James Kennedy In The Deal
Published on 16 June 2017
When did you start in the company?
I didn’t start formally straight away; I felt it important to experience the world both professionally and personally outside of a family business. I worked part-time on the sales floor early on while I was studying, which gave me insight at the ground level of the business. I went on to forge a career in finance at both Deutsche Bank and Rivkin, and in 2009 made the decision to join Kennedy (then LK Boutique).
What is it like taking the reins of a family business?
The challenge is twofold. Taking over a failing business is very different from taking over a successful one, and it was a successful business and a good, strong business. The pressure was certainly turned up, because at the time of taking over the business I was pretty young, pretty green. The first thought is “Don’t screw it up”, before you start thinking about what you are going to do to grow and improve the business.
And how did you cope in those first few months of running the company?
I spent at least the first year really just getting my bearings, because when you take over and are running the business, as opposed to being an employer or working for someone, the buck does stop with you and you are responsible for every decision you make, which can have significant ramifications. The first part was just understanding the business, getting comfortable, getting confident. I like to focus on the short term, and by just pushing that short-term goal strategy achievements come from opportunity.
What are the challenges?
A family business extends beyond your actual family. People are a very important part of the success of a family business – any business, for that matter. However, in a family business your staff are like family; they are loyal to you and you are loyal to them. Ultimately your success is their success, and how much they want to work for you and the company correlates with that success.
You now include fashion and electronics. Are you straying from the core?
I guess any business that has different baskets or divisions has to have a core. In luxury in particular, if you look at brands like LVMH, they are very broad in what they do. In the case of LVMH, they have fashion brands, alcohol, specialist retail, but they have a core, Louis Vuitton. Watches and jewellery has been our core for 40 years; it’s reliable, alongside our fashion brands and Bang & Olufsen. I think we have become a business of brands. We sell a brand, we sell an experience.
So what is the common thread?
Aside from the nuances of running a television retail business and a watch retail business, which has different marketing and a different style of business, the fundamentals are the same. We want the experience of a consumer in a Bang & Olufsen store to be the same as in a Rolex store, and that comes back to culture.
How do you inject that culture into your staff?
We were a small business; we had two small stores and a low number of employees compared to what we have today. We have built that, and when you build it you can cultivate the right behaviours and cultures in the business. It’s the same with our new fashion brands – we are opening the stores, we are hiring the staff, starting from scratch and showing staff the way we like to operate. And it is a family business, fundamentally.
What makes a good salesperson?
I look for behaviour, culture and personality before I look for skill. You can teach skills, but you can’t teach people to get along. A good culture and a harmonised business make for a good business. Customer service and product knowledge are the keys to selling. However, you can’t truly teach good customer service; it’s ingrained in us. Product knowledge, that I can teach. And we have a very strong training and induction program to ensure our staff are always knowledgeable and engaged.
How do you know when your business is getting too broad?
We have aspirations to grow and continue to grow. Having said that, you do have to constantly be mindful of growing pains, and when you have a $10 million business and end up doing $100 million a year, can your business operate in the same way? It can’t, whether that’s processes, people or the organisation as a whole. Whether you are growing by acquisitions or it’s organic, it is a balancing act. You need to have the infrastructure for growth, but then you don’t want to oversupply your infrastructure. You need enough revenue to support it.
What kind of leader are you?
I’m less numbers driven and more strategic and commercially driven. It means bringing in a team around you, and this is absolutely not a one-man band and will never be because our growth comes from the support network around us.
Would you like to pass the business on one day to the next generation?
I got engaged recently, so I start to think about that part of my future a bit more. I would like to get married and have children, to look after them, and I think as the business evolves and I achieve the things I want to achieve, most definitely I will start to think about how great it will be to continue the business and keep it in the family. But you never know what the future holds, what the business will be, what I will be doing.