Andrew Mowles - Department Manager - M W Partridge & Co Ltd

In November 2012 I was called into my Directors office. He asked me how long I had been with the company and how I felt I had progressed. I never received any formal training on my job and have been with the same employer for 25 years, we are a small independent ironmongery/ garden centre and I have basically been self taught. This has it’s positives and negatives. My Director told me about the scholarship opportunity with OSS and I obviously jumped at the chance and filled out the application.

A few months later I was overjoyed and proud to receive a phone call saying I had been given a scholarship place at the Academy, I couldn’t believe I had won it, considering I work for a small company. My initial thoughts were worry and panic. I wondered if I was going to be the odd one out, what if I didn’t have enough experience and would I be able to contribute anything to the team?

The big day arrived very quickly. All my shirts ironed, all my ties packed, everything thought of, prepared and booked, even though this was a chance of a lifetime I knew I was going to miss my wife and children a lot, considering I have never spent time away from them due to work before. Lucky for me a group of friends were at the train station so most of the journey flew by. All the shuttle buses were ready for us at Oxford train station, and we were all greeted by the Programme Director, Steve Connell, hard to miss with his pink trousers!

I checked in and found out what group I was in. I was extremely nervous by this point and didn’t know what to expect. The other group members were employees of very large established companies, including my Group Director. I expressed my concerns to the group in the ice breaker. Even very early on I was shown a lot of support from my group. I really don’t know why I was so nervous about being at the Summer School because everyone is equal. We were all there to gain something, to come away with ideas, inspiration and to discover ourselves.

On the official opening there seemed to be a lot of information to take on board but you didn’t have time to think or worry about it. In our first discussion group we were handed a copy of our Belbin questionnaire which we completed before attending. The results were very interesting. I learnt about the type of person I am and how I can use this information to help become a better manager.

My first day nerves had virtually disappeared by the time we all went to the bar in the evening. This gave us the opportunity to relax and reflect on what was ahead of us. The evening was rounded off with the first guest speaker of the week, Tim Danaher (Previously Editor of Retail Week and now a partner at The Brunswick Group), who spoke of current and future trends and where he saw the retail sector in the next few years.

We were very lucky to have the speakers that we had over the course of the week. Each of them had different stories, information and ideas to help us all to succeed. They were all role models and I felt honoured to be listening to them. Along with their professional presentations they added a degree of humour to get their points and views across.

One of the first tasks we were set was to do a presentation within our combined groups. This was way out of my comfort zone, but with the support and guidance of the team I managed to complete the presentation. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I actually opened up and everybody saw the real me and valued my input.

The day’s work was separated by focussing on different areas of the business and how they impact on the overall success. Each task pushed us to our limits with short deadlines and we were forced to trust each other and use our strengths to get the job done.

The business exercise was the last task of the week. The time limitations were unimaginable, we just got on with it, and failing was not an option. This is one of the key benefits of the Summer School. It helps you figure out your key strengths and develop them in a brand new team with time constraints being a big pressure. You don’t have time to let politics get in the way of doing the very best you can.

The social side of the Summer School was fantastic. The bar was open every evening, we had fantastic dining, and each night we tried to sit next to someone different in the group. We only knew each other for a week but I came away feeling I have known these people for years. I enjoyed the brief chats with Dominic Prendergast (Managing Director), asking how we felt, how are we getting on etc? Also catching up with Ryan Cooper (Vice Chairman) and Alan Hawkins (Chief Executive of bira – the British Independent Retailers Association) was a great privilege. Logistically it was also very good, the OSS team were fantastic if we needed anything from the office, they were always there to help.

I came home with fantastic memories, new friends and contacts. Winning the Scholarship was one of the best things to have ever happened to me. I will never forget the time I spent at Keble College. I now have a greater knowledge of the whole spectrum of retail. It has made me a more confident person, a team player with more assertion and I can now put all of these attributes into action for both myself and my employer.

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