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The Leaders · Season 1

Tailor-making a digital experience with Ian Rosen

Jul 2, 2020

Ian Rosen, HBA '11 discusses team culture and engagement, making the "big bet" on digital, and his journey towards joining an iconic family business.


Ian Rosen

“Great people can solve hard problems” is the phrase that leaps to Ian Rosen’s mind as his team sprinted to upgrade their online shopping experience in the middle of a pandemic. Rosen, HBA ’11, VP Digital & Strategy at the venerable clothing retailer Harry Rosen speaks about team culture and engagement, making the “big bet” on digital and his journey towards joining an iconic family business.


Insights and wisdom line within every business decision welcome to the Leaders by Ivey podcast, where we discover hidden, narratives and unlock key learnings for our own leadership and career journeys. Welcome back to the Leader by Ivey podcast this time we welcome Ian Rosen an HBA’11 was the VP of Digital in Strategy and Harry Rosen. Ian is responsible for the growth of extending relationships with customers on to digital channels and enhancing the shopping experience with technology. But what's most interesting is that it all comes back to people since its inception, Harry Rosen has put this at the core of their organization. When Ian talks about challenges in facing the global pandemic, he notes great people can solve problems. I've really enjoyed this discussion and I hope you do too. Enjoy! Ian, thanks very much for joining us today. You talk to the audience about who you are what you do and what's your relation to Ivey. Thanks very much so I’m Ian Rosen and I am the Vice President of Digital and Corporate Strategy at Harry Rosen. Harry Rosen is my family's business. Harry is my grandfather. He started the business sixty-six years ago. My father Larry has been running the business since about the early 2000s, and I joined the business just two years ago in a VP role focused on growing our digital in store business, as well as our online business. So that's my current role. I had a career in management, consulting with Bain and Company and a company called Sakor consulting prior to that, I’m an HBA of 2011. So that's where I got in that's my relation to Ivey and I actually, as an alumni, was very involved on the Ivey Alumni association board or now the Ivey Alumni network board. You've worked at different organizations and now you're back working in the family business was this something that was always your goal of your dream: to come back a work for the family business talk a little bit about those changes in the evolution of your career after leaving Ivey. It's a it's a great question. It's when I’ve been answering my whole life, one of one of the most interesting parts. There are kind of things that both me and my brothers will always say is you know we grew up as Harry Rosen’s grandkids. We grew up as very attached to that business when we were born and the business was kind of growing and exploding across Canada, and there was definitely a tight. You know, link between who we were and who the business was, and my approach to that was to reject it entirely. I wanted nothing to do with it. I said I’m  going to do my own thing and I don't want to pursue something: that's pre ordained or nepotistic or whatever the right word for that is, and I kind of set off on my own path to say and prove probably to myself in a lot of ways. What am I capable of, and I went to Ivey one of the big things I loved there was the case study method. One of my professors pulled me aside at the end of first year and said I think you're going to be a management consultant, and I said I don't know what that is, but sure I’ll look into it and I ended up really loving the idea of taking a career that allowed me to explore so many different industries. I did some projects working in mines. I did projects in nuclear energy and hydroelectricity vegetation management, financial services. At the end of the day, I actually really started to fall in love when I started doing consumer retail projects. The reason I loved it is to me it was very exciting that you've come up with a strategy and then the customer had to do something. So there was this game of guessing this kind of exciting, like ambiguous, non, not easy to predict response to what you were putting forward in strategy- and you know I love the work I did in natural resources, but to me it felt like process optimization get the product out of the ground more efficiently. I can't control the price, so I just kind of fell in love with this gamble. I read paco under hills why we buy and got really caught up in okay, I love consumerism. I love the challenge of getting customers to buy my product over the others, and I did a lot more consulting on the consumer practice of my consulting firm and then I went and got my MBA. I took a step back there and said: okay. What do I want to see if I want to cross off the list? I did a quick Internship in private equity, realized that wasn't the career I wanted to move into. I started a little failed start up with a couple classmates where we were liquidating baby boomers’ estates as they down size. We would take all the products out of their house and try and sell it on the open market and turns out that wasn't an exciting I we would dress up in uniforms and bring a U Haul truck over to a person's house and pretend we were legitimate and then we would scramble to try and sell their stuff for the next three or four months. So there didn't seem to be