Customer director at Oasis Fashion, Briony has been featured in Drapers ‘Top 30 under 30’. She tells us about her desire for a challenging career…
Can you tell us what you wanted to be when you were growing up?
When I was growing up I wanted to be a brain surgeon. People spoke about it like it was a difficult job which made it really appealing to me, I guess from a young age it was clear that I’d want to take on something challenging!
At about 14 years old, my school started talking about careers and this was around the same time that my parents allowed me to make my own, big decisions, around things such as drinking Coca Cola. And, once the ‘holidays are coming’ advert played, my new aspiration was to be in marketing for Coca Cola.
I think my younger self would be quite pleased with where I’ve ended up. At Oasis I can spend some days talking about flamingos and rainbows, which I guess isn’t too much of a jump from marketing for Coca Cola!
What does a typical day as Customer Director at Oasis Fashion look like for you?
There is no typical day! I find myself going from flamingos to financials, j-queries to customer queries, model selection to financial models – every day is really varied and I’m always busy.
It normally kicks off with me checking emails, which are always a battle to keep on-top of, and reviewing the numbers from the previous day. The rest of the days is mostly filled with meetings, usually starting off with the Trade team to understand more about the performance.
Tell us about your career route, where did it all start for you?
The foundation was that I am and have always been an avid online shopper.
At University when we graduated most people took 1 of 4 routes – law, finance, medicine or consultancy – none of which appealed to me until a consultancy called Javelin Group were presenting at a careers evening. Free drink and food was a big draw for students and their main message was; “if you love online shopping, come chat to us”.
I decided that was what I wanted to do and I remember calling my Mum, albeit a little tipsy, and telling her I wanted to work for the consultancy and went for interviews. Me, and another 3 grads, managed to get in. This was the start of 5 years working with multiple brands on omni-channel projects.
One of the highlights must be going to Australia for 7 months.
Going into brands and evaluating their strategy was fascinating to me and gave me such a broad scope of experience at a young age.
I was fortunate to grow with the company, but the hours were long.
Working on individual projects in succession meant the approach to work was quite linear and I didn’t feel hugely credible telling people what to do when I hadn’t done it myself.
Then I naively thought a move into retail would give me a better work-life balance but I knew it would be more rewarding.
I was an Oasis customer and so got in touch with the HR Director and had a meeting with Hash and Derek (Director at the time). They offered me the role of Head of Ecommerce and Customer Experience and my boss at Javelin was really pleased for me.
Why did you move into retail?
At Oxford you have short terms so studying was intense which reduced the opportunity to complete work placements. And as it wasn’t a vocational degree so work experience wasn’t a necessity in the course. My Psychology, Philosophy and Physiology (PPP) Degree taught me how to evaluate numbers and gave me insight into human behaviour which played nicely into consumer behaviour. The material I learnt didn’t lead me neatly into a consulting role but I did learn time management and how to cope under pressure.
What advice would you give to someone that is interested in following a similar career path?
Work hard. Putting in the hard work and having the right attitude will get you wherever you want to go. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there – what’s the worst that could happen? By taking a leap and calling the Oasis HR team it lead me to where I am today.
Think about which stepping stones would help you. Sometimes consultancies and agencies can compliment your career progression but you will need to move for operational accountability.
Be a really valuable player within the business; be dependable and reliable.
Getting into a small to medium size business so you can grow with them is something I’d also recommend doing.
What are the key differences between working in a consulting role to in-house?
The biggest difference in a consulting role is the high pressure and long working hours. You’d be working on one project at a time with milestones you’d have to hit and in my particular role I wasn’t line managing anyone. I would just manage people on a project or the project team.
In my current role, I am constantly spinning multiple plates at any one time that can go in any direction. There’s never an end point but this gives variety – you can go from a meeting discussing what’s happening with a web margin in a host store to how we are going to be displaying bridesmaids’ dresses in our Tottenham Court Road store. Learning to manage people was eye-opening – it’s rewarding managing a team.
Tell us about your career highs and lows
Drapers where we won digital team of the year because I was so proud of the team and it was well deserved. It followed an incredibly busy year finally replatforming – coming in at 4am to see the website launch was a career high.
When we ran a customer day and opened up press day to our customers – positioning us as an accessible brand. It was a magical day which enabled us to meet the customers who fed back to say they were made to feel really special.
The hardest bit of the job is dealing with fallout issues from systems. When you see you’ve disappointed customers that’s hard.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I shop a lot and that helps! And I dip into a lot of sectors for inspiration. I look at lots of different industries to see how we can take exciting things that are happening in those industries (e.g. fitness, travel, hotels).
The team and brainstorms, that can get a bit weird and wonderful. At the moment I’m massively inspired by brands driving a CSR focus.
In terms of people, Richard Branson is an inspiration. I went to see him talk about going into space and how it changed his perspective on the world and made him more philanthropic. He was talking about our responsibility as leaders of brands and the important to affect change.
How have customer expectations changed and how has Oasis had to redesign their tech channels to cope?
I think customer expectations are ever evolving. I feel like expectations are getting greater which brings a degree of complexity.
As we begin to offer more services and functionality naturally that requires either the use of additional systems or enhancement of existing platforms.
The most challenging part is making sure all of the systems are well integrated to ensure a smooth customer journey that is easier said than done.
Also where pure plays and new entries to the market have more agile systems and lack legacy architecture, they have the advantage.
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