Trading law for retail

Trading law for retail

Luke Naish, Harvey Norman general manager for computers and communications, talks about his dramatic career shift, his love of gadgets and cycling, and the online challenges facing traditional retailers.

What was your first job? I worked at Woolworths in the fresh produce department when I was at school.

How did you progress to where you are today? By default or luck. I was at university and studying, and living away from home. I needed some part-time work to support me, so I worked at Harvey Norman at Moore Park in Sydney every Saturday and Sunday to pay the bills. I fell in love with the place and I enjoyed talking to people and the way technology changes, so it was a good fit for me.

How did you land your current position? After I finished studying, I practiced as a solicitor but found I didn’t enjoy it the way I anticipated I would. I ended up phoning Gerry Harvey and arranged a time to go and speak to him, and said I was looking for an opportunity. I trained to be a franchisee for 12 months, then ran a franchise for 18 months before I went to New Zealand as the general manager for five years.

What do you like about your job? I like the fact it is so dynamic, and that I have the ability to make decisions and to take a lot of feedback on-board. I also love the interaction with franchisees, suppliers and my own staff – it’s a good industry, it’s vibrant and it’s alive.

What is the biggest achievement of your career? I had to open up six stores in six months in NZ, and I had never opened a store before. That began within my first four months, so it was absolute chaos. The company recognised that and at the end of 2003 I was awarded the chairmans’ award – an award which we only give out every two years.

What do you dislike most about the IT industry? It sounds funny but the things I don’t like about it are the things I do like about it – it is fickle and it does constantly change. You can’t control your environment completely – just when you think you’ve got everything worked out, you realise the goal posts have been moved again. I think a few people in the industry would share that opinion.

What will be the next big thing in the industry? There are a number of different things evolving. At the moment, there is continuous merging and realignment of traditional product categories – the battle for content is the major one, as well as the use and distribution of content. For example, we can talk about the 40,000 applications available on the iPhone, or you can look at the way TiVo and Freeview are looking to control content in the living room. We’ve also seen over and over again through things like social networking, that customers want to personalise and customise their technology experience. If you can see beyond the next two years, you’re a smarter man than I am.

Do you see online delivery of content and online stores as a threat to traditional retail? I think as broadband speeds continue to ramp up, and applications reach a degree of maturity, [there will be] a time when online delivers such high returns that it’s going to make the application that much more accessible. The online applications and cloud technology for delivery is inevitable. Does that represent a revenue loss for us? Yes it does, but at the moment applications and games have been spared that financial shortfall.

What do you do when you’re not at work? I like to keep fit, so I cycle three or four times per week, and compete when I can. I ride for Sydney Cycle Club.

Are there any areas you like to cycle through? On Sundays I like to ride to Palm Beach or Akuna Bay from my house at Leichhardt, so most Sundays I’ll cover 120km.

What got you into cycling? A friend of mine was an ex-pro and he thought it would be a good idea for me to come along. I ended up falling into it – I could see he got a lot out of it, and I’ve always been keen to try it. I started cycling about fi ve years ago when I stopped playing rugby union.

Do you like gadgets? I like them a lot – I have two HD set-ups at home, with a nice 65-inch screen and surround sound speakers and an Xbox 360 for driving games only. And I love my new Nokia phone.

What did you want to be when you were younger? I think I wanted to be an astronaut, or a pilot – I can’t remember to be honest.

Did you ever get to take flying lessons? No, but if I wasn’t doing this I would be doing something completely different and get my chopper pilot’s licence.

What is your biggest ambition? I’m probably doing it – this is a dream job for me. It’s engaging, it’s challenging, it’s everything you want out of a job. We’ve got a lot of things to achieve in the next 12 months. We’re revamping our online presence, we’ve got B2B initiatives, we’ve got a whole range of company things we’ve got to have in place – it’s exciting times because of the market conditions. I’m really thinking the next two to three years, we’ve steered a good course through some major internal improvements, and hopefully our customers are appreciative.

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