Her career started with 7 years at Marks and Spencer as a senior merchandiser, later followed by 7 years at Kingfisher. This early period, Bea told us, was hugely enjoyable, and was spent learning essential, functional skills including the importance of working in teams, of due process, of governance and of risk management. She worked hard and was hugely respected, moving quickly to leadership positions and often exceeding company targets by some margin. The downside to this early corporate pathway, however, was that Bea always ‘felt like her wings were a bit clipped’ and that the entrepreneurial freedom she craved was missing.
It was during this time that she started to develop her transformational skills, often being tasked with resolving specific, departmental problems before moving on within 18 months. This kind of work becoming a real specialism that has stayed with Bea over the course of her career, and gave way to her wings eventually being ‘unclipped’ over numerous interim CEO positions, including at Animal and T J Hughes, cementing her as a leading turnaround expert thanks to her ability to analyse a market to pinpoint where a problem lies.
Such was Bea’s success that she soon found herself CEO at Claire’s accessories. With $1.5 billion in turnover, 18,000 employees and a reach across 49 countries, Bea had a significant challenge to make her mark on so vast an organisation. How can you implement your philosophy and culture at a company that big? Her first move was to make everyone feel that they are in charge of their own business, leaving work each day feeling that they have contributed. This all came down to freedom with a framework: store managers were allowed and actively encouraged to come up with and implement new ideas. The only stipulation? To measure the results. If something worked, share it with other stores, and do more of it. If it didn’t, stop doing it. Once team members were aware of this freedom to innovate and make mistakes, they were eager to work and ready to innovate.