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Inside View: Net-A-Porter
Naomi Hewitt, Group HR Director of online luxury fashion giant The NET-A-PORTER Group, offers advice on the retail business and what to wear at interview!
Thirteen years ago NET-A-PORTER was operating out of a London flat, with stock piled up in a bathtub. Today it’s the world's premier online luxury fashion retailer and has been joined by THE OUTNET and MR PORTER.
The rapid growth of The NET-A-PORTER Group shows no signs of slowing down, with the launch of a publishing business, logistics expansions in the Asia-Pacific region, and beauty products the latest addition to the site.
Its blend of retail, with hot-off-the-catwalk clothes delivered straight to your door, and glossy fashion mag has proved a massive online hit. The site is viewed by over 2.5 million women every month. (And if the men out there are feeling left out, the company also now caters to you.)
Naomi Hewitt, Group HR Director, started with Net-A-Porter in 2003 and has overseen an expansion from a team of 40 to an army of 2,500. We ask Naomi about what skills MBAs bring to the table, what challenges the company faces to stay top dog, and what to wear at an interview!
What's your remit as Group HR Director?
My remit changes every three years or so. When you join a start-up, you wear about six different hats. A decade later, I still wear a couple of those hats, but generally it’s about helping support the growth of the business.
I recruit for several different teams: it’s quite varied, with the technology team, the logistics team, obviously the fashion retail team.
As well as recruitment, I look at other areas such as Organisational Capability, Group Communications and Reward. These days my work is strongly focused on organisational design and how we structure the business. We’re now in seven different time zones, so things are increasingly complicated.
In previous years you've expanded your workforce at a rapid rate. Is that still the case?
In the last year and a half our headcount has blossomed. And that’s because the business has grown.
We’ve introduced new brands, so clearly we’ve recruited specifically for those. But half our head count is associated with volumes – levels of stock and number of sales.
A lot of businesses like us outsource, i.e. to a third-party logistics firm, but we do all that ourselves. That's because the touchpoints you have with the customer when you’re a luxury service are so important – and we think we’re the only ones who can guarantee that level of service.
Do you hire MBAs?
The most important thing for us is experience. Throughout our 13 years that’s been key. Having an MBA degree is a fantastic addition to have, though. When we look to fill a position, we’ll start out looking for experience, but if we can find someone who also has an MBA, that’s ideal.
Does anyone on your senior management team have an MBA?
Yes. And we’ve definitely seen that come into play, in some of our market analysis. There’s great value in the skillset that MBAs have, and they complement the wider team. The value in hiring MBAs is their analysis of global business and retail models, and understanding the various levers at work.
What advice do you have for an MBA hoping to work for a luxury retail site like Net-A-Porter?
You need to get experience beyond luxury retail. A lot of luxury retailers are looking at fast-moving consumer goods companies now as a hunting ground for talent.
We have always recruited from a variety of sectors. We started out as a technology and fashion company, and we wanted people who could sit comfortably between those sectors. That’s still the case to a degree, but above all its commercial acumen that we look for.
How does someone impress you at interview?
Gosh, that’s a tough question! I’ve been in recruiting for years and years, and the one thing I tell myself is not to go solely with gut, but let my head lead the decision. But one of the things that’s always critical is getting the cultural fit right.
It’s also important that agendas are aligned, and people are working towards a common goal. You see that a lot when we have cross-functional projects, like our Karl Lagerfeld launch last year, which involved lots of complex functions. People in creative, logistics, technology came together – but fundamentally all were joined together because we have a strong group cultural fit.
How many Net-A-Porter garments do you have in your wardrobe? And do you have a favourite item?
I’ve been here so long, I dread to think of how many I’ve got (and my husband might not want to read about it!), but my favourite is probably this Stella McCartney blue velvet tuxedo, which I wear in the office but which I can also sling over some jeans with heels - it’s very adaptable. But I’m also eyeing other stuff on the site.
Any tips for what an MBA should wear at an interview?
I think it’s possible to overthink this. It depends on which role you’re going for. Just looking out at our office, our buying team sit across from the technical team, which is a bunch of developers. I can’t tell you how different those two banks of people look – but there’s something special about that.
But clearly if you’re applying for a product-related role then you have to demonstrate a passion for fashion. But an MBA would probably want to spread themselves more broadly. Obviously anyone who joins us is an ambassador for the company – but that doesn’t mean you have to be dressed head to toe in designer gear.
What are some of the biggest commercial challenges you face in the online fashion sector?
Well, really just maintaining trust with our customers and our brand. That’s absolutely critical. There are lots of people entering the market, but our three pillars remain paramount: our customers, brands and employees. Maintaining trust with them is critical. We do that through great service, a great product, and great content. Another challenge is to keep recruiting talent – that’s always crucial.
We’ve heard that staff parties at Net-a-Porter are legendary, can you elaborate?
We’d definitely like to think so! Everyone gets on the dance floor, and I certainly enjoy myself. We’re actually just about to start planning for our summer party today – looking forward to that one.