It was a pleasure to meet and interview Marty Wikstrom as she visited us at Cambridge Judge Business School for the MBA Leadership in Action series. Marty’s is retail royalty with a career spanning roles including: CEO in Fashion at Compagnie Financiere Richemont and Managing Director at Harrods, London. As I listened to her speak, over the interview and dinner, it was easy to see how she can lead and influence the retail and luxury group industry with such élan and confidence.

Marty has a very captivating life story, and she spoke about her journey on how she moved from being a sales assistant to the managing director of one of the biggest retail organisations in the world.  As she spoke about her journey, I was stuck by how well she could define her mistakes and success and how simple her personal mantra to success was.

Marty provided some very straightfoward and often overlooked suggestions on what makes leaders great:

See what happens on the floor

One of the first suggestions Marty had was to try and see what happens on the floor. To be able to understand the customer-facing shop floor and be able to sell in this environment is very important for someone aspiring to lead a retail firm.

Marty was confident that skills, experience and an understanding of what happens built on the ground are very useful for influencing the decisions made in board rooms.  Great managers should always be able to roll up their sleeves and do what their teams does on the field, very well, to be able to aspire and drive them to success.

A collaborative leadership style

Another very important leadership trait that Marty defines is the ability to lead teams and be a collaborative. To be able to inspire the people working for you, keep them motivated and encourage them toexceed. People who backstab and do not support each other do not make good employees and Marty believes that ethical leadership should be the way to go forward. Having led large teams in the past, I cannot agree more. Leaders must earn respect, have back-bone and a bias for taking the correct action. If you cannot support and inspire your team, they might not go that extra distance for you.

Find a mentor

Marty also spoke about who the helpful mentors were in her journey. Mentors can be of great value and learning as they understand your weaknesses as well as strengths very well. To find someone who can support and cheer you on your professional journey cannot be underestimated.

Accept your failures

Finally, one key life-lesson that Marty also talked about was how important it is to accept your failures in order to be successful. Being able to from your failures means you will be able to restructure and recalibrate plans better and prepare well for your next opportunity and challenge.

Own it

Marty defines leadership as ownership: to be able to take responsibilities and move forward with your complete team helps transform plain managers into timeless, inspiring leaders. I cannot agree more with her.

Listen to my interview with Marty on SoundCloud.