As the CFO/COO of plus-size women’s fashion brand Taking Shape, Krista Diez-Simson has played a key role in the recent transformation of its warehouse and order management systems. Here, we speak with Diez-Simson about how she first got into the industry, why she loves operations and the best leadership lessons she’s learned from seven years in the C-suite. Inside Retail: How did you first get into the retail industry? Krista Diez-Simson: I’m an accountant by trade, and when I
hen I was training as a graduate in one of the big four accounting firms, I specialised in working with smaller privately owned businesses. My first role outside of the accounting firm was with a private fashion label. It was of the size where, regardless of your role, you have to get your hands dirty and get into the weeds across a really broad range of areas. Despite working as a financial controller, I was incredibly involved in the running of the warehouse, and I had a lot to do with production. That’s where I really got my passion and energy for all things operational, not just the numbers side of things. I think the two can be really complementary.
I’ve taken that love of the numbers and operations throughout all of my roles, and it’s really culminated here at Taking Shape, where, because I started during an integral project, where I was really hands-on with the operational elements, particularly from a warehousing and logistics perspective, it was a perfect time to take on the COO role [in addition to the CFO role]. It was also of huge interest to me. It’s almost like I’m having my cake and eating it, too.
IR: What about the operational side of the job do you like so much?
KDS: It’s more tangible than numbers on a spreadsheet. I think that’s what I love about it most. It is physically walking down into the warehouse, working with the warehouse team and talking about how we can improve the efficiency of this process, or talking about a problem that we’ve got with a delivery provider. It is far more tangible, because we’re working with a vendor, or we’re working with a product, or a piece of physical hardware in the warehouse. I think that’s what I get excited about – you can see your results in a different way than a report that I’m sending out to the board, for example. It’s a different outcome, and typically, it will result in an improvement in efficiency, or drive a consumer metric. Those sorts of things are quite interesting to me, particularly in the e-commerce space, which I’m heavily involved in because that is changing so rapidly.
IR: It’s always struck me that while retail is a really creative industry, there are a lot of roles that are more about numbers and data and process. Do you think those roles get overlooked?
KDS: I think the career paths in retail are so wide and varied. We have some really great examples at Taking Shape, where we have maybe placed a bit of a bet on someone, who didn’t necessarily have the background that you’d expect for that particular role, and then the diversity of thought or diversity of background and experience [that they have brought to the role] has been hugely beneficial to the business.
I think it’s great to bring in some fresh and creative and new ways of thinking. People who may not necessarily have a retail background, but have complementary skill sets from a different industry, bring something different, because they don’t have that traditional retail way of thinking. Particularly in this era of skill shortages and scarcity of people from a vacancy perspective, I think retailers need to be more open to people with diversity of backgrounds, just due to that very fact alone.
IR: You’ve been in the C-suite for seven years now. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about leadership?
KDS: I love giving my team autonomy. I always want them to think about a possible solution first before helping them come up with an answer. I think that’s where the gold is. If you come to me with, ‘I think this could be right,’ then the next time, you’ve got the confidence to keep giving things a go, and by iteration number five, you’re like, ‘I’ve got the solution.’
It’s really helping you grow and develop yourself without knowing that’s what you’re doing.
I’ve got a lot of young mums in my team, and giving them a lot of autonomy over the way they work has been amazing. I think the mindset has shifted anyway, but being able to have flexibility to do their work when it suits them, but also to have time for their family, to do school pickup, or whatever the case may be, has just set them free in a sense. They are far more engaged within their jobs, but with the business as well. I think the shift to more flexibility has done wonders for working parents, so that’s been really great.
I have a lot of conversations with my team about how they want to grow, and I really actively create those opportunities internally. I’m a very big proponent of learning on the job. I’m very pro-training, but I do think you learn more from being given a task or special project, or from shadowing [a colleague] for a day who is in a different area of the business. I’m working actively with some of my team members to upskill them in areas that are not necessarily part of their day job.