“Tenacity, resilience and fantastic people skills”

I Joined in June 1999 as a weekend Sales Assistant in Peckham High Street Store. I applied to WHSmith as the brand appealed to me and initially only intended to stay for a short period of time…

After joining Peckham I was soon asked to deputise and run the store on Sundays, this was during my university time so the money helped. I graduated in Medical Biochemistry and Human Genetics and wasn’t really sure what I was going to do but knew I loved the WHSmith environment.

WHSmith offered me to join the Stores Graduate Programme which I snapped up for the next 12 months. On completion of the Graduate Programme I was offered a Business Accounts Manager role which entailed me dealing with all business to business sales out of London stores – I managed to increase these sales to ¼ of a million pound for the business which was a great achievement. Throughout this role I gained an understanding of bad debts and how we dealt with these as a business which led to me after one year of being offered a position within our Travel Head Office based in our Loss Prevention team.

After a short stint in the Head Office I went back to stores and took on our High Street store in Elephant and Castle as a Store Manager for approx two years, managing a team of approx 15 people. I was then offered the Store Manager position for our flagship High Street Store on Oxford Street Plaza which was daunting for me because of the profile of the store, but I took it in my stride and managing a team of c.50 had a successful Two years there.

I then moved onto our Lewisham High Street Store as SM for about a year. At this time in my career I had decided that with family we would be relocating to Bristol, I approached my line manager at the time and expressed I didn’t want to leave the business and WHSmith supported me fully in finding a role suitable within my desired location – South West.

I was offered our High Street, Bath store which was at the time was in our top 20 performing stores in the UK. So this was a big achievement and I felt honoured that the business supported my relocation and believed in my development and success. I managed a c.60 strong team in Bath for a couple of years and this increased my curiosity further about the wider business and my development opportunities.

I took a position as Stores Operations Manager – General Merchandising, Books and Marketing within our High Street Head Office to gain exposure to our HO environment and also develop my experience within the HO environment. Over this period I managed to network and build my profile across other areas of the business and through doing this after a couple of years, I was offered the opportunity to become an Area Manager for Post Office. This was huge for me as I had managed to progress throughout my career and now had the opportunity to take on my own region, which is what I had dreamed of! I was responsible for about 30 Post Offices across a large region.

Following this I came back into Head Office and led a project for British Book Shops acquisitions which again exposed me to other areas of the business and developed my skill set. It was in this role that I started to enquire about our Travel business as that was going through rapid growth and I managed to secure an Area Manager position for the South West for our Travel business.

This was a complete change and I didn’t anticipate the different challenges I would be faced with. It was like moving to a completely different company; however I loved it and had the support behind me from the business all the way. It taught me lots of new skills and felt my grounding in High Street certainly helped with the transition. I did this role for three years and then got asked to take on the Regional Business Manager role for Central London – which entailed taking on some huge businesses – our mainline stations! After a year I also gained Greater London and this is where I am working now.

My proudest achievement throughout my career so far is, well I have two: 1. my consistent career development which I never anticipated when I joined the company 2. Winning ‘Store Manager of the year for High Street’ in our Bath Store.

I think to succeed in WHSmith stores you need tenacity, resilience, fantastic people skills, and entrepreneurial attitude and have the ability to balance; dealing with analysing figures and hitting sales targets whilst building on strategy and your people’s development and alongside all of this managing the day to day running. You have to be on board with genuinely putting customers at the heart of what you do, especially in challenging environment like Travel.

Ryan Richardson – Regional Business Manager

Responsible for 57 stores and counting

I completed work experience at WHSmith whilst at school, leading to a permanent weekend job. After my degree, I joined on a full-time basis and completed the Supervisor Development Programme, which led to a Supervisor role in our Derby store.

It wasn’t long before I was managing a small store of my own. Moves to bigger stores followed, along with a field-based secondment in the Stores Trading Losses team. I then took the step up to Store Manager of the High Street flagship store, Meadowhall, in Sheffield. Company development programmes also meant I got to work on regional projects, including the roll-out of our Cardmarket stores; all of which helped me to get to where I am today. Throughout my career, people have supported my progression.

You don’t need qualifications to advance – you just need self-belief.

Deb Proud – Regional Business Manager

“A happy team who feel appreciated”

I joined WHSmith travel in May 2009, my background was in catering which I was made redundant from and as my mum at the time was working for WHSmith she encouraged me to apply. I was looking for flexible hours due to being a parent and WHSmith offered me a 16 hour contract as a weekend Supervisor into Kings Mill Hospital. This soon increased to a 24 hour contract as I was enjoying what I was doing and could take on more shifts. We went through some tough times and staff costs were being cut and redundancies were happening, however I secured my role and actually got the opportunity to step up temporarily to cover sickness. In recognition of this I was promoted to Team Leader of the store and deputised as Store Manager to cover any sickness etc. A short while after this and due to the current SM retiring, I was given the opportunity to become Store Manager.

