Nick Peel of Marka shares his advice on making it in the retail industry
As CEO of Marka PJSC, Nick Peel is responsible for leading the development and growth of the first public joint stock company listed on the Dubai Financial Market focused on the UAE’s rapidly growing retail sector. Under his expert guidance, Marka is strengthening its influence across the region as a premier retail operator targeting the mid-to-high-range segments in sports retail, fashion, and hospitality. Seraj Jaghbeer, Consultant at Hanson Search, sits down with Nick to find out how he made it in the industry.
How did you get into retail?
I’ve always been interested in retail, even when I was a teenager growing up in Scotland. I think it has a lot to do with personal interests. I’ve always been a big music fan, and spent a lot of time in music shops growing up and had a collection of vinyl and CDs. I’ve also always been a big sports fan and used to collect trainers and boots. And something which is still with me today is reading. I feel drawn to bookstores and have a huge collection of reading material. I think it’s always been a part of my psyche, a part of my makeup. I’ve always spent a lot of time in stores and I got this sense that there was always change, always something new – the latest CD, the latest book, the latest trainers from Adidas, Puma, Reebok or Nike. And so upon finishing my college education, I was drawn like a moth to a flame to the retail industry.
What personal attributes do you think have most helped you to succeed in your career?
There are probably three. First of all, and this has certainly been the case the older I’ve got – listening. I’m the type of individual who likes to learn. I like to explore and embrace different opinions. Secondly, in the retail industry you need to be tenacious and resilient and those are strengths I’m lucky to have. Finally, I think you have to be willing to embrace change both personally and professionally. In the early part of my career, I worked for a gentleman called Sir Ken Morrison of Morrison’s supermarkets. His maxim was very much ‘if it’s not broke, break it’ and that’s something that’s lived with me until today.
What would you say were the biggest challenges you’ve overcome or faced in the course of your career?
The biggest challenge has undoubtedly been a recent one – the inception and growth of Marka. When I joined just over two years ago we had 10 employees. Today, 24 months later, we have 1,300 employees and that’s come about mainly as a result of five acquisitions that we’ve embarked upon over the course of the last 12-18 months. So I’d say being here in Dubai, effectively buying five companies and having to mould them culturally so they were one organisation, has undoubtedly been the biggest challenge. It’s been great fun and so far, so good.
Who has been the biggest inspiration in your career?
One is Sir Ken Morrison of Morrison’s supermarkets. Working with him was my first foray into a commercial trading environment and I learned so much from him and his senior management team. He is an individual with amazing focus on value and customer satisfaction and when that’s drilled into you at induction it never leaves you. More recently, another inspiration was someone I worked with at Land Securities, the FTSE Top 50 property company based in London. Francis Salway, the chief executive, was a calm and self-assured individual who taught me skills in strategy and planning, and I think even more importantly, the value of human capital. I learned from him the value of surrounding yourself with good people and building world-class teams.
What would you say is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
I’d refer back to my time at Morrison’s supermarkets and Land Securities. At Morrison’s early in my career, my line manager told me to remember that whether I realised it or not, I was effectively self-employed and that despite the fact I was working for a huge organisation with tens of thousands of employees, what really mattered was what was within me, what I could produce, what I could deliver. I thought that was a useful lesson to learn early in my career. At Land Securities, our then HR Director told me to always hire people that are even better than me in individual functions and categories. Again, that’s something that’s never left me.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge in the retail industry in the next three to five years?
Here in the GCC, I think the biggest challenge in the short-to-medium term is oil pricing and whether it can return to at least 60 or 70 dollars a barrel. There’s no doubt that that has had an impact on disposable income and tourism from within the GCC. It’s also about the impact it has had on consumer confidence. I think it’s fair to say that it is a benchmark in this part of the world and also, of course, the more people employed in the oil industry, the better it is for retailers. Also of interest is the economic diversification programmes that the likes of the UAE and Saudi are undertaking, where instead of relying on oil dollars, they’re exploring how they can expand in sports, tourism and the airline industry to promote growth. These are all obvious strategies to identify and articulate, but the real challenge will be delivery and execution.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Not too long ago I embarked on a piece of executive coaching and part of that was actually an online survey which produced those very results: loyal, energetic and alert.
What advice would you give to anyone who was looking to go into retail?
First and foremost, grab it with both hands. It’s a fantastic industry and sector to work in. If you do like change then it’s the area to work in for you. My other advice would be very simple. One, where possible always develop your people skills as retail is heavily dependent on relationships. Two, always be prepared for physical relocation. Don’t for one minute think you’re going to start your career in one location and stay there. Finally, something I learned very quickly: finesse and improve your numeracy and analytical skills because retail is fundamentally a numbers business as well as a people business whether you’re working in operations or in buying, HR merchandise or finance.
How can Hanson Search help?
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