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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 July 2018

Week in the Life: Spinneys CEO has come a fair way

British golf enthusiast Matt Frost is the man at the helm of the UAE's chain of retail stores

Matt Frost, CEO of Spinneys. Reem Mohammed/The National
Matt Frost, CEO of Spinneys. Reem Mohammed/The National

Matt Frost, CEO of Spinneys Dubai, which operates 50 stores in the UAE and Oman. The brand is owned by Spinneys Group. The 46-year-old Briton joined in January from Waitrose in the UK, a role that saw him regularly visit the UAE. A keen golfer, he now lives in Jumeirah Golf Estates with wife Vicky and sons, George, 12, and William, 9. Here, Mr Frost gives The National a flavour of his typical week.

SUNDAY

I’m catching up on emails, looking at numbers to see how the previous week has gone, at individual department performances to see if any have done particularly well so I can congratulate, and ask questions; are there learnings we can take to the rest of the business? The other side of that conversation is what things we could be doing better.

Mid morning we’ll have a property meeting, looking at when potential new developments are happening. We review sites as they become available - we’ve 25 sites we’re at some part of the process in - making sure we’re understanding where the market is going, where Spinneys can operate.

I sit with the commercial team looking at product, placement, promotion, pricing and previous week performance. There will always be topics simmering; we’ve a loyalty card scheme launching. The way the customer interacts with our card will be different [to competitor schemes]; a focus on how people can get immediate savings – or win unique experiences.

MONDAY

At 8.30am is our senior leadership meeting to really review what happened the previous week, every element of the retail business, with the focus on customer service; what competitor activity has been seen, what we’ve been doing on social media. We have people looking at the pricing position of competitors and countries of origin for produce. We have numbers but we’re more interested in what has driven those numbers, focusing on the tactical elements. We’re bringing an increasing amount of stock produced locally. We spend a lot of time looking at availability. We want to make sure customers get products they want.

We look at online players as part of our weekly review. We’re constantly reviewing from a strategic perspective when is the right time to get engaged in that, the right route for us to take.

TUESDAY

I try to get in the office 7.30-8am, after helping get the boys ready for school. Getting that balance is important. Generally, daily, I’ll go round the office to say hello. That level of engagement is hugely powerful if you harness it well; just taking time to ask how someone’s weekend has been, or if it’s somebody’s birthday.

The rest of the week it will either be deep dives into key strategic areas or meeting local distributors and suppliers. At the moment we’re talking about what we’re doing in the future and where they fit.

Last week we spent time looking at our supply chains, what we’re doing in terms of our production units, making sure we have enough capacity for future growth. The brilliant thing about shorter supply chains is you can respond better to customer needs; better cost prices, which means we can be more competitive. As well there’s our impact from a corporate and social responsibility perspective; the carbon footprint of a tomato from down the road is very different from one flown in. We look at how we can support local growers and farmers to be more efficient.

WEDNESDAY

I go with our commercial operating officer Sunil Kumar and look at either our operations from a factory perspective, spend time in the warehouse, or look at our stores or competitor stores. Head offices create opportunities to make money, but it’s the people in the stores that make the money. Spending time with operators, showing genuine interest, listening and making sure I’m visible ... there’s more of a collaborative relationship between head office and stores.

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When I started in retail 26 years ago I worked on a checkout. It’s important to create connections, either with the people you work for or the customers. At the beginning of my time here we spent a lot of time doing customer walk-rounds. We’re very clear where our brand resonates with people in the UAE.

THURSDAY

Some Thursdays we’ll have some of our bigger monthly meetings as part of our governance. Our senior board will sit leading into results. In the afternoon I try to create time to read every email, make sure everybody has an answer to whatever they’ve raised during that week before I leave at 7.30-8pm. Most days it’ll be beyond 6pm, likely beyond 7pm. Two nights a week I’ll go to the gym on the way home.

Sometimes we’ll have key strategic suppliers over here so maybe catch up for dinner, chat about things they’re seeing globally.

FRIDAY

I play golf early. It’s been a great way to get to know people. That leaves the rest of Friday to spend time with family or friends. It’s nice to watch the kids playing sport.

This is my first CEO position; I’m getting used to your time not always being your own. You have to make sacrifices either in family or personal life, in terms of things you like to do, as long as you catch them up at some point. At weekends I’ll look at our sales - it’s habit, 26 years in retail and you end up looking at numbers a lot - but I’m less likely to look at emails. You need that time to switch off, recharge the batteries for next week. Friday nights have become movie night at home. We had Ferdinand this week; popcorn from Spinneys, obviously.

SATURDAY

We’re still excited about having a swimming pool. A lot of Saturdays are spent dive-bombing each other. It’s family time and increasingly, as we meet more people, we like having people over and socialising. I was asked if I would send a recorded message on somebody’s birthday so one Saturday morning my son and I were singing happy birthday to a WhatsApp video and sending it to a colleague.