Aston's 50th Anniversary: Euan Sutherland Q&A

50 Aston Greats: Euan Sutherland

Euan Sutherland

In October 2014 Euan Sutherland was appointed Chief Executive Officer of SuperGroup, a British international branded clothing company and owner of the Superdry label. He was previously CEO of the Co-operative Group, a post he held for ten months, during which time he saved The Co-op Bank and with it The Co-op Group from administration, without recourse to the taxpayer. 

Previous roles include non-executive Director on The Co-operative Food Board, Group Chief Operating Officer for Kingfisher plc and Chairman of B&Q. Euan has over 20 years' experience within the retail sector having also held roles with Boots, Dixons, Coca-Cola and Mars.

Euan graduated from Aston University in 1993 with a BSc (1st class) in Managerial and Administrative Studies.  

What is your fondest memory of Aston?

I lived at Handsworth Wood for the first couple of years so I have lots of memories up there in the halls. As well as memories around the Guild and sitting on the grass outside the Sacks of Potatoes.  I don’t think I have one fondest memory, there are lots!

What did your Aston experience give you personally?

Aston was a huge influence on my career and on my life. It opened up my mind and gave me a huge broadening of my perspective. The biggest thing that came out to me around the curriculum was the diversity of Aston.  From the people that were there, the number of different courses, the subjects that we took, the city centre location and the stimulus we had. This was probably my biggest influence. The combination of all of that was just a fantastic experience.

What advice do you have for today's students?

I have been leading some fairly large organisations for some time and we try to engage the best talent in the country and worldwide.  The competition for great roles has increased, and I’m very aware of that for the next generation coming through. 

My advice to those at University now would be to embrace everything, throw your energy into everything, because what we are looking for in new talent is bred energy and some experience as well. Aston gave me the opportunity to do some very different things and to really test how best I performed, how I liked to learn and some of the subjects of wouldn’t necessarily have done in a narrower environment.

What are some of the biggest lessons that you have learnt in your career?

I would probably pull out five lessons which are from quite a number of experiences from the past 20 odd years. It’s kind of depressing to think it was that long ago!

1 – Face big issues head on. You can’t let them sit there, you have to embrace them straight away.
2 – Listen to your gut. That is always a combination of experience, capability and lots of other stuff in there.  Listening to your gut is a really important lesson and most people try and put that to one side and you should bring that to the fore. 
3 – Bringing people with you. Like companies, environments are all just collections of people.  Bringing people with you is very important.
4 – Never give up, no matter what. No matter what happens, tomorrow is always a new day. 
5 – The power of an amazing team.

Those are the biggest lessons I have learnt.

What did you learn from The Co-operative Group experience?(Euan was CEO of the Co-operative Group from April 2013 to March 2014, during which time he saved The Co-op Bank and with it The Co-op Group from administration).

Those things I have listed above are all wrapped up in The Co-op experience.  My Co-op experience was a tremendous opportunity to do something of real value. 

The Co-op is an amazing 150 year old institution, which is very unique and needs to preserved and sustained for another 150 years.  That was why I joined The Co-op and also why I left it. I learned to face big issues head on.  I walked in and within days I found things were not as they were being presented at the Bank. We had to face a hugely stressful situation, looking over the precipice and facing the consequence that could have finished the entire group. 

The Bank and the Group were completely linked, all the Group banking was done through The Co-operative Bank.  If the Bank had gone down then it would have dragged down the entire 100,000 colleagues and their families with them. 

This comes back to the power of having an amazing team. I was the head of the team, but if I hadn’t have had what was the most amazing team, it terms of perseverance, talent, capability, bravery – we would not have saved The Co-op Bank.

To this day, it is the only bank in the world to have been saved and recapitalised without a penny of taxpayers funding. We evoked some very very innovative roots to get there, we broke forward some of the European legislation, which is only going to the statute book in 2018. It was a hugely pressurised environment, the media was on us every single day for a year, we were reporting to the Bank of England every day, I was making weekly visits to the Treasurery and the government. We wanted save the hard earned cash money that all of our retail banking customers that had put into the bank.  

I ended up getting to a point of resigning over was shining a light on capability of the Group government structure of the board. They were incapable of providing governance in a long term sustainable way to the good of the organisation. If you can’t connect with people to get the job done and to sustain the organisation then that’s a pretty difficult place to be. 

Working at The Co-operative Group was hugely interesting, frustrating and challenging all in one at the same time.

What excites you about your current role as CEO of Supergroup?

It is a fantastic organisation and quite a young organisation. It is the smallest company I have ever led. We turn over about 500 million at the moment.  We have huge global ambitions and a brand which resonates around the world. We are based in Cheltenham,so we are very British. Even though some of the branding is Japanese, there is a bit of a mythology around that – are we British, are we Japanese, are we American? And we quite like, and the fact that people talk about the brand.

This is a huge global growth story. With a team of people who are incredibly enthusiastic at the task at hand. We are very humble about what we do, we are based in a very low cost environment in the back end of Cheltenham.  Every day is different, it’s just fantastic. We are being incredibly innovative and creative about our products, our processes and global growth. 

I’m in different countries pretty much every day, which means you are exposed to different cultures, different ways of doing business and different teams. It’s great fun.

What are the next steps for Supergroup?

We aim to double the size of the company in the next five years, at least. We are taking it heavily into the EU, heavily into the US and then the third leg is into Asia.

It’s a tremendously exciting place to be. If you look at British brands right now, we have a genuine opportunity to become a global lifestyle brand. There are not many brands that get to that stage. It’s an exciting journey.