product market fit there. I got a lot out of my system and then I said you know what I really love consumer retail. I want to do something in retail and I went back into consulting started as aligning myself to the consumer retail practice and that's kind of on e commerce transformation, e commerce transitions, new commerce projects were really hot in that sector. It's something that I worked a lot on and got really energized by. When I sat down with a mentor of mine, he said what do you think you're going to do next? I said I’d love to find a company that, like really needs a kick in the pants, what digital really needs to take on a challenge and consumer, and I said oh, why would I want to do this? For somebody else? I have a family business at home. That kind of fits all of the things that I love. I really do love the family business. So as much as I was rejecting it, I think I probably knew probably four years prior, that I was going to come back and then the big challenge became okay. How am I going to make it normal to work with my dad, which I don't think anybody wakes up in the more when they're young and says you know, I want to go to work with my dad. That's going to be a normal proposition, so we actually have developed a pretty great working relationship. We've had some support in terms of how to manage work life balance, I’m a new father, he's a new grandfather. How do we make sure that we focus on that time being about the family and not about the numbers? There's a lot of challenges and nuances that come in with the family business, but it actually makes the end game a lot more rewarding. I’m really happy that I took the journey. I took to come to these conclusions because had I not gone my own way and found my way here, I don't think I’d be as energized as I am to contribute and you know being a new father myself. I find myself thinking about okay now, my job is to keep this thing going and hand it off to the next generation and make sure that she wants to work with me at the end of the day or give her the room to come to that conclusion to herself. So how does technology play a role you mentioned in store? So I’d love to hear about that, and also outside of the store an you talk to us a little bit about. Maybe what your day to day looks like or some of the evolutions that have happened to your business with technology. Absolutely for those that know the story of Harry Rosen and my grandfather really focused on building one to one connections with customers and he kind of had the first version of a CRM, which was posted notes all over a rolodex. Talking about what birthday you know got gathering as much information about each customer as he could, and even in kind of as we moved into the 90s we started investing in CRM technology. We were pretty cutting edge with how much information we were keeping on our clients. We've always been proficient at digitizing that part of our business, the thing that we perhaps lagged a little bit on, although we were first into e commerce, was how do we bring that exceptional experience online? How do we build an infrastructure that helps us continue to build relationships from a phone from a website from coming into the store and understanding that hey I’ve already done a lot of pre shopping online? How do I smooth at that journey? So the job that I occupy is really about thinking. What are the key customer journeys we have to digitize and then how do we build technology that that enhances that experience doesn't distract from that experience? So we definitely have a lot of information and data. They were just mobilizing against it and kind of a way that we've never done before. That's really what my job has been since joining two years ago, and it really sounds like you're taking, what's all always been at the core of your business and using these new tools to enhance and continue to reinforcement, reinforce that I’m not a big fan of technology for technology's sake. I think that there has been a lot of examples, whether in my past, life is a consultant or even as at Harry Rosen and trying to insert a technology and say, go use it and just in terms of the way in which we work with our clients, the way in which our clothing advisors, which is our front our frontline workers, work with their clients. You really have to be thoughtful about what role does technology play in it? For example, we've got a lot of customer feedback when we started digitizing inventory, look up and things like that that are advisors have their heads down looking at their phone, the whole time that people are walking into the store- and we said oh wow, this move to mobile technology is really great, but it's definitely giving off the impression that people don't want to be ready to greet you when you're at the door. So one of the things that we've been investing in his voice search, we partnered with a company called Algolia, which is a leading search as a service company and they've been helping us build in natural language search to help our advisers. Look up very quickly were how many size forty sweaters do. I have in my store and getting the search results really quickly, so you can kind of engage the customer in an experience like that, rather than turn them off by saying hold on. I need to pull up my phone and- and you know you know, nobody really knows what that that might look like from the customers perspective. So ensuring that this technology is kind of in the background and used as a tool and not becoming something that is in between you and your customer. Absolutely. So