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The Warehouse Group CIO reveals ‘why the best place for a business technologist is in retail’

The Warehouse Group CIO reveals ‘why the best place for a business technologist is in retail’

Through serendipity, all of Simon Kennedy’s career has been in retail - from selling sausages in London, through to global management consultant roles and now CIO.

I have got skills with a butcher’s knife that would probably be quite unusual for someone in my role.

Simon Kennedy, The Warehouse Group

Simon Kennedy was born to be in retail.

As a teenager in the 80s, he worked in the sausage factory owned by his family, which produced and sold sausages through the company's stores in London.

“As they say, 'L & P is world famous in New Zealand'. In our case, 'Kennedy’s was world famous in south east London',” says Kennedy, CIO at The Warehouse Group.

After completing his degree in modern history and economics at the University of Oxford, Kennedy became a management consultant, working with Accenture and at Ernst & Young.

He also worked at another consulting group, Kurt Salmon Associates, before joining Reliance, a conglomerate headquartered in India. In 2009, he moved to New Zealand, becoming the group CIO at the Warehouse Group (TWG).

“This is my first CIO role,” he explains. “My background and career before that is consulting.”

But almost all of that consulting was in a single sector - retail. It started with Accenture when the company asked him to work with retail clients. “One thing led to another, and you become specialised almost by accident.”

His time at KSA, a niche consultancy for the retail and consumer goods sector, led to the opportunity at Reliance Industries. There, he was a vice president in the Chairman’s Office, heading the business architecture team that supported the conglomerate’s growing retail business.

Today, he is responsible for information and communications technology for the Warehouse Group, which includes The Warehouse, Noel Leeming, Warehouse Stationery, Torpedo7 and TWG Financial Services.

He strongly believes the best place to work for a business technologist is in retail.

All the big technology trends - cloud, social, mobile, how people are accessing information, data analytics, Internet of Things, connected devices - they all converge in retail,” he says.

“All of those trends are relevant to our customers and relevant to us.”

A life in retail

As a student, Kennedy worked in the summer in the family business, mainly in the sausage factory with 40 to 50 other staff.

Read more: The CIO who ‘lives and breathes spatial’

“I have got skills with a butcher’s knife that would probably be quite unusual for someone in my role,” he says, with a laugh.

His father ran the business, taking over from his grandfather. “You can follow that back to 1877,” he says.

“Sadly, the final eight stores closed their doors in 2007,” he says. A google search for Kennedy’s Sausages will reveal how their customers mourned the loss of the brand after 130 years.

“As they say, 'L and P is world famous in New Zealand'. In our case, 'Kennedy’s was world famous in south east London'.”
“As they say, 'L and P is world famous in New Zealand'. In our case, 'Kennedy’s was world famous in south east London'.”

Kennedy did not work in the family business after finishing university. But looking at it now, he says, their products would these days be marketed as artisan food that could command premium prices.

"Perhaps an opportunity was missed," he states. “These were hand-made, high-quality products.”

“The same products, pretty much unchanged, for generations. At the turn of the century, sausages were a staple breakfast food for working families. Roll forward to the 1990s and things have changed a lot.

Read more: More CEOs take the lead on digital transformation

“The quality was still very high but the market has moved away,” he says.

The family retained their outlets in south east London, but the business continued to decline. With hindsight, he says, they should have shifted market, perhaps to the more upscale West London area.

“That is a key lesson for all kinds of businesses,” he states. “Follow your customer.”

Next: London-Mumbai-Auckland: The making of a CIO

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