Interview with Jennifer Kennedy, Head of retail for Diageo/Guinness Store House

TELL US ABOUT YOUR POSITION IN DIAGEO / GUINNESS STORE HOUSE?

I lead a department of 60 staff at the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s number 1 visitor attraction. The retail division is a key brand enabler and the final touch point with consumers for the Guinness brand. I am passionate about delivering experiential retail that “Only Guinness Can” to 1.5million visitors each year through a high performing team. I have overseen multiple capital investment projects in the business in recent years to evolve and further develop our retail offer and the overall business. Included in that is the Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny which I am the business owner of and which is a key growth driver for the Smithwicks brand.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO WORK IN THIS SECTOR?

I fell into retail by accident, I was an Art and Design student and decided to defer on a degree course in graphic design while I figured out what I really wanted to do. I started working as a part- time Christmas temp in Next on Grafton Street. I quickly realised that working within a retail environment allowed me to use my creative talents and business acumen along with my passion for working in a team environment. Retail for me was very much the right career choice, I use my commercial and creative skills on a daily basis, which I love!

BEFORE THE GUINNESS STORE HOUSE  WHAT WAS YOUR CAREER PLAN?

When I joined the Guinness Storehouse I had worked with a number of big brand retailers and I had gained a multitude of experience in multiple roles. My career plan was to become the best that I possibly could be and to continue to grow and learn so that I could lead and grow a business in the future to achieve exceptional success.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST CAREER CHALLENGE?

My greatest career challenge was accepting a role in an organisation that on paper looked fantastic and challenging in every way but in reality was not even close to the role description. I learnt a very valuable lesson at that stage of my career which was you cannot force yourself to fit into an organisation if you don’t respect their values and beliefs.

WHO ARE YOUR GREATEST FEMALE INSPIRATION?

When I worked for Pringle of Scotland the CEO at the time was a lady called Kym Windsor. I was so inspired to see a fantastic female leader in action, I watched her in awe and identified key strengths in her that I promised myself I would emulate as I progressed through my career. She was very candid, honest and respectful of her team at all levels, I found this very powerful as a young female manager coming up through the ranks. She was very approachable and down to earth, I still reference her today when I’m working with my own team. I am also always impressed by Oprah Winfrey, I feel she is a real inspiration to women in many ways.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF?

I would tell my younger self to get a mentor as early as you can in your career to give you independent advice on how to develop your skill set. I would also tell myself to actively seek out help and advice from people who cross your path whom you admire. When you are younger and looking to grow your career you can be a bit shy or overwhelmed when you meet people who impress you greatly. These are the people you should openly approach and tell them that they have had a positive impact on you, make them your mentors by being brave and approaching them.

Have courage to tell someone how much of a positive impact they have had on you, it makes you feel good and it makes them feel fantastic!

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN YOU’RE HIRING ?

I have always been a firm believer in hiring personality. Skills can be trained and learned, how to behave and what values are important to you is core to your being. I like evidence in an interview of someone who can think on their feet and have confidence in themselves to take accountability and make decisions.

QUALIFICATION VS CULTURE WHICH WINS OUT?

For me culture always wins out, to be truly successful and drive a successful team the culture has to be right. I believe you should harness the power of collaboration and allow everyone on the team to excel in their key strength areas.

WHATS THE BEST ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO ANYONE ATTENDING AN INTERVIEW?

Put some thought into examples you can use in your interview where you can showcase what your key strengths are. If you are struggling to identify your key strengths then go and do some self- assessments to give you the vocabulary to articulate this most effectively in an interview situation.

Be yourself and be confident about that, you may not be for everyone but you will be for the right one!

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE FACING WOMEN TODAY?

Changing the conversation from having more women in the boardroom to having more diversity in the boardroom. Talent and capability comes in many forms, that should be the focus, not gender.

THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED?

I’ve learned a number of lessons.

1-In business you have to be resilient, I’ve learnt to always fight and stand up for what you believe to be right.

2-Never stop learning so that you will continue to grow.

3-Support other woman coming up through the ranks in whatever way you can.

WHATS YOUR ONE WARDROBE STAPLE ?

High heels!

FAVOURITE QUOTE?

Everything happens for a reason!

Jennifer Kennedy is the Head of Retail for the Guinness Storehouse. Ireland’s number 1 visitor attraction that welcomes in excess of 1.5 million visitors yearly.

Over the past 16 years she has worked with numerous retail organisations, namely Next, Habitat, Brown Thomas and Pringle of Scotland.

She has considerable experience in developing a brand’s retail offering. Jennifer excels in matrix management and has extensive experience working within a large organisation where multiple stakeholders need to be influenced to manage a successful project outcome.