when did you start putting the focus on digital for the business? What year would you say that that was well we've been growing? Our strict online business, since two thousand and nine and you know, working from a really small base. We were growing at a hundred two hundred three hundred percent and once we got to about twenty fifteen two thousand and sixteen that growth rate started to slow a bit, and I would say that we were probably the chains- eighth biggest store. We have eighteen stores, so we were kind of a small to medium size store and then I think twenty eighteen things started to really heat up. We saw fifty percent growth on a pretty big number. We started investing a lot in enabling our clothing advisers to sell off of the website and that started driving a lot of business for us. So we basically looked at the business. We were driving and said: okay. Well, this is still growing we're out pacing the market, we're still probably behind where we should be. Why do we make some pretty big investments in terms of making this a core piece of our business moving forward, rather than something that were running off to the side? So we're really serious about digital right now, it's definitely the key focus of where our investments are going. I can only imagine that being proactive in this space is really helping you now, as we sit in the corona world that we're in right now. Could you talk about the most significant challenge that you've had over the last months and weeks? How did you and how did you respond to that challenge? That's a loaded question then most significant challenge over the last months of week. You know when COVID-19 hit and we came to the realization that we're going to have to shut our stores down it's just a matter of time, and we need to do a number of pretty key things here. We have to get our teams working from home and set up for that. We have to get our advisors, who typically come into work and work off of that you know their phones and the computers in the on the floor. How do we get them working from home with maybe on their mobile, maybe on an iPad and stuff like that? So that was a big challenge in itself. That's not the biggest challenge, but lots of different moving pieces keeping people safe when we reopened huge, huge challenge, putting into place new procedures like if somebody tries on a garment quarantining that for twenty-four hours making sure we know how to altar tailored clothing or alter a pant with physical distancing in mind. These have all been really big challenges. I think the biggest challenge we've been facing is to the digital transformation we were undergoing, our online business just started to boom and the one of the things in digital transformation is it sometimes feels like you're building a house and you're building that foundation for a really long time, you're, not seeing the benefits of it yet you're, really just in the plumbing and setting that foundation and making sure that the house is going to be stable and we're in that period. So our older, our older piece of technology, started getting hammered with like black Friday style traffic, and we had to start making sure that it could at least handle that and supplement the business that you know. I became our only revenue source. We were up five hundred six hundred eight hundred percent for a few weeks till last year, and we, you know, that's cooled off to about two hundred and fifty percent to last year, but it's become a prime kind of the key revenue source for our business. So we'll see how that levels off once stores are open, but that's definitely been the biggest challenges. How do we make sure that we're servicing and operating is an online only business, and I will tell you- and I know, I’ve kind of gone off the rails with how many challenges we've had, but making sure we could fulfill online orders while malls were closed. Was one of the more interesting puzzles to solve that I’ve done in my life? So and what was that? What was the key learning from that? As we look back great people can solve hard problems. Our teams stepped up and put their minds together and came up with new processes and new ways of doing things and new protocols and customers seemed to loosen their expectations a little bit which gave us some time to do it properly. Not start. Canceling orders left right and center and I think our ship time only got kicked out like half a day at the end of it. So we had teams all around Toronto store, going picking everything going to the next door. It was quite a circus behind the scenes, but an organized circus, and I’m really proud of how our team came together to make sure that we could keep meeting customers after expectations. That's great and- and you know the theme for this is leadership and leaders. How do you engender that type of a mentality in your team where they're, they're, open and confident to share ideas? Because you just mentioned some of a lot of the ideas came from the team and how do you get them comfortable it coming together during challenging times to conquer something together? What have you done as a leader to make that happen? I think the biggest thing that we've been doing is asking for input not coming forward with the answer, because we don't know it that goes for the way in which we're operating our stores. We engaged our people in the solutions that goes for the way in which we were you know doing logistics and fulfilment or people came up with the solutions in the approach, and I think it's just posing the problem to them and empowering their answer