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CIO interview: Andy Haywood of N Brown

Andy Haywood, CIO and COO: Picture by Vicky Matthers iconphotomedia

As April heralds in spring and new beginnings, so it does for business technology leader Andy Haywood.  After three and half years Haywood is leaving Manchester retailers N Brown plc to begin a new career as a portfolio business advisor and leader.  Haywood has been at the forefront of business technology leadership since early 2002 and has a CV that includes leadership roles at Asda, HBOS, Boots, The Cooperative and lately CIO and then COO of N Brown. 

Haywood and I sit down at St Paul’s in London to reflect on 16 years in the most senior technology role and his plans for the next season in his career.

“It’s been a busy time,” he says of N Brown who he joined in August 2014 as the former catalogue and high street retailer began its journey towards being an online business. “The heavy lifting has been done over the last three years and now the organisation is moving into its second three year transformation programme.

“I have worked in much larger organisations than N Brown, but Angela Spindler (CEO of N Brown) is transforming the whole product, business and brands and it has been a phenomenal time of change,” he says with a sense of satisfaction of having been part of a significant time in the history of a business. “It was three of the most challenging years of my career. It has been great to work with an organisation that is at the cutting edge and wants to invest in technology as it understands that it is the USP.”

“We have re-platformed the whole business, including finance, merchandise planning, the front-end web-shops and a new financial services platform,” he says of that heavy lifting.  N Brown has a financial services element to its organisation with payment plans. As a business with a catalogue heritage they have continued this popular model that was a staple of apparel retail in the 70s and 80s, but developed it for the internet age. “72% of the revenues are online, so it truly is a digital business where technology is the business. If you go down for a minute it is the same as closing your shop,” Haywood says.

“We have built a digital centre of excellence,” he says. Agile squads have been created across the organisation and in a true adoption of Agile these squads were cross-functional, bringing a wide range of people and skills together to tackle business issues and develop new ideas.  In Haywood’s move from CIO to COO in early 2016 the Yorkshireman told this scribe how traditional business departmental structures were less relevant as teams with ideas and passion, made up of varied skills came together at N Brown to tackle projects. It is a concept the Horizon CIO podcast has seen being used by CIOs in an ever widening set of organisations such as travel and tourism; insurance and healthcare.

“I cannot underestimate what a revolution that has been,” he says of business change being delivered in an Agile methodology. “The real wow has been how engaged the business feels in terms of the change environment. Managing change can build unintended gaps between teams and Agile absolutely helps fix that as it creates a sense of ownership and thus creates a real balance and interlock in running and changing the business,” Haywood says.  During his career Haywood has been involved in a series of major change programmes from major merger and acquisition programmes at Asda and HBOS, the modernisation of technology and business processes at pharmacy retailer Boots and the reboot of the Cooperative before its financial woes caught up with it.

“Lots of little change is not a difficult message in digital retail,” he adds.

Picture by Vicky Matthers, Icon Business Media.


Since joining The Cooperative in January 2012 Haywood has been working in Manchester and as this title’s podcast recently discussed the city has been on an upward trajectory in the second decade of this century. Retail and technology have played a major part in that journey.

“Manchester is really taking off, but it does come with problems,” Haywood says. Like many of his CIO and COO peers from Manchester, recruitment and retention of talent has become a major challenge and Brexit is not helping the situation.

“Its like a little greenhouse bubble for talent. We did some speed dating using social media we got a really good turnout,” he says of just one method N Brown deployed to attract the skills it needed. “You need to give just five minutes about you and then five minutes about them. For the candidate its has to be fast and not ‘me too’.

Over the years I have worked with Haywood he always focuses in the need to develop talent.

“I worried about IT being over, but now I see a lot of young talent coming through. Now it is great to see technology talked about across the business in its own right and not as a necessary evil and I never thought I’d see that,” he says of how the latest wave of digital change in organisations has created renewed interest in technology careers. Like many of his peers, he still has well meant concerns that organisations don’t lose valuable skills, which in turn means they fail because of an inability to operate the non-digital elements of their organisations effectively. As he moves into a new career Haywood plans to do more mentoring.

“The power of joining things up as  network is the real power of digital and that is why the label is miss-used he says of how organisations need to navigate the challenges of legacy business and technology models.

Adam Warne will be joining the business heading up technology for N Brown with Haywood performing what he describes as “a short handover” of his remaining technology responsibilities “and then Adam will lead the tech function on the next chapter of its journey,” Haywood says. Warne joins N Brown from a true digital disruptor, he has been Group IT Director with AO.com, the white goods online retailer. 

Beyond N Brown Haywood is planning a portfolio of non-executive director (NED) roles, working with or through venture capital and private equity. “A couple of organisations I am talking to have woken up to how dependent on IT organisations are,” he says.  As an experienced CIO Haywood has a wealth of experience from the other side of the table of NEDs and brings a perspective to that role: “ A good NED will challenge you outside of the boardroom and in the boardroom they are very supportive. But being a NED is not for the feint hearted.” 

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About Mark Chillingworth 205 Articles
Mark Chillingworth has over 20 years of journalism and editing experience across all media platforms including online, live events, print magazines and television.
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