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Secondment programme helps Specsavers build overseas presence

Specsavers constantly develops its overseas businesses by sending individuals out on secondment from its UK base that help maintain the group’s brand values and implement the latest initiatives. By Glynn Davis


Secondment programme helps Specsavers build overseas presence

Ahead of speaking at The Retail Bulletin International Expansion Summit 2014 on March 25 Mary Jane Seddon, senior manager of reward and policy at Specsavers, reveals that the group has a rolling programme of secondees who are sent overseas to support office function activities in these new territories.

It currently operates 1,516 stores with overseas outlets in Australia, New Zealand, and the Nordics and presently there are 22 employees seconded in these countries as well as nine who commute weekly from the UK as well as seven who have decided to relocate full-time in one of these markets.

Typically they spend two years within the overseas businesses with the key objective of growing a new market or developing an existing one. When the company does its annual people review Seddon says potential secondees are identified and aligned with any specific needs in certain markets.

They are also tasked with helping re-iterate the Specsavers brand and ensuring it has consistency across countries – giving an “infusion of green blood” as described by Seddon – so secondees are partly selected on their ability to convey the brand and its principles.

Seddon has been among the employees selected for secondment: “We understand what skills they have that can be used in a certain territory. It needs to be right for the market and for the individual. When I went to the Nordics it was to set up a HR function. We’d muddled through with a HR advisory service but it needed to be a proper business partnering function.”

One of the key tasks for secondees – particularly in the Nordics – is to help the company switch from the existing franchise agreements to joint-venture structures with local partners. “When the franchises come to an end then the secondees go and help with the transfers to joint-ventures. They also help find the right partners for these ventures,” she adds.

Although Seddon says other companies employ trouble-shooters she is unsure of any other retailers who have secondment programmes aimed specifically at developing and growing their overseas businesses.

Overall the initiative has proved to be extremely beneficial – undoubtedly helped by the strict selection programme and targeted objectives – for Specsavers, which also gains from the new skills and practices that the returning secondees can then bring to the UK business.

There are also secondments made from the overseas countries into the UK but these are much less frequent because the benefits are greatly reduced as most of the operational aspects of the company are driven from the core home market.

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