pushing the thinking were needed, but not coming forward and feeling like as a leader. You have to come forward with this full answer now how we're going to operate in a pandemic. I had this in my pocket the entire time, and we have a constant feedback loop going as well from our stores every single week, because every store is learning a little bit more about how to operate in a very unprecedented time. That's very cool and what the listeners can't see, which I have the benefit as we're recording this is when you're talking about the work going on with teams going around Toronto and solving these challenges. You had a big smile on your face, so to me that says that there's a part of this that was also really fun and beneficial for the team coming together. Can you talk a little bit about that and how did you, as a leader, manage a team that is trying to face a challenge that's stressful? How did you help them manage that stress so that you came out of it with the smile on your face. Yeah, I might shift to a bit of a different example, but when, in my early consulting days I did a project where I was in a mine and there was a pending recession and they were trying to figure out when the price of the resource goes down. What are we going to do with our labor? How are we going to invest that labor, because we don't want them taking gold out of the ground we want them focused on you know, making the process is more efficient and that's always stuck in my head when something ends downwards. I think okay! Well, how are we going to make the most of this opportunity when coved hit? We had a plan to move off of our current e commerce platform in October, just before black Friday sever Monday, and I went to my team- and I said we need to get off by July. First, that's our deadline, they came back and said, I think end of July is much more realistic, but we can do this. We can put some band aids in there. We can cut some corners. We can go pencils down on some other things and we can focus our resources in here and the way in which I’ve been bringing them along and helping them get excited about the challenges. The entire executive team is excited watching, engaged in the progress they're making and they feel, like you, know the company's betting on this work that I’m doing and is really invested in this going well. This isn't the same as me doing the job that I’ve been told. This is me making a huge difference, so the thing that I’ve been trying to do is helping every single person who's playing a huge part in the re platforming project that we're doing to say, like you know, this is the big bet we're making as an organization, you guys are the ones that are making the difference and it seems to be you know, without using names, I have a father of two working at home. You know who's staying up and putting in much more extra time to make sure that our teams are prepared for every single day and daily scrum call. I have a new father who was supposed to take paternity leave but cut it short just so he could jump in and pitch in on this, and you know he'll take that paternity leave on the tail end of this project or more paternity leave on the tale end of this project, and I didn't ask for that. That was just you know. I want to play a part. I know I can be helpful and, and this has to be all hands-on deck. This is an exciting project for us as a company. So that's really my approach. That says a lot to the to the culture, and I think it's really interesting giving your role and your title, and you know that it's focused on technology. Most of the things you're talking about are people most of the solutions. Are people focused, which is great when you look back at what you've gone through and what your team has worked through to anything that you would do differently. If you had to do it again, what would I have done differently? I think I would have been a touch more communicative at the early stages with my teams of here's what is going to happen? You know we're not, let's not play this week by week, we're going to be working at home. This is the new normal, like. Let's assume that this is that, because I think we moved everybody offline, but there was a bit of a limbo period where people were like. Is this a two week? Things is a three-week thing. What's this going to look like a d, and I think I would have been trying to give everybody a little bit more clarity of this is a pandemic were at home, we're going to do our part and socially distance, and it doesn't mean that work is stopping, but it means that you guys need to tell me how your life is changing. If your kids have been sent home from school, tell me how we managed that together, maybe two three weeks earlier than we did or I did, but I still think that we, you know we thought through that. Just sometimes speed is important there, but I’m pretty happy. I don't think anybody could have been fully prepared for this. I wish I had predicted and made some move earlier. You mentioned earlier that you, your customer facing team, the group that would typically be one on one with a customer in the store has gone online. What did you do and what did you put in place to try to maintain that that feeling of the conversation, the eye contact and everything? What did you do to try to maintain that? Despite it going online, I’m just very curious about how that works. About august the last year we started on a project called, we call it project Herring Bone internally and the goal is to drive digital sales, digitally influence sales through our clothing advisers to