Interview: Simon Calver - Former CEO of Mothercare & LOVEFiLM
With a lifetime in business, at the helm of such global powerhouses as Mothercare and LOVEFiLM, Simon Calver is an expert on corporate turnaround and sustainable growth. He is a transformational corporate speaker, equipped with business top tips he is highly sought after at industry conferences.
In our recent interview, we sat down with Simon to discuss his long and successful career, including how he turned Mothercare around and sold LOVEFiLM to Amazon. Continue reading to find out more:
Q: As the former CEO of Mothercare, you led a global turnaround; what was the biggest change you made to the company?
“I think the biggest change when you turn a company around is actually trying to give people internally the confidence they need to make the turnaround happen. And like any business, it’s about people and what they do on a day-to-day basis.
“So giving people confidence, a vision of the change you need to make and real purpose, will ultimately make the difference.
“I mean, the trading conditions in the UK were incredibly challenging globally. We had a very strong business, but a few years after I left, Mothercare didn’t survive.
“I’m hoping the people I worked with see the transition that they went through with me as hugely positive, for what was a 50-year-old brand and company at the time.”
Q: During your seven-year tenure at LOVEFiLM, which professional achievement are you proudest of?
“I think the first thing would be the team we assembled, which was more like a family. We bickered, we argued, but that’s the beauty of a start-up in the early stages.
“I think the biggest change we faced was the transition from a physical DVD rental business to a digital streaming business. We had to do that at the same time as running a business and driving efficiencies.
“Within a two-to-three-year period, we became leaders of the streaming industry, which was the main reason why Amazon ultimately acquired us. We were the technology behind Amazon Prime.
“So, I think making that transition to digital from physical was my proudest achievement.”
Q: Why is it important for businesses to capitalise on the latest technological opportunities?
“The key thing about technological change is that it allows new companies to grow.
“And I’m a huge believer in the power of the small company, rather than the power of the big company. These innovators have less capital, maybe have fewer people, but are nimbler than a lot of the incumbents.
“I think large companies and small companies need to grab hold of technological opportunities to understand what’s happening with their customers, with their clients and to ensure they’re not going to be cannibalised by new technology.
“It’s important that all levels from the board downwards really understand the impact technology will have on their business.
Q: How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the world of work & do you believe that such trends as remote working are here to stay?
“The answer is yes, I do. I think we’re going to be more flexible; I think when people in the future are looking for jobs, they may look for remote working, hybrid working and office working, and then they’ll make that call as to the type of job they want to do.
“Clearly, we’re going to see a huge surplus of commercial office space as people cut back. I’m sure we will creep back into the offices slowly over the next few years, but I think people are questioning whether having a two-hour commute each way is worthwhile when they are just as efficient at home. So I think people are going to challenge that.
“The other thing, I think people are looking for more purpose.
“It’s been an incredibly stressful time. It’s been a time of constant change. And in their work, I think people are looking for a real purpose and vision. The companies that can provide a real reason as to why they’re in existence will attract great talent.
“If a business is just a transactional service company that doesn’t actually add much value, I don’t think people will be attracted to it as much.
“I think the relationship with work and how people work is going to change quite a lot as a result of the pandemic.”
Q: Compared to your experience as CEO of LOVEFiLM, how have consumer expectations evolved during the 21st century & how can businesses adapt their engagement strategies to accommodate?
“I think this is key to success for most businesses. We need to bring the consumer or client back to the centre of what we do, we need to understand their pain points so we can solve them.
“But also, we need to challenge ourselves to improve their experience. The whole user experience, the whole in-store experience or the client experience is going to be critical for success. And that's where I think technology changes are going to help support that area going forward.
“I think expectations are going to be raised significantly. People now are not going to settle for second or third best, so all companies out there better be on their mettle and start putting the customer first in all of their transactions.”
Q: Considering your vast experience growing market-leading businesses, what are your top three tips for driving sustainable corporate growth?
“I think this is the Holy Grail, isn't it - not only growth but sustainable growth?
“I think there are three things that you need to do. First of all, you need to build the right organisation. That means sometimes getting rid of people who have been there a while.
“First division people work with first division people, and second division people like to work with third division people because they don't like to be challenged. You've got to set the bar high on organisation and talent.
“The second thing you've got to do is really know what you need to focus on. The key performance indicators or measures that you're looking at day in, day out, are going to make a difference and drive growth.
“The third point is to be prepared to take risks, innovate, change, ensure that you're changing to improve those key metrics. Use adaptability and flexibility as a strategic advantage over your competition.
“I think if you can do those things well - so the right team focussed on the right things with the right mentality and flexibility - you have a real chance of succeeding.”
Q: How do you manage the pressure of leading such financially successful businesses?
“It is a lot easier running a successful business than it is a business that’s in administration. I think, ultimately, what you need to do is have a real focus on what makes a difference.
“You need to drive that all the way through the organisation. So, communication and employee engagement become key. I think the more you have clarity about where you want to take the business and what you want to do, the more likely you are to succeed in it.
“Keep it simple, don't overcomplicate it and make sure everybody understands what you're trying to do. From the person working in the basement to the people in the executive suite, they all need to understand exactly what you're doing and why you're doing it to drive the business forward.
“I think the other thing is when things are going well, don't take all the credit for it, because there are other reasons as well; and when things aren't going as well, don't feel as though it's only you that's done something wrong.
“You're never as good as a good day and you're never as bad as a bad day.”
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to yourself at the start of your career?
“I think the ultimate thing would be, try and experiment with different things in different companies with different functions, and working in different parts of the business. Then, when you find your passion, absolutely double down, live and breathe it because you're much more effective when you find your passion for things you like doing in business.
“You have to stick at it. You must have a long term plan and think about, ‘what skills and experiences do I need to have,’ then stick with it and follow your passions.”
Having completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing, Megan joined Champions Speakers in 2019. She is found regularly contributing to the company blog where she discusses everything from the latest news to self-improvement, as well as contributing t... Read more
Champions does not speak for or claim to represent all the individuals listed on this website as the exclusive booking agent or agency unless specifically stated. Acts listed on this site are for informational purposes only.