When Paul Finucane anxiously went to interview at Harrods at 16 he couldn't afford a suit nor his train ticket, but he decided to follow his dream and leave school to pursue a career in retail. 35 years later he still finds himself in Knightsbridge, but now overlooking all of Harvey Nichols' stores. Group Stores Director Paul shares his secrets to success and looks back on his journey: "I certainly never thought in my wildest dreams that one day I’d be a Board Director for a fabulous world class luxury fashion brand."
Tell us about when and how you got into retail?
I went to John F Kennedy school in Hemel Hempstead. At age 16 I got the opportunity to interview with Harrods for a retail training scheme. I remember getting the coach from London Luton because I couldn’t afford the train to come down to London, nor a suit so I was wearing a burgundy Pringle jumper and Farah trousers. I was terrified, frankly! However, the manager liked me and I managed to secure a spot in the programme. I was still in school at the time, but I went with my gut feeling and left school to join Harrods in September 1984. As of January 2019 I will have spent 35 years in Knightsbridge!
How did you progress to the top from there?
At Harrods I worked in various departments in very basic jobs, from selling, to being cashier and a buyer’s clerk. At age 18, I progressed to their management training programme, which was equivalent to graduate training. I started working as a buyer’s clerk in fashion and worked my way up through different hierarchies to General Manager of Womenswear and Homeware. After being at Harrods for 20 years, Harvey Nichols approached me to become the General Manager of their Knightsbridge flagship store, a huge opportunity. After being the GM of Knightsbridge I was promoted to being the Knightsbridge Store Director to the Board 7 years ago. Four years ago I was made Group Stores Director, looking after all the regional stores and online, and I’ve happily been in this position ever since.
What’s your role all about?
I am responsible for all the operations and retail operations of all 8 stores and online. My role involves a high level of strategic thinking: I oversee all areas from product offering to merchandising to visual merchandising systems to maintenance facillities, to managing sales, Christmas trading and shopping parties. I work with the Board on company strategy and communicate all decisions that are made to the stores and General Managers, motivating the teams to achieve success and profit for the Group. As I am involved in every single facet of the business, Harvey Nichols to me is an extension of my personal life. I don’t see it as my job; it’s my home!
What’s would advise would you have for others wanting to climb their way to the top?
The secret to my successful career are the people. Try to meet as many diverse people in your career as you can. Zone in on the people you know are charismatic and willing to share; try and really listen to the advice they give you in life. Meanwhile, make sure you are modest; you never know who you are talking to. Treat everyone with compassion and respect and speak to others in the same way you want to be spoken to. It’s a small world in retail and people move around brands all the time so it’s important to not have fall outs and have good working relationships. I use my people skills to learn and get out of people what I want, but I also let people get what they want from me. It’s a two-way partnership.
What three skills do people need to succeed in your role?
Firstly, you need charisma; you need to be a character. Secondly, you need to be committed and focused on what you want to do. Thirdly, you need to be always open to learning. Even 35 years down the line I’m still learning new skills with new people. That’s the joy of retail: not one single day is the same! You are always learning new skills and overcoming challenges.
What’s your number one career tip?
Network! I try to attend as many work-related social activities as I can to continue learning. Whether it’s a networking event through retail week, a Drapers dinner or going to brand events. Don’t be insular, but get yourself out there. Make sure people know who you are, who you work for and communicate your success. There’s nothing better than meeting other people in the industry and going to speakers and (award) ceremonies.
Do you think people can still grow their way for the bottom to the top like you did, nowadays?
Yes! I 100% believe that people don’t need to go to university to become a Board Director in any business in the world now. I certainly never thought in my wildest dreams that one day I’d be a Board Director for a fabulous world class luxury fashion brand. I never had a formal education, but I learned on the job and from others. However, such an opportunity doesn’t come knocking on door. It was me making an effort. It’s all about demonstrating commitment, loyalty, hard work and determination. Working long hours and showing that you are committed to a brand and willing to learn pays off in the end. You really can achieve anything, as long as you are willing to roll up your sleeves.