Climbing the career ladder is not always an easy pathway to navigate. We’ve spoken to experts in their fields to encourage them to share pearls of wisdom about how they’ve made it in their specialist sectors.
This month we put Michael George, Director of Logistics for Debenhams, in the hot seat to answer ten questions about his career.
What did you want to be when you were at school?
I was at school and considering my future during the ‘Top Gun’ days, clearly therefore I wanted to be a fighter pilot and have a catchy call sign like Maverick. Following a discussion with the school career advisor and learning about the 7 years of study before getting anywhere close to a jet I revised my thinking! In reality, like many of us, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do at that age.
When did you first start out working in the Logistics specialism?
I started working in Logistics in 1991, I left school and was looking for a career. Having given up on the dream of being a fighter pilot, I saw a job offering with NFC (National Freight Corporation) for a trainee manager. It offered a two year training programme and I liked the idea of having on the job training.
What attracted you to the world of retail?
I didn’t particularly choose retail, the role with NFC was as a trainee manager in a warehouse close to home for Marks & Spencer. However once I started it was great to learn about everything that goes into placing a product on a shelf.
What does your day-to-day role involve?
The day-to-day is a wonderfully variable thing. The typical day will involve a mix of meetings discussing key projects both tactical and strategic, 1-2-1’s with the team and other internal stakeholders. Then there will be planning, cost and performance reviews with internal functions and our third party partners. Finally trying to squeeze in anything out of the ordinary and of course everyone’s favourite, the inbox. The ongoing challenge is to prioritise as you could fill 24 hours every day, with the things you would like to change, influence and understand.
What are the biggest challenges faced by the retail logistics sector?
Clearly the online business is the single biggest shake up to our world since we stopped using horses to make deliveries. The volatility and immediacy means everything has to be better planned, better executed and constantly improved. However the challenge is further reaching; in part due to the cost pressure that online brings, you have to re-evaluate your whole supply chain to find the real game changing opportunities.
How has the logistics team at Debenhams adapted to cope with these challenges?
We have recognised the important role that a logistics and supply chain team perform and how it has a material impact on the success of the business. As such we have strengthened the team significantly to allow us to cope, not only with the demands of the day job, but to have the capacity and headroom to look at the challenges ahead and prepare and plan accordingly.
There can be no doubt that technological advancements have had a significant impact on the logistics industry. How has it changed the way you work at Debenhams?
Consumer technology advancements have led to an ever-increasing appetite for knowledge and communication, and as such we have increasingly become more transparent, providing more and more information to internal customers and consumers alike.
The need for speed, accuracy and the pressures in the labour market have also fuelled incredible innovation in the mechanisation and automation world. These areas, previously seen as the preserve of the few are now increasingly accepted as being the norm.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Keep your perspective; if you let pressure and challenges build up to the point it stops you thinking, take a moment to think of the things in your life that really matter and it will help you gain perspective and re-energise yourself in tackling the challenge at hand. The other sage-like piece of advice was “If you have nothing else, make sure you have shiny shoes.”
What one piece of advice would you give to young people starting out in logistics?
Gain as much practical hands-on experience as you can, the diversity and breadth of experience you gain in the early years of your career will always stand you in good stead. They will form the basis of your intuition as you progress and form the foundations of the confidence you will need to succeed. It is a wonderful industry with so many sectors and skills that the opportunities are endless.
What top three skills do you think are required in a career in logistics?
You have to have a degree of logic, this will help the basics required to succeed in this business, critically; planning and problem solving. You need to be able to cope with pressure because it is volatile and things will go wrong in your career, although often these are the times we learn the most. Scars are useful reminders! Finally I would say you need to be willing and able to embrace change, this is not an industry in which standing still and resisting change will help you succeed.