’s how I set my teams up. So I set it up with a sort of inverse responsibility. I try and give the most responsibility  to the people closest to the customer. I hesitate to say junior but it tends to be that way,  because they’re closest to the customer. I want them to be making and driving the decisions. I want their managers to be supporting them and unblocking that their managers when it gets even harder. And ultimately my job is when something really, really difficult comes along and someone’s really stuck to help them unblock that blocker. My job isn’t to sit at the top of the pyramid, say this is what we’re going to do. And then everyone has to kind of run around trying to fulfill what I think is the right thing to do. 

See the world in 3-D.

So the best bit of advice I’ve ever got was at Amazon and it was with the UK country manager at the time, a guy called Christopher North. And he was one of these guys that when he walked into a room full of people on a subject he knew nothing about and was handed a piece of paper by someone who knew everything about our topic. Within 15 minutes he spotted the the issue, or the number, that wasn’t right or they didn’t make sense. He completely unraveled that subject matter expert and he just had this ability to, to do it. It wasn’t malicious. I’ve spotted an opportunity or I’ve spotted at a place where it could go wrong and you guys need to think about this. 

And I asked him how he did it and he said what he does is, in his mind, he builds a 3-D jigsaw. So mine is a map of the globe. And what he said is, I read information and I guess so much information coming at me that what I do is I take that information. It’s a piece of the jigsaw and I put it in and if it fits, I just leave. I don’t give it a second so I don’t question it until I just accepted to be a fact. He said when I get a page that doesn’t fit, then that’s where I go in. That’s where I start pulling on the thread. 

He basically said it allows him to sort of focus on out of the whole document of information on which he’s never seen it before and there’s nothing about to very quickly zero into the bit that doesn’t make sense. And he doesn’t assume that the bit that he’s reading must be wrong with what he has to know. Whether the bits, one of the bits around it is wrong or rapid is wrong and that’s why he goes so hard after it. And since he told me that, that’s the methodology I use and I find it just incredibly effective to be able to be effective in, I’ll go from one meeting about property to another meeting about some legal sign off to another meeting about health and wellbeing to something about conservation. And I have to be on for the first minute of the meeting to the last minute of the meeting, and then I’m immediately into something else. And I use this to really make sure that I’m effective and I’m in the room for every one of those subjects. 

Failure is vital.

This is a personal one.  So I’ve had some big failures in my career. Um, I was ejected from WHSmith quite early in my career. I joined when I was in my mid twenties. Culturally it was not a good fit. I was there for less than a year. And I mean, there’s no other way to put it right. I was sacked. And I learned a huge amount from that. I think you can react into where you can blame everybody else that they are wrong and you know, you’re perfect and why can’t they see it? Or you can think about what you could’ve done differently and why the outcome was the outcome. And since that point, I’ve done that throughout every difficult point in my life, in every difficult point in my career. And I don’t think for a second that I would be where I am now, how they not been for that failure but the failures along my path. So I think so many people set out to avoid failure or costs and I’m not saying seek it, but I’m saying embrace it and look at yourself and what you did to cause that failure and know why and you’ll get a lot out of it. 

Make decisions on the facts you have, not the facts you wish you had. 

You become paralysed by I need to know something that you can’t necessarily know. You want to just need more, more analysis, more data and personal life and professional life. Right. How many of us have gone, I’m just not ready to make the decision. Because I need to know that decision is right. You’ve got to make the decision and not making a decision is the worst possible outcome. When I mentor with some of the younger people, I talk about it as if you’re stranded in the desert and  there’s an oasis or a settlement somewhere over the dunes. You don’t start walking until you’ve got an exact compass reference. You start walking in about the right direction and then you zero in the closer you get. And it’s the same in visitors. You don’t stand still cause you don’t know exactly what to do. You have to start moving and as you start moving, you will learn more, you will get more information and you can then refine what you’re doing. 

Test everything. Go big on the very few. 

From a business point of view, the number of tests and how obsessive I am about about testing, I am equally obsessive about doing very few big things. So when I, when I joined my IT director showed me the list of his tasks. He 140 active projects. 140 and I’ve got a team of eight people and I was like ‘Okay, how many projects have you completed in the last six months? And he said, ‘Well, none actually.’ I said, ‘How many of you started? 47. Okay, so you’ve started 140 projects, 47 in the last six months you finished none. The list is just getting longer and longer and longer. And we’re starting more and more and more. I said, ‘Rob, what are the three biggest things on here?’ So we went back to the organization and said, we’re deleting 144 of these projects. 

We’re going to deliver these three. We’ll decide what the next three are and then we’ll decide what the next three hour are. But until we’ve delivered them, then we know we’re not taking anymore new additions. It’s an extreme example of what we all do. We take on something else before we finish the thing before. So I have a rule here that from a head over above the head of a director, they have no more than two, significant objectives, two projects.  If there’s a third, they have to get rid of one of the other two. It has to be prioritized and they have to deliver them. We monitor that and we work towards that. And it’s, it’s focused on as a business, but nobody has more than that.

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