HR, Holt Renfrew, and “harnessing the power of people”

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The president of Holt Renfrew has spoken out about the company’s major expansion plans, citing employees as the primary driving factor behind the luxury retailer’s recent success.

“People can do infinitely more than we can imagine,” says leading man Mark Derbyshire – the Toronto-based exec should certainly know, he’s currently overseeing a $300 million renovation and expansion project which he insists is only possible thanks to the company’s employees.

Former vice president of HR, Derbyshire is a deft leader who, in the five years since he took the Holt Renfrew reins, has refreshed the brand and brought about unrivalled success – total sales have more than doubled at the Vancouver store since he stepped up.

But getting the best out of your employees isn’t easy – Derbyshire says it’s only possible if you’re willing to ask what motivates each worker and then offer a high level of customization.

“We want to focus on their strengths and use their strengths to build them to be the best,” says Derbyshire, of his 2,700 employees.

“We’ve got to make sure their weaknesses don’t weaken them but, at the same time, we’re not going to focus on their weaknesses to make them good. We’re going to focus on their strengths to make them great.”

Holt Renfrew owner Galen Weston described Derbyshire’s leadership style as modest but remarkably effective – “He’s very down to earth,” he said. “He’s smiley and happy but always generous in asking short but perfect questions. He’s a good listener.”

Part of that ability stems from strong emotional intelligence, says Holt Renfrew board-member Isabelle Hudon. 

“When I see him with his staff, he’s a leader but he doesn’t lead by authority,” she said. “Quite often we confuse leadership and authority. My favourite definition of leadership is to inspire people to follow you, and I think Mark is right on with that definition. I’ve never heard him raise his voice. He always has a smile.”

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