This article published December 2015. For latest news THIS MONTH'S ISSUE
In the latest Meet the Boss video, Insight managing director Dan Munford interviews My Local CEO, Mike Greene, at the Wilmslow, Cheshire, My Local store. In this first episode, Retail Vision’s Dan Munford asks Mike about his early experiences in retail and finds out how Mike started his career and where he got his famous motivation and drive from.
Greene admits he never intended to pursue a career in retail. His mum was always keen for him to go into accounting or banking - safe professions, he recalls; which are ideal for those who, like Greene, were not particularly academic at school.
However, Greene did do a six-week course in banking but remembers hating the whole process. Yet, while he was doing it, he had the direct comparison with his Saturday job in a newsagents. It quickly dawned on him that eight hours in the retail business went by in a flash, whereas eight hours in banking felt like a week and was certainly not for him.
“I just loved retail. I loved the fact that you can take merchandising and make it look a bit better and you sold more,” he says. “You change it round and it sold more. You were able to influence what was happening and what shoppers would buy.”
As he progressed through his career from assistant manager to manager and then area manager, Greene realised that if you took the same product but put someone in the store who really knew what they were doing and were excited about it, then you can transform a retail business.
“It just became a part of who I am,” he says.
It was around this time that Spar began developing its Eight Till Late concept in the UK after its executives had been on study tours in America. They saw that corner shops were closing down, while supermarkets were becoming bigger, one-stop shops, Greene recalls.
Greene joined the Eight Till Late development team under John Irish. It was leading the way with extended hours opening when more traditional shops were closed all day Sunday, a half day on Saturday, as well as one day during the week.
Irish got stores to realise there was a new approach to business. Greene remembers working to convince established retailers there was a new, fresh way of working.
From there he moved to working for oil companies and developing stores for them, becoming immersed in the psychology and science of store marketing such as smells, sounds and colour.
“It was basic retail but if you want to get scientific about it there’s so much you can do to influence shopper behaviour,” he says.
Munford moves on to talk about Greene’s days at Him!, the shopper marketing agency, which brought him recognition on a global stage.
Greene also remembers how a Conoco shops team project, where he ran a 16-country best practice sharing programme, gave him his first taste for international markets.
It explored which countries were doing what well and how best to emulate that offer in other markets. At the time, Green says he asked Him! founder, Geoff Harris, if he could share some of his shopper knowledge and research.
“The guy was a god of retail quite frankly,” he says. “But it was very much about numbers and data.” The duo developed a great rapport and friendship so when Harris asked Greene to come and work for him, he had no reservations but one caveat - that ultimately he would buy the business from him. One year later, Greene, together with Tom Fender, succeeded in that mission.
Him! brought Greene the knowledge to understand shoppers through the research. He could see which retailers were best at executing different categories and was able to share that best practice across the industry.
Greene claims this insight has fuelled his passion for retail and his ability to understand teams.
Him! was successfully sold to publishers William Reed in 2011 but Greene has retained interests and roles in other businesses along with charitable organisations. He also famously appeared on the popular TV programme, Secret Millionaire.
More recently Greene has been in the spotlight for leading the £25m takeover of Morrisons convenience store business M local - the deal completed in September 2015.
Munford wonders why he has elected to get back into the driving seat at this stage in his career.
Greene opens up about his early childhood and reveals how it has motivated his decisions.
Greene recalls visiting his nan’s caravan on the East coast of the UK. On one summer holiday, when he was four years old, his father sold the family home and did a runner. Greene’s mum was advised to put him and his four siblings into care since it was felt that she was unable to look after five children on her own. She refused but brought the family up singlehandedly, living in a hostel for six months and a caravan for four years. “We had a challenging upbringing,” Greene says.
But it taught him strong life lessons, not least self belief and an “inquisitive desire to learn”.
The UK's Secret Millionaire programme [which strips candidates of their wallets and phones and requires them to live on social benefits] was a challenge in this respect, since it was putting him back in his childhood surroundings but with his insider’s knowledge about behaviour, admits Greene.
Following the sale of Him! Greene says he chose to chunk up his life into thirds - family, business and charity. He reveals that he and his family support 40 charities, which are local to where they live; and he is an ambassador for Local Giving, which represents 4,000 charities.
Despite non-executive roles and charitable work, Greene says he still missed being part of a business.
“What I love doing in retail is as much a part of me as my family or anything I do personally,” he says.
Next edition: in a fascinating extended interview, find out how Greene acquired the My Local business from Morrison's, his plans for the future and his perspectives on the leading players in our industry.
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