View from the top – Ian Filby

Ian Filby took over from Lord Kirkham as chief executive of DFS in September 2010, from an interim CEO role at Groupe Aeroplan, which owns Nectar. He previously held marketing roles as retail brand development director and trading director at Alliance Boots.

  • The five-point plan you need to become CEO – click here to read the cover feature
  • Click here to read how CEOs got to the top and what they would have done differently
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“Marketing is often interpreted as being about sexy advertising but I started my career as a retail marketing graduate at Boots, so I had a broader view. Pricing, promotional dynamics and brand positioning have been my bread and butter throughout my career.

Marketing helped me in a number of ways. There are a couple of truisms in retail. The first is that if you don’t underpin your strategic direction, then you will miss some key things. And the same is true if you don’t have a good understanding of the customer and their journey.

In my case, 29 years of getting inside the minds of consumers and customers [through marketing] is absolutely key. When you are chief executive, you will be setting the strategic direction of the company, so in the end it’s all got to be underpinned by a thorough understanding of customers and consumers.

If you run everything by cost management alone and you want a return on every single element of your expenditure, you will miss that instinctive intuitive element that tells you when you’ve got to take a risk.

The great thing about being in the commercial marketing world is being sold to and selling products and ideas. Therefore, you have to be comfortable with visions and ideas, either creating them or receiving them.

I don’t believe I was ever someone who was into the minutiae of what every member of staff was doing. I was more of a mentor and sounding board for them to play back to me the progress they thought they were making on the bigger picture.

I would describe myself as someone who tries to get the best out of my team: optimistic, cheerful and humorous. Perhaps I come across as disarmingly friendly, but I’ve always been very focused on delivering the next set of results.

Since taking over as CEO at DFS, I’ve retained all my senior managers and gently introduced some people. And I have never been into bullying or mind games. I like to see myself as a coach or mentor and I’m also hugely analytical. It’s my job to help people solve their problems and develop insight.”

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