Within my first year as Store Manager our store was awarded ‘Regional Store of the Year’, this is something that made me so proud, not just of my achievement but also the whole teams and the fact that senior management recognised us. We then secured a new regional manager who saw potential in me as an individual and encouraged my development, which without that I wouldn’t have pushed myself.

I was asked to support East Midlands Airport as they had no manager for a short period of time. This was a complete eye opener as it was so different to my hospital store, for a start it had multiple stores and also I had to build and maintain a strong working relationship with the landlord. I improved standards within the store and couldn’t believe the profile of our airport stores, so this taught me a lot, we used to get mystery shoppers from the landlord!

After successfully supporting East Midlands I was asked to support with Lincoln County Hospital alongside my store to help with some improvement areas and I then also supported Derby Rail, again to support with improvement areas and help build the landlord relationships.

Working in the different formats in Travel has really helped my development as a Store Manager. It’s really important to me to ensure I have a happy team and that they feel appreciated. Working in hospitals requires such empathy as your customers are far different to those you experience in an airport!

My biggest achievement was gaining the ‘store of the year’ award and we were given a voucher which we all went out for a nice meal with as a team!

Sarah Draycott – Store Manager

Supervisor to T3 Terminal Manager

I joined in September 2008 as a Supervisor into our High Street store in Hemel Hempstead after seeing a poster in the window! I remember being interviewed on the Saturday and finding out on the same day I had got the job and was starting on Monday! My first day was welcoming and the team were really engaging with me. I was thrown straight into Christmas set up (which meant very little to me at the time!) In my first week there was an unannounced visit from our CEO – Kate Swann and our Stores Director Kevin Hall – this made me very nervous on the day, however they were very engaging, took the time to speak with me and found out how my first week was going and what I thought of the business etc. This was insane for me as I had never experienced anyone at that senior level in my previous employers.

After 3 months I was promoted to Assistant Manager and put onto our MDP training programme which I was signed off and passed 6 months later! After 1 year I was promoted to Store Manager of Rickmansworth where I took on about a team of eight, time was flying by, it was a well ran store already but I was tasked within implementing new processes and this resulted in my store being one of the top performers on the region! My RBM at the time was extremely supportive and with the location of the store I experienced a lot of unannounced visits from our Stores Director, however I managed to build my profile through this period. After a year I applied for the SM vacancy at our Henley store however, I was unsuccessful but in recognition of my desire to progress I was offered to run Marlow store which was bigger and had a team of approx 20 people so would be a great development step for me. I ran Marlowe for about 18 months and through this went through a store refresh programme which opened my eyes to the wider business and supported my development of dealing with contractors and 3rd party suppliers. My highlight in this store was the ‘Christmas Market’ we all dressed up, opened the store later and made the store a ‘fun’ place to come into for customers. I had engaged with the local council to raise our awareness amongst the community.

I was then offered a big step into managing Staines Stores. It was a Grade 5, over two floors and looking back it was quite daunting taking it on, however thanks to the support from my RBM and the business, this proved to be a real highlight of my career. When I took over it had not had a manager for about six months so needed a bit of TLC and realignment. I was targeted to get the store back on track and managed to do so within eight months and achieved our shrink target. It was here that I trained up a member of staff who is now our Deputy Manager for Heathrow T2 (one of our biggest businesses!) and this makes me feel proud that I was part of her development.

On recognition of my achievements with Staines store our Stores Director approached me and asked if I would move to our Slough store – now this was a struggling store, which needed a turnaround project, however was very high profile due to its location – a regional office, a regularly visited store not only by our senior management teams but also our suppliers to ensure compliance across their product ranges! It took me a while to make a decision but I decided it would either make or break my career and I was eager to progress – I got stuck straight in! This was a tense environment and I certainly faced challenges I had never before, we experienced a lot of trials, a huge shrink problem, a store refresh, having to re-engage, motivate and develop the team and local community. In my second year, we had ‘smashed’ the shrink target which was a first for that store – so this is still a highlight that stands out to me.

I then began getting more intrigued about the Travel business and decided to apply for the Deputy Manager vacancy for our brand new, prestigious Heathrow T2 vacancy and thankfully secured it. The business supported my transition to Travel with a gradual move, I gained a lot of exposure to project management as T2 wasn’t even open so was involved in the store opening in June that year – this was huge, T2 was being opened by the Queen and WHSmith was one of the main retailers in the terminal, it was all a brilliant success and the store looked amazing! Shortly after opening we merged the management of T1, 2 and 3 as there was a re-structure on the region. This gave me the opportunity to step up as Terminal Manager for T3 in the September for an interim period and based on recognition of my success in June of the following year I was appointed permanently into the role. The following year I was awarded with ‘Store Manager’ of the year which is the biggest achievement and highlight in my career.

Working in a large airport has enabled me to gain exposure to Head Office as well as senior management, I never dreamed in a million years that joining as a supervisor all those years ago would get me where I am today, managing one of our biggest businesses in the UK. I got here through my determination but also through the support and development from WHSmith.

Martin Dumbarton – Terminal Manager – T3 Heathrow