Managing brands through disruption: One marketer’s experience

Story of my CV: Being a disruptor is nothing new to Joules chief customer officer Lysa Hardy, having worked at Orange when it entered the UK market and launched T-Mobile’s famous flashmob ad. She now plans to shake things up in the retail sector.

Lysa Hardy is no stranger to disruption, either of markets – having joined several brands in the early stages of their growth – or within her career, given the mergers and acquisitions she has been part of. Her first was at Orange, when it was acquired by France Telecom, and then T-Mobile when it merged with Orange to form EE.

She describes her time at Orange following the French, takeover as her “Wild West days”, given the seemingly endless stream of restructures and new management teams “changing the strategy every five minutes”.

After five years at Orange, Hardy was approached by T-Mobile, which was going through some changes itself. It had just brought in new marketing director Phil Chapman (most recently VP for marketing communication and brand equity at Mondelez International) whose experience was in FMCG.

“T-Mobile wanted to disrupt, it wanted a different approach to marketing so brought in someone with a different way of thinking. He was a maverick and I loved what he was going to try to do to the industry,” she says.

It was during her time at T-Mobile that Hardy was given the latitude to gain the experience she needed to progress to director level. “I thought if I wanted to be a marketing director I needed to understand every part of marketing rather than take a linear route up through one aspect, and T-Mobile gave me the opportunity to do that.”

She considers herself a commercial marketer, and at T-Mobile she was responsible for linking the brand with what the business was trying to achieve commercially. Doing so “transformed the performance of the business” and changed the “whole internal attitude” about what marketing can do.

Pivotal to that transition was the brand’s memorable flashmob ad filmed in Liverpool Street station, which she says showed the team that despite being number four in the market and having a smaller budget than competitors, it could shout just as loud.

I had to put my personal feelings aside [knowing what I wanted to achieve with T-Mobile] and put the needs of the business and my team first.

Lysa Hardy

It’s why she describes the merger and formation of Everything Everywhere (later known as EE) as “personally devastating”.

Hardy had the benefit of working at both Orange and T-Mobile for a significant period of time so knew people on each side, but because the CEO, Tom Alexander, and most of the management board were from Orange, although it was a 50/50 merger “it didn’t feel like that to everybody”.

“I was devastated. I love the Orange brand – I had been a big part of it – but I felt we’d just started to get going with T-Mobile and I could see what was achievable, so it felt like the rug was pulled from under me as we weren’t going to get a chance to demonstrate it,” she says.

When Alexander left EE and another former Orange executive was set to take up the mantle, Hardy decided it was time to move on. “When Tom left it felt like we were going back to the beginning and I’d have to rebuild credibility with everyone again. That time had taken it out of me and I decided it was time make a fresh start and do something different.”

Hardy had always had her eye on retail, so after leaving T-Mobile and EE, via a short stint at the RAC, she joined Holland & Barrett. It was during her time at the health and lifestyle chain that she made the transition from CMO to chief commercial officer, which gave her responsibility for everything from marketing and ecommerce to buying and merchandising.

It was this experience that helped her “put the customer at the heart of the business” and ultimately paved the way for her to take on her current role as chief customer officer at fashion retailer Joules.

‘I realised marketing was my calling’

Sabre, various roles, (1991-1998)

“Travel booking system Sabre was part of American Airlines, and was just coming to the UK so wanted some account managers. It was the appeal of working for a global organisation and being able to travel, which attracted me to the role, but while I was there I realised marketing was actually my calling.

“I had a manager called Kerri Summers who was a marketer. She really helped to guide me and encouraged me to go and formalise my marketing qualifications, so I went to university to do a diploma in marketing. From there I then went back to Sabre and into the marketing department.

“It was quite pivotal really. I think that’s when my career really started.
It was an exciting time. I was travelling to South America and I lived in the US for a couple of years, but then I had a baby. I was travelling five days a week and it just wasn’t conducive so I decided it was time to get a job in the UK that didn’t have me on planes most of the time.”

Learning to sell yourself

Orange, head of prepay (1999-2004)

“Orange had just launched and I thought: it’s an amazing brand that has gone in and disrupted the market. Orange was doing things totally differently and it happened to be based quite near my house in the UK so I just approached them and said you should hire me.

“I figured the angle I should use was my B2B experience, so I went in and said, you’ve done a great job but you’ve really positioned yourself as a consumer brand and actually the money is in business so I could help you to translate Orange into the business market. They bought it and hired me.

“I spent a long time at Orange. It was brilliant, I absolutely loved my time there. It was a key point in my career because it’s where I really learned about brands. Orange was fantastically good at it, but then the industry changed. Orange got bought by France Telecom, and I call it my Wild West days because it was just crazy. We were restructuring every five minutes; different management teams were coming in and changing everything we were doing and it got to the point where it lost its magic so I thought it was time to move on.”

Merging marketing and commercial

T-Mobile, various roles (2005-2010)

“My biggest achievement at T-Mobile came after being asked to take on the brand and communications role. It had started to feel like advertising and branding was becoming a bit disconnected from what we were trying to do as a business commercially. Branding was something that no one understood, so when we became a team that was more service-orientated and joined-up with what the business was trying to achieve generally, they started to see us as a critical part in being able to deliver that.