their clients and build connections, digitally and help clients explore products digitally. Obviously, at the end of the day, our goal is to drive customers both offline and online and build relationships with him across both, and we want the advisor to be a key part in both of those we allowed our advisors to start building curated packages and looks for their clients. So let me do the work of browsing through the website for the best thing for you, and I will send you a personalized page that says: hey Matt here is you know here's the new summer polos that you like. I know that you're a size, thirty-four, you know a size large and here's, my favorite colors at least to your card at your convenience, or I can bring them into the story. You tell me that was kind of a workflow that we always dreamed of and when my grandfather started the business one of the big things that that he did is, he would always want an appointment to be not the customer. Looking around the store, it would be. You get everything ready for that customer what you think you might like or whatever. So when you come in you're building that relationship- and I think that's the objective that we did when we started . How can we replicate that digitally now? A thing that we did that was a bit unconventional. Is we didn't make it easy for our advisers to build? The curated looks because when things are too easy, it starts to turn into marketing span. You can use an artificial intelligence product recommender to tell me what Matt might not might buy next, but then you're not really adding value to the equation and what we're pushing our advisors to do is like. How can you be thoughtful about the look or the package or the clothing that you're sending to your customer because that's going to reinforce that relationship piece, sending them top picks for you? That's not the digitization that we were going for so every single one of our advisors enabled to build curated looks, the second that everybody was unfortunately not able to come into work, that activity continued and definitely reinforced a lot of our online business and our sellers kept being able to you know, work with their clients digitally and virtually we're looking at so many more interesting ways of reinforcing that relationship, whether it's more sophisticated outfits being built getting the clients input helping with sizing, there's a whole bunch of things that we have on our hit list in our back lock. So that's pretty much what I meant when I was talking about that that's great and again, the theme is technology is reinforcing and enhancing the Rosen ways. As you mentioned. That's very cool so Ian as we're in the zoom phase of meetings and a lot of things going online suits and ties more formal were maybe a has pushed to the back of the closet. For now, how are you responding that? What are you seeing in the industry as we are working from home and communicating digitally yeah? It's a great question and I think COVID ended up being the great accelerator for a specific trend in fashion, which was the casualization of work or addressed for your day. About last year, in the summer, Goldman Sachs announced that they were going more business casual, which was a big kind of moment for fashion, because it said you know, workplaces are not going to be suit, tie shirt and the typical way of building a wardrobe for a man might not be blue suit gray, suit, gray, check suit, blue check suit, and that's how I dress I’m a blue and gray guy, but that was a business that we obviously were a major player in, and we've been a already confronting. What does the casualties of work? Look like it's the shift from a suit to a sport jacket, it's the shift from structured dress, shirt or a stiff dress, shirt to one with a little bit more give a softer shirt, knits polos. That kind of thing and we've been already moving a lot of our clients into that direction. Now we take it a little bit of a step further and say: well, do I you know, do I need to get dressed? I’m sitting in front of video conference all day, and I think what we've been hearing from our customers is there's still like a joy of getting dressed in something great in the morning. How do we show them and highlight the selection that we have in shorts and joggers and landward casual pants? You know page denim. It is a really great example of a jean, that's totally built with stretch and it's incredible for working at home. I know I personally went into the store a couple days ago and bought four more pairs of my favorite color in a bunch of different colors. Sorry, my favorite cut because I’m at home a lot- and I don't want to be in sweatpants all the time, so that's kind of been that shift and they'll be a rebound. Our goal is to maintain our partage in our ownership of that tailor clothing market. We never want to give that up, but we're not blind to the fact that the way men are getting dressed in the morning is different and what we want to do is be there for any occasion they might have whether it's the big zoom meeting. So, all they need is a shirt tie and a soup top and they can wear shorts on the bottom or if they actually want to. You know, dress up for the weekend and do a socially distance hang out in the backyard. What does that look like? What's their great outfit for that situation. So that's great and the fact that you're listening makes you even better prepared as things open up and changes keep continuing to happen as we look to wrap up today. I wonder if there's something you know personally or from your organization that