As part of our Senior Leadership interview series, we interview Andrew Harrison. Andrew has a distinguished career spanning 41 years working within the Merchant Industry. With a wealth of senior leadership experience behind him, Andrew shares his views on careers and leadership in the Merchant Industry.

Where did you start your career?

I left school with two career options. Should I join a growing supermarket business called Tesco or join a local Builders Merchant called Graham Reeves? I think we can all guess the route I chose. In my career, I have only ever worked for 3 businesses over 41 years. Firstly, Graham Reeves for 9 years, secondly Sharpe and Fisher for 10 years, who were then bought by Travis Perkins. I worked across various Travis Perkins group owned businesses, building my career and experience until now, when I retire from my role as Chief Executive Officer of the groups Plumbing & Heating businesses.

I never looked back, the merchant industry is a great industry to work in and gives people, no matter what their background, a real opportunity to succeed through hard work and dedication.

In the past few years I’ve also held various non-executive director roles, most notably the Builders Merchant Federation which was a great pleasure to be involved in.

What has changed most in the industry over your career?

The internet, without a doubt. It’s changing the way we all have do business and it has made pricing hyper visible. We live in the age of the disruptor – Amazon, Screwfix, etc. and digitalisation has made a huge impact on the way buyers behave. Simply, it has made selecting and buying products easier and more convenient for the customer.

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has accelerated the move to online trading for most merchants, maybe moving the industry on by five years in just twelve months, that pace of change is unlikely to ease off.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Quite simply, the people I’ve worked with have been the highlight. It’s one of the few industries where people can come into an organisation from college or school get great support and industry backed training and, with the right attitude, can go right to the top if that’s what they want.

Over my career, I have taken real pleasure in developing people and helping them succeed. And it’s great to watch these careers grow and progress over the years.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

I would not hesitate in recommending anyone, regardless of background, to come and work within one of the many areas that the Merchant Industry has to offer. And it’s not just careers within the branches I’m thinking about, but also IT, Finance, Multichannel, Marketing, HR, Legal, Supply Chain, etc. These are important roles in helping a modern merchant be successful.

Regardless of education or background if you come into merchanting and work hard you will be rewarded. And those who have real drive and an entrepreneurial spirit (and a bit of luck) can rise to the top or start their own business.

What advice can you give leaders when managing businesses and teams through times of uncertainty?

Across my career, I’ve been through various recessions and times of uncertainty and, from experience, I believe there are 3 main things to focus on during times of crisis.

1.Stay focused on your customer. Understand what they need and adapt to provide that product or service. And this is true even in business as usual. Supply and demand changes so much, it’s so important to understand when to change to suit the market.

2. Your people are key. Keeping your teams motivated and engaged is vital, but I cannot stress enough the importance of good, honest communication. COVID-19 again has changed the way we all communicate, and good use of video calls can help greatly, especially with remote teams.

3. Manage your cashflow carefully. Costs need to be rigorously controlled and managed during harder times and if you can invest for the future, do so.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited to be joining the team at Lords Trading Group as a non-executive director starting in March 2021. And I’m sure I’ll stay involved in an industry that I love and hopefully make a difference.

IF YOU ARE HIRING IN 2021 OR WOULD LIKE MORE INFORMATION ON OUR RECRUITMENT SERVICES CONTACT MICHAEL PARRY.

e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548