“Suddenly I had the finance director being really supportive of what I wanted to do and the money I wanted to spend rather than going ‘we should be cutting the marketing budget’.

“It transformed the performance of the business because we were able to really deliver results on what we were doing. We did the flashmob TV ad in Liverpool Street Station and it was such a pivotal moment. T-Mobile was number four in the market and the team always thought everyone else had a bigger budget so could do more but the immediate response we got from the ad suddenly made everyone believe that actually we could do something different here.

“It changed the whole internal attitude and it’s ultimately why I was put into the vice-president of marketing role overall.”

Managing a merger

Everything Everywhere, vice-president of T-Mobile (2010-2011)

“I felt quite strongly that I didn’t want to be a passenger in the [merger] process – I wanted to shape it – so I volunteered to be on the integration team working with McKinsey on how the two businesses would come together and what we would form as a result, which was brilliant experience.

“It was really hard work, especially on top of my day job. I had an important role to play in leading the team through that transition and making sure EE was the right business at the end of it. For me it was the most pivotal time in my career in terms of personal development.

“I had to put my personal feelings aside [knowing what I wanted to achieve with T-Mobile] and put the needs of the business and my team first. I also had to make sure T-Mobile was seen for the results we were delivering and fight for what I believed in and for the credit I believed my team should get, in an environment that was very Orange-orientated.

“It was disruptive but it was also great. Tom Alexander, who was the CEO at the time, was a real visionary and I enjoyed working with him and the team around us. And I do believe I changed his perception of what T-Mobile was as a business. We still ran the businesses as two separate P&Ls in the early days and T-Mobile delivered everything that was asked of us and more so we showed him we could deliver the numbers and I think he respected that.”

‘In an interim role you have to be ruthless about priorities’

RAC, interim sales and marketing director (2011-2012)

“I was planning to take some time off after leaving EE but I got a call from Carlyle Group who had bought the RAC [later sold to CVC in 2015]. It wasn’t really what I wanted long-term but what appealed to me was that RAC had put Rob Templeman in as the chairman and he’s got brilliant experience, particularly in retail. In the back of my mind retail was an area I wanted to explore. RAC is not a retail business but I figured he’d have a retail approach.

“I did it at an interim basis so agreed to stay until they found a permanent CMO. A guy named Chris Woodhouse [now CEO of Tilney Group] came in as CEO who I adored. I had a great time there and learned a lot from the two of them.

“Essentially my remit was to disentangle it from Aviva, which had owned the RAC previously; get a new structure in place so it could run as a standalone business; and get the marketing side going while continuing to deliver the numbers until they found a CMO.

“Being an interim role didn’t change how I operated massively. But it does make you ruthless about the priorities.”

Taking on responsibility for marketing and commercial

Holland & Barrett, CMO and chief commercial officer (2012-2016)

“When RAC found a permanent CMO I was going to move on from Carlyle Group, but they said you’ve done a great job here, we’ve got this other business called Holland & Barrett [later sold to L1 Retail in 2017], how do you fancy getting involved in vitamins and dried fruit?

“I went in as CMO and ran all the marketing and ecommerce. It was really about trying to modernise that with a particular focus online. After a couple of years, they asked me to take on the commercial part of the business, so I also ran buying and merchandising as well as marketing.

“I’ve always been a commercial person. I liked having P&L responsibility because I had quite a bit of commercial exposure in the telecoms sector. The buying piece was new for me, in terms of procuring vitamins, and there’s a lot of regulation around the sector. Can’t say I loved that to be honest, but it’s a necessary evil. It was great experience and it really helped me to put the customer at the heart of the business. That was why my next move to become a chief customer officer [at Joules] felt like an obvious progression.

Becoming a chief customer officer

Joules, chief customer officer (2016-present)

joules

“There are very long lead times at Joules because it’s a wholesale business, so that’s all been new to me and I’ve learned at awful lot.

“A chief customer role in fashion is particularly challenging because it’s not just about facts. The design and creative element is really important and actually equally at the heart of what the business is about. It has been really interesting on many levels, as well as challenging and rewarding.

“We’ve changed a lot about how we work and how we think. It’s not simply about putting someone on a training course and them changing when they come back. It’s about thinking differently day-to-day. It can take some time to really embed that in the team, but it has been so rewarding to be able to see that coming through and to get more customer insight; not just of who the customer is – Joules has always had a very clear view about who their customer is – but more insight about how customers behave, how they shop, what they’re purchasing – the more data-led pieces to add colour to what we’re doing.”

Lysa Hardy’s CV

Sabre, various roles, 1991-1998
Orange, head of prepay (1999-2004)
T-Mobile, head of prepay marketing (2005-2005)
Facey International, interim sales and marketing director (2005-2006)
T-Mobile, vice-president mobile internet and head of beyond voice (2006-2008)
T-Mobile, head of brand and communication (2008-2010)
Everything Everywhere, vice-president of T-Mobile (2010-2011)
RAC, interim sales and marketing director (2011-2012)
Holland & Barrett, CMO and chief commercial officer (2012-2016)
Vitfinder, non-executive director (2016-present)
Joules, chief customer officer (2016-present)

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