This would be a colossal problem for any company, but to make matters worse, the world was then thrust into severe geopolitical instability by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was clear, then, that this was no ordinary storm MADE was headed towards, but a cyclone of hardship and uncertainty.
These factors were enough to discourage anyone from the permanent CEO role at MADE, but Nicola’s extraordinary courage and distinct sense of duty compelled her to take on the mantle of leading the company into the eye of the tempest, come what may. “I asked myself what would happen if I said no”, she shared, “what position would that leave the business in? And I knew I had to throw myself forward.”
Trials and tribulation
The onset of the Ukraine war posed a myriad of challenges for businesses across the globe, but the most prominent at MADE was the almighty plunge in consumer demand. “We knew we had to form a rapid transformation plan to change the fundamentals of the business’ economics”, Nicola declared, “and within two months of me becoming CEO, we’d taken that plan to the board.”
Renegotiating warehouse leases, staff cuts, and a complete overhaul of the supply chain coalesced into a strategy capable of saving MADE, but it required the two most precious commodities for a business in crisis.
“By mid-July, an understanding had crystallised that, whilst we absolutely could get our plan in place, it would take time, and that meant we would need some extra cash”, Nicola admitted. This endeavour should have been relatively straightforward. After all, that’s what scale-ups do; they excel in raising capital, and MADE’s credentials were more than enough to convince investors to open their wallets.
However, the winds of chance and fate conspired against MADE once more, and eliminated any hope it had of raising additional capital. “We had gone out publicly and said we needed to raise between 50 and 70 million pounds”, Nicola remembered. “But, as we moved through the summer, two things happened that made that very difficult.”
The first was the Queen’s passing, and whilst you may ask what that had to do with the fortunes of an online furniture store, the numbers don’t lie. “It was another shock in terms of consumer sentiment”, Nicola clarified, “which meant that demand took yet another wobble. And the second thing that happened – which was probably more meaningful – was the mini budget.”
Whilst the Conservatives’ budget was by no means the cause of MADE’s woes, it undoubtedly struck the finishing blow. Against all the odds, Nicola had managed to keep MADE in the ring, but this heavyweight of the furniture world, now battered, bruised, and exhausted, could stand no more. As the Chancellor delivered his speech on the 23rd of September, confidence in the markets drained completely, and the hope and belief that had burned so brightly at MADE against the approaching darkness was extinguished.
Rolling with the punches
So, how did Nicola manage to cope through such a testing course of events? Even the most experienced of CEOs would concede that the circumstances that led to MADE’s demise were insurmountable, and with such a high level of public exposure, it must have taken a Herculean effort on Nicola’s part to keep moving forward.
“When you’re in that situation”, she began, “I think you need to practise some form of radical acceptance, otherwise it’s almost too excruciating to bear.” The adrenaline that such a challenging context elicits is useful, according to Nicola, but isn’t a sustainable force for weathering the storm. Instead, she underscored the importance of leading with grace, underpinned by compassion and resilience, in the face of adversity.