you'd like to share or ask our listeners to follow up with research more dive into. Is there an initiative or cause that you're passionate about that? You like to like to share with the listeners. Great question. I mean my biggest thing that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with, and I touched on it a little bit during his how much people can step up in challenging times keep giving people the opportunity to surprise you because they will. Inevitably, if you have a great team around you and you give them the room to come up with solutions and you as a leader, aren't trying to have your fingers and everything and sit in it on every meeting, because with Zoom I’ll tell you it's really easy to book your day, solid and jump into every meeting and be a fly on the wall and everything. So I think that the new the new leader is going to empower people to come up with solutions much more than before, and also do it independently in a way that you know a workshop. A group meeting won't be the same, so keep pushing them on that our organizations definitely been trying to give back in many different ways. This has been a real learning four months for us as an organization. Firstly, with COVID we tried to do as much as we could to give back to the in whatever way we could. We started shifting the production of our shirt or signature shirt line over to face masks. We donated over twenty-five hundred face masks to hospitals in Toronto. We've been selling them online doing by one donate one and that's been an exceptional program, and it shows like the nimbleness that we had both with our manufacture as well as internally to say. Okay, people need these, let's not try and make a profit off them. Let's break even- and let's give as much back to that to the community and need as possible, because that's really the only role we could have as a company and then the other thing that we've been trying to do is push ourselves on. You know, as the global conversation around diversity inclusion race has gone on, is we've engaged our people to ask ourselves. What? What exactly is our position on this? How can we represent you better, and I think that's been helping me- have some very difficult conversations internally look at ourselves and say you know we're doing a lot of things, but we can do better. That's kind of the mantra internally, as we can do a lot better when it comes to these things and our people are pushing the agenda. This is not my you know it's my job to champion at a executive level and it's my job to give empower people to come up with the right solutions. We did give a donation to an organization called the BPPA. We donated a scholarship for black students to go to university, which I thought was a great first step for us. We were really excited about the work they were doing and there's a lot more for us to figure out what our strategy on this. Obviously, global issue is going to be. Ian one thing that you mentioned is the work that you are doing will, personally, as a and as an organization to look across your whole team and engage them on the issues of diversity and inclusion. Could you talk a little bit more about the steps in your conversations and what does that look like, and what are you hoping that this will lead to for your organization? Ultimately, our objective was for our response to be reflective of the people who work for Harry Rosen, and we wanted them to be proud of the response we were taking and the steps that we've taken is to bring together leaders across our organization who are passionate about making a difference on the topic of diversity and inclusion and giving them the authority to push our thinking on things like hiring on things like training. On things like how we facilitate conversations about tough topics across the organization. Should we have a speaker series that confront things during you know during when global movements come up? Should we be acknowledging the challenges that different groups have? The answer is yes to all of those, and our objective is to empower that group to push us forward again, our mantra this is just we can do better and we can do better and we're going to hold ourselves accountable to being better. I can't give you any concrete examples at this moment and that's okay, the concrete example I’m giving you is that we've committed to our people that were going to take a few steps forward and allow them to shape what we do moving after that. So and what I really love about this is that again, it's not just sitting in the C-Suite or a certain level of offices. It's similar to your, how you've engaged your audience with covid, how you have engaged your audience around technology. This sounds like an organization that really takes to heart that team mentality and engaging empowering the team across all levels to work with you to push the organization forward, and I think I would encourage the listeners to keep an eye on your website and look at the things that you're doing and other podcast that you've been on and are going on to hear how things are progressing and the new things that you're putting into place. It sounds like a great opportunity for the organization. Thank you, our customers are leader, so we got to be leaders on the topic like this. Thanks to Ian Rosen, HBA’11 for joining us on this episode of the Leaders by Ivey podcast. Make sure to subscribe and send us any feedback at Join us next time, as we continue this journey of looking at businesses leaderships and how we can enhance our organizations and our careers. Thanks again.