WATCH: Meet Start-Rite's new CEO
PUBLISHED: 10:15 20 February 2019
A former buyer for Harrods and Tesco, Kate Tansley is now spearheading Norwich's 227-year-old beloved children's shoe firm.
And her working day, perhaps predictably, just got a whole lot longer as Start-Rite’s new CEO.
She wakes at 5.30am and after yoga and breakfast, she says goodbye to her children, eight and 13, who are taken to school by husband David, who works from home.
It means Kate can travel the 40 minute journey from their home in north Norfolk to her new office base, the Start-Rite HQ on the Broadland Business Park in Thorpe, Norwich.
“We live out in the countryside, surrounded by sheep,” the 41-year-old said. “We moved when I took the job and it was a big move especially for the children – going from being 40 minutes away from London on the train from our home in Essex to living in a village but we love it.
“I always put music on in the car,” she added. “I love music, I love Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin.” Kate loves fashion too – today she’s dressed in a white shirt and black velvet jacket from Jigsaw teamed with pleated culottes from Zara and LK Bennett stiletto courts.
She is clearly very efficient, very organised. Her office, which she probably hasn’t had time to make her own yet, is minimalistic. And, Kate says, she likes to be fully prepared too for the day ahead – she has helped implement a new system at Start-Rite whereby meetings don’t start until 11am on Mondays with a new ‘no-meetings Friday’ rule.
“It’s to give us all time to plan and prepare rather than rush in and start a meeting as soon as you’ve taken your coat off,” she said. “The beginning of the day for me is thinking what are my big meetings? What do we need to cover off? Then the coffee van comes at 10am, a very important part of the day.”
Kate has hit the ground running and is committed to various ongoing projects, mainly to reduce Start-Rite’s supply chain and drive more volume through less factories to increase their gross margin by 5%.
With no manufacture in the UK but mainly India, Europe, China and Cambodia (with the aim of reducing China) she has a target of getting to just four key suppliers – down from, at one time, more than 15.
The aim is also to make the business more efficient, to be able to ship products faster and to reduce the number of styles available from around 200 to 120 but to retain the different widths and half sizes. Kate also wants to capitalise on the growth area in shoes for children aged 11 and older and increase the online customer base.
Ultimately, it’s about survival too. How can Start-Rite keep going? “It’s got to be about being really true to who you are as a brand and building trust in that brand, the marketplace is very busy but when you have a confident stance and your product is good, people will keep buying. The high street has a future, it is changing, the level of service we expect is creating huge challenges but I do genuinely believe good businesses will thrive. It’s tough and the businesses who survive are the ones who can diversify.”
Kate aims to leave work at 6-6.30pm and is usually tucked up in bed early: “I’m always in bed by 10pm.”
She has dedicated her working life to retail and TK Maxx was one of her favourites. “It was such a big influence on me, I love them as a business, the pace, the way of working, it’s a really exciting business model.”
But it has not all been plain sailing – Kate has worked for some big-name firms that have gone under.
What she is, though, is a new breed of female boss, with a message to other women that you can be a good mum and manager too. “We are juggling a lot, I think it’s important to stay true to being a woman when you are working. You think you have to make choices, sacrifices but it’s different to how it was for my mother and generations before.
“Yes, you have to make compromises, I don’t get to do the school runs but I’m always there for the important school events and would want my team to be as well, just because you go and choose to watch something at a school event doesn’t mean you aren’t doing a really good job and aren’t committed. It’s about not being hard on yourself. I know when we are together as a family, I am a really good mum, and I am a better boss as a result of being a good mum.”