Kit and Ace boss talks recruitment in retail

Kit and AceAlexie O’Brien, head of Kit and Ace in Australia and New Zealand, will speak at the Inside Retail Academy’s leadership events in Melbourne and Sydney this October.

Ahead of the one day workshops, O’Brien chats to Inside Retail about her approach to recruitment and retention in retail.

Inside Retail: For anyone that doesn’t know the brand Kit & Ace, can you share a little about the brand?

Alexie O’Brien: Kit and Ace designs and develops contemporary luxury apparel, accessories and lifestyle products for men and women living full contact lives. By creating proprietary fabrics that combine technical attributes with luxury fibers, Kit and Ace is designed to take you from day to night. The brainchild of Shannon and JJ Wilson, Kit and Ace was created to fill a void in the luxury apparel industry. With a shared background in technical apparel, Shannon and JJ have created a product that offers comfort and functionality without sacrificing style and luxury.

We have big growth plans. We are currently in five countries with plans to have open 55 shops by the end of 2015.

IR: Can you tell us about the human capital lifecycle aligned to the brand Kit & Ace?

AO: For me, the human capital lifecycle of a business is all about a business being able to tell its brand story in a way that attracts people to want to work for the business. The business then has to engage its workforce to keep top talent and create an environment that delivers results, innovation and inspires those who work there. This is also done through developing and coaching teams and leaders. And finally, it is having an exit strategy for people who aren’t performing to the level required.

So at Kit and Ace, our brand story, the fact we are a high growth start up and that we are a learning company passionate about living full contact lives with integrity – makes it an exciting proposition for a lot of young leaders. We develop our people and are currently creating our internal training and leadership programs to support of young leaders in becoming more self aware, to understanding impact of their communication and leadership on others, to develop their business acumen. But a high growth business with massive goals is a high speed environment. That is not going to be for everyone. So we treat people with compassion and follow due process to ensure people get to find the right role that will have them succeed. Sometimes that may not be with us.

IR: As a company that cares about its people, what are some of the key ways the brand connects to its people?

AO: We care about our people – not just their professional development but their development as a whole person – living a life of their own design. Being a high growth business we are adding new people all the time. So we have a monthly social to ensure teams are connecting and getting related to ensure cross functional relationships are developed outside the normal day to day of their work. We are committed to having performance conversations regularly (formal ones quarterly) to ensure expectations are clear, roadblocks are removed and execution aligns with our strategy. Our people are aware and know which direction the business is headed what their part in that is. They feel invested in and they are learning a lot fast!

IR: What does leading from the top mean to you?

AO: Leading from the top for me means leading with Integrity. While integrity is such an overused word in some respects – to me leading from the top with integrity is not only doing the right thing, or what you said you would do, it is also what is expected of you. Even if you don’t know it is expected. This is hard as the leader, as there are a lot of expectations on you from all team members, all stakeholders, customers and vendors, at all levels, at all times. So you need to get into conversation and understand those expectations to be able to either commit to delivering them or resolve to aligning that the expectations are not in your control, or that you cannot commit to them.

It also means being prepared to do anything you are expecting of your teams. It means being humble and acknowledging when you are wrong – or you don’t know the answer to something. And it is also having to make the tough decisions for the benefit of the business. It is not easy leading from the top but it is rewarding when you see results, as well as the growth in knowledge and confidence of young leaders.

Alexie will share some of the secrets to recruiting a southern hemisphere team of 300 people over a two year period without spending a dollar on advertising roles at Inside Retail Academy’s Leadership Seminar: Inspiring People & Brands. 

Inside Retail Academy

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