Now in its fifth year, Advertising Week Europe took over London’s Piccadilly Picturehouse bringing together the brightest leaders, the hottest topics of the day and a sprinkling of celebrity stardust from marketing, advertising, technology and entertainment.

High on the agenda was the need for change – given the significant shocks in business and politics over the past year, and the challenges and opportunities created by Brexit’s Article 50.

Oystercatchers led the debate in the latest in its series of leadership seminars.

Our CEO Suki Thompson interviewed business leader Feilim Mackle, recently appointed CEO of Dixons Carphone, Services, and political/social activist Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party, on what it takes to be a successful leader of transformation.

With £10 billion annual revenue, 11,000 stores, Dixons Carphone sells one in three TV and washing machines in the UK. Last week it delivered to 80,000 homes across the country. Feilim is part of a team taking this large complex retail business to the next stage of transformation. Sophie, frequently referred to as this generation’s Emily Pankhurst, leads a party transforming the face of the UK and the population at large. In just under two years she has created a movement with over 65,000 registered users.

Here at Oystercatchers, Suki is leading us through transformation as we join with Centaur Media, to create a new international consultancy, anchored in digital, accelerating modern marketing performance.

Transformation: bring everyone on the journey

As former UK Sales & Service Director at O2 [Telefȯnica UK] giant, Feilim led change by helping people to be in tune with business developments – and more importantly – ensuring that the leadership team was absolutely in line with company engagement. He launched “The Big Broadcast” and the “big yak” – town hall meetings with tables of ten, no formal presentation – a genuine two-hour interactive session – anonymous, brave and direct. Over three years, 6000 people shared their views and concerns. The result: when transformation took impact, people were prepared for change emotionally as well as from a business perspective.

Meanwhile, Sophie crowd-sourced all WEP policies to understand what people wanted, what women’s equality should look like and how it could it be achieved. The goal was to puncture the myth that politics is hard “like all transformation, it’s a matter of [political] will and a clear path”. Half the WEP members had never been in politics before.

Leadership must represent the people

We believe the old style of “command and control” no longer works for the new generation of professionals. Modern leaders must create a sense of purpose around which to bind the organisation, have a vision for the future and then liberate their teams to be at their very best. People want their work to mean something, they want to deliver and develop. Sophie concurred, noting a parallel in politics – total rejection of traditional political leadership as people look for something different and a desire from the electorate for leaders that look and sound like them.

In short, successful leadership represents the people – allowing everyone regardless of race, background or gender to be at their very best. And yes, it’s harder to do than to say.

The importance of creating a brand

In complex times of transformation, the panel agreed that the brand has never been more important – giving people a sense of comfort and a purpose to purchase. Feilim’s defines brand as how customers interact with business at any given moment. His goal is to create a super-helpful brand experience at Dixons Carphone Warehouse at every touchpoint of the customer journey – from choice, to repair, to post-purchase. “I want our customers to walk away thinking – that was super-helpful”. He added, the stores are central to our strategy, people still want to walk into the shop and ask for personal advice.

Tips to for leading transformation

  • Define success with clarity and be honest
  • Surround yourself with great talent – it can be lonely leading the charge
  • Never, ever lose sight of the customer
  • Keep your teams engaged
  • Tell great stories
  • Don’t beat yourself up when it seems too much. Today’s worry will be tomorrow’s old news

Watch a replay of the session with Suki, Feilim and Sophie:

And read Feilim’s views on tackling unconscious bias in Marketing Week here: