Interview with Ex COO Tesco & Morrisons and Tessiant Managing Partner, Stuart Smith.


What do you think has been the key to your success?

I was very driven, always putting myself in a position to deliver but then continuously thinking about what was next and pushing myself further. Finding and pinpointing my purposes, and what gets me out of bed in the morning was a key part to my journey. I had 3 purposes, that I realised over my 25 years. Firstly I like developing myself, I am curious and like to spend time getting better at things. Secondly, my family, how can I use my career to develop my family and give them great opportunities in their lives? E.g. me taking roles in China, Australia and Malaysia was all about giving them opportunities as well. My third and final purpose was I enjoyed developing businesses whether that be whole businesses or parts of one, and delivering improvements for customers and colleagues. I believe that I have been successful because I have remained open minded and curious whilst having drive in order to develop myself and my family. My one piece of advice here would be to take what motivates you individually and apply it to your job, it makes it far more fulfilling and doesn’t make it feel like work.


Did you say yes to every opportunity? 

I always took the approach to say yes to everything. It opened doors to all opportunities then, without ruling anything out instantly. You can always end up saying no, but if you say no straight away, you don’t even give yourself chance to consider it. I used to say yes, and then would evaluate the opportunity based on how it suited my personal life. I found fitting the right personal circumstances with the business circumstances was key.


What focus have you put on your own personal development, in terms of strengths and weaknesses?

I would say you are successful because of your strengths so leverage them, as they are why you got employed in the first place. Be known for your strengths as ultimately they are what help you navigate situations. Putting time aside for your own personal development is key. At the end of every Friday I would sit and think about what has gone well this week, what I have learnt and what I need to work on moving forward. This used to rebalance me for the next week. When it comes to weaknesses you have to constantly challenge yourself to overcome these areas. For example, I was never great at public speaking, so I spoke to my manager and decided to challenge it head on. I ended up speaking at a conference in front of 3000 people. This made me realise if I can do that, then I will be more than alright doing it next week in my role in front of 100 people. I wouldn’t have been able to navigate a lot of things if I hadn’t spent time doing this.


How have you built resilience in yourself?

Resilience is underplayed in terms of how you keep your attitude strong and positive when you do get setbacks. My piece of advice would be if you can train yourself to turn up as a 10 still when things go wrong, you rebound better and come back stronger. There is a lot to learn about how you can build your resilience to maintain attitude and navigate your career, and taking any opportunity to learn more regarding this is so worthwhile.


Has people allowing you to shine been a theme in your career?

I always showed up with willingness and enthusiasm, and I think line managers tend to respond to this, someone who is trying new things, wanting to learn and will use their initiative. I benefited from the qualities I saw in line managers and based a lot of decisions on job roles on these. I chose managers that would support but also challenge me within their approach. My one piece of advice would be you have to seek the people out yourself. Seek out the people that are most interesting to you, and then most good leaders will give you time.


Now you are a senior leader, how much do you look at the attitude of people you work with vs. their technical skills?

Increasingly I am selecting based on attitude rather than technical. Even when something is really technical, you still need someone who has an attitude to develop and that is open minded, which I think has become even more important in a hybrid working environment. In my view you can build the technical, but you can’t build the attitude. And almost everytime your attitude is what gets you through.