IWF UK Leadership Stories: Marty Wikstrom

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In this month's Leadership Story, we feature Marty Wikstrom, a top brand and retail executive with over 30 years’ experience. She was the first woman to lead Harrods and her current board roles include Fortnum & Mason, Cath Kidston and Farrow & Ball. Marty writes about managing family life and how listening leads to more considered decisions.

What does being a leader mean to you?

Being a leader means exhibiting a mixture of personality traits and core competencies that allow the individual to express the best form of herself. A leader must possess both integrity and empathy and, above all, be authentic.

A leader must have the ability to work hard – exceptionally hard - and have laser beam focus.

Leadership is inclusive not exclusive and allows the leader to feed off the energy, expertise and knowledge of those around her. You must get up, dress up, show up.

What have been the one or two biggest challenges in your life and how have you overcome them?

My biggest challenge throughout my career has also been one of my greatest successes. Being a mother and a wife has allowed me to become the person and leader I am but I have been challenged with accepting jobs that bring my family around the world.

Over the years, I have moved my family across the country and then across the world. Changing schools, shifting friendship groups, understanding and adopting new cultures – all of these are challenges that we have faced as a family based on decisions we have made as a family. As a unit, we have talked through opportunities and chosen the best path that would meet our needs while opening up the world and leading us on adventures of a lifetime. While not all decisions have been easy or comfortable initially, we have weathered the storms by remaining a united front and prioritizing our family above all. Family is my first priority and my career has been shaped by these decisions.

What do you regard as your greatest successes, and why?

I am proud to be the first woman to achieve a number of the notable milestones I have reached in my career. I was the first woman to hold the role of President, Full Line Stores, at Nordstrom, the first woman to lead Harrods, and the first woman to take a seat in the boardroom of Richemont. It has been a true privilege to pave the way for other women leaders.

How has your leadership style changed over time, and why?

My style hasn’t changed as much as it has evolved with increasing responsibility and consistent learning.

I have always prided myself on being a listener. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listening is a critical component of leadership as it allows one to gain access to information, and time to consider prior to taking action.

As a result of globalization and the impact this has had on my career trajectory, I believe I have become more understanding and sympathetic to a global workforce. I have a much more open approach when it comes to understanding and adopting cultural behaviour. There are many customs and manners that one can and should take as one’s own when making a new culture one’s home. It has underlined my lifelong belief that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

The more I know, the more I learn I don’t know. Learning is a lifelong commitment and an imperative pursuit for leaders. It requires curiosity and a desire to educate oneself. Respecting and learning from others is central to this as I have always found that everyone has something to teach you.

What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?

I am privileged to often be approached by young women looking for mentorship and guidance and, I must say, nine times out of 10, I learn as much from them as I can teach them.

Millennials tend to move around a great deal, shifting from one job to the next. This is in no way the “wrong” way, but it is a marked difference to those female leaders of my generation, many of whom gave decades to the same business while rising in the ranks. I would caution those young leaders to identify their strengths and apply them in an area about which they are passionate. Gain a foundation and build.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – if you aren’t making mistakes then you aren’t working to your potential.

Never, ever burn bridges.

Find your voice and use it, while tempering it with exceptional listening skills.

Create a road map for your career but be willing to explore a diversion.

Surround yourself with people with complementary skills to your own.

And, finally, I think Aristotle said it best: “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

‘Learning is a lifelong commitment and an imperative pursuit for leaders.’

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