Heads Up with Suzanne McKenna, Chief Range and Sustainability Officer, C&A

Suzanne is an accomplished professional with a remarkable career spanning various leadership roles in the retail and fashion industry. Currently serving as the Chief Range and Sustainability Officer at C&A, she has brought her expertise to the forefront of the company’s strategic initiatives. Before her time at C&A, Suzanne held significant leadership positions that underscore her dynamic career trajectory. She was a Global Managing Director at Clarks, Global Head of Brand Triumph at Triumph International, and European Merchandise Director at Levi Strauss & Co.

Suzanne McKenna’s journey is marked by her ability to drive innovation, profitability, and sustainability within the fashion and retail sectors. Her leadership acumen, strategic vision, and deep understanding of diverse markets have positioned her as a trailblazer in the industry.

What does good leadership mean to you?
Someone told me lately that its not about Leadership its about creating Fellowship..and its really stuck with me. Leadership is really about inspiring and getting people to come together and create a really strong, insightful and tight group of individuals who collectively can create fellowship within an organisation. Employees have changed and its important to engage and work with them on a fellowship journey…especially if the employees are younger and more internationally experienced. They look for different attributes in leaders than what I did when I started working.

What is the best example you have seen of Transformational Leadership?
By nature of Transformation, many influential leaders also change or adapt their style through a large transformation project which can take years to deliver. That’s what I have seen having worked in 3 companies undergoing Transformation. However integrity is absolutely key. People really look for strong values and principles to trust in leaders. I think what Daniel Grieder is doing at Hugo Boss really shows this. He creates a strong cultural change and takes his employees of all levels with him. Its clearly contributing to the massive turnaround which Hugo Boss is delivering.

What is the most important thing you have learnt in your career so far?
You can’t manage top down….you need to engage and influence bottom up. All levels of the organisation are important – not only the Senior Teams.

How did you get to where you are today? Did you take a strategic, planned approach to your career or has it been more opportunistic?
I always knew that I wanted to work in retail and clothing. I didn’t realise quite what the jobs in the industry were. I realised very quickly in my career that I was never going to be a John Galliano with amazing design talent…but I had a good idea how much the products could cost to make. So I went in that direction. The game changer was when I worked at Levi’s(r). It was a company that really trusted young talent and gave me huge opportunities to develop myself.

Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started your career? And anything you would tell yourself at an earlier stage in your career?
Yes. Get a coach and use them when times are good not only bad. I’ve had an amazing coach that I have worked with over a number of years…but I tend to go AWOL when I’m busy or under pressure…rather than using him consistently…that’s the feedback I receive from him:-)

What changes to your industry do you anticipate over the next two years and are you excited by this?
Digitalisation with a capital D. No two ways about it. We have just implemented a massive organisation change which in part had been aided via technology and systems which previously where done by headcounts.

What are your three key priorities in the next 12 months?
Spend more quality time with my family….get healthier…..and work more elegantly.

What type of people do you like to work with and what makes them good leaders?
People who are honest and their values are in line with mine. You spend 8-12 hours a day sometimes with these people (hence why I need to spend more time with my family) and if you can’t have an open and honest two way dialogue then you can’t build trust, technical skills can always be taught….but natural ability to work with teams and get them to work with for is the absolute must.

What fascinates you about your job?
Sometimes I can’t believe that I actually get paid for doing it. Its amazing…I try to have fun and enjoy it….I’m not trying to save the world.. just trying to get people to buy our clothes.

As a leader what skills do you continuously work on to keep you at the top of your game?
A skill which is not my strongest point and I need to really work upon…listening to others without jumping to conclusions…

What’s your next big objective?
A rather large strategic project which we are working upon in the company.

What keeps you awake at night?
My kids…

What is the best way to switch off in your free time?
Catching up with my oldest friends from back home.