Business Wisdom from Claire Priestley of Arnotts

Business wisdom from the desk of … CLAIRE PRIESTLEYFinance Director, ARNOTTS
DEPARTMENT STORE

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Born in Co Tyrone, Claire Priestley attended Queens University, Belfast before joining Marks & Spencer’s London-based graduate programme and becoming a Chartered Management Accountant. After six years leading strategic finance initiatives across a broad range of financial and commercial disciplines, Priestley was appointed Interim Finance Director for M&S Ireland, responsible for leading a process of continuous improvement and delivering a strategic profitability review. She joined Arnotts as Head of Finance in 2013 and became Finance Director in 2014.

DESCRIBE YOUR ROLE: It’s diverse, heading up finance, IT, merchandising, business controls and legal. Since I joined Arnotts more than two years ago, I have aided the CEO in navigating the company through business restructuring and a prolonged sale process.

YOUR COMPANY’S BUSINESS PRIORITIES? Arnotts is now entering a new era under new ownership, with a more financially secure future. Priorities for 2016 will include collaborating with the new owners to drive a strategy that will enhance Ireland’s leading department store in store and online. Ecommerce will be a key area of development for the business and a significant area of opportunity to extend the reach of the Arnotts brand both in Ireland, the UK and ultimately internationally.

WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT? I’m very lucky, I sleep well. After a long working day, I am able to switch off and not allow work issues play on my mind. However, as I am on the countdown to the arrival of my first baby, I may not give the same answer to that question in a few weeks’ time!

AN ACCOMPLISHMENT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF? Where I have got to in my career before the age of 40.

HOW DO YOU HANDLE A DIFFICULT SITUATION? I try to keep a clear head, and take a balanced approach. Experience has taught me that things always seem worse in the moment, so I always try to take a step back before making a decision. It’s important not to rush in. Poise, patience, charm and tact all help achieving a desired outcome. The key is to maintain relationships along the way.

THREE ADJECTIVES YOUR COLLEAGUES WOULD USE TO DESCRIBE YOU?Professional, committed, driven.

WHICH IS THE MOST USEFUL WAY TO ENGAGE CLIENTS OR SUPPLIERS? A BUSINESS BREAKFAST OR LUNCH? A business breakfast – I can give them all my attention first thing in the morning, before the events of the day unfold. By lunchtime, you are inevitably reactive.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO GET READY IN THE MORNING? Longer than I’d like – between 45 minutes and an hour.

DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE FOR WORK? On trend, but not too fashionable. Working in retail, albeit in a financial role, I like to feel smartly dressed. I love when the buyers’ new-season picks hit the floor and there is a sense of newness and perhaps some new labels to browse – it’s exciting and you can’t help being drawn to it. I have definitely become more adventurous – I am not a plain dresser. I like Irish designers like Roisin Linnane.

OUTSIDE OF THE OFFICE? I try to keep fit. I love home cooked food. I tell myself they are not mutually exclusive! I would love to find more time to bake …

FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS? Our families do not live in Dublin, so weekends are often spent travelling. We do get more quality time with them when we go away to visit but it means less downtime at home.

YOUR BUSINESS GOALS? I am passionate about retail and business. It’s important to me to continuously expand my skills to increase my capacity as a trusted partner to help position the company for future growth.

THE WAY I DO BUSINESS

1. LOOKING THE BUSINESS I believe how women dress for work
has moved on – thankfully, you can be professional and present well, without making staid or boring fashion choices.

2. STAYING CONNECTED I get hourly trading figures so I am always connected to the business, even on Saturday, the busiest day of the week for the store, I will regularly check figures and keep an eye on emails. This is second nature to me.

3. PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE Having some accessible savings in case of an emergency is a priority, as is having a pension plan so I can enjoy a certain lifestyle when I retire. I also need to write a will. It’s one of those things I never seem to get around to doing

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our January issue, out Thursday January 7.

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