February 2020

If I'm sitting down with the Finance Director of a big retailer…I can talk to them with authority about the issues they face.

Gary’s passion for the Retail space meant the move into senior-level executive search within the sector was, after an insightful head-hunter first suggested it to him, a logical decision.

Stormzy’s Greggs card, High Street Experiential and bowling out Michael Atherton. Drayton’s Gary Buckley talks about his life-long passion for the Retail Industry.

When Michael Atherton looks back on his cricketing career there are many highlights – sixteen centuries, 7,726 runs, 185 scored in a single innings – at Test level. In his mind’s eye, Atherton will be able to see himself sweeping majestic sixes at the Oval or The Gabba. But, it’s safe to assume, there’s one day the former England captain prefers to forget – the day Gary Buckley bowled him.

‘Even back then, when we were teenagers,’ says Drayton’s expert in Retail executive search, ‘Atherton’s nickname was F.E.C. – Future England Captain – everyone referred to him as that. He was that good. And I bowled him. I was playing for Durham U15s. He was playing for Lancashire.’ Buckley’s fast bowling skills didn’t take him as far as Atherton. But, he tells me, they have brought him a huge amount of enjoyment during an impressive amateur career that saw him play for Philadelphia in the North East, and Bromley in the Kent league.

After spending time as an analyst at Standard Chartered Bank, his Retail ascendancy began at Sports Division, the former high street giant.

‘In the end, I didn't feel I was actually using my economics degree in any shape or form at Standard. So, much to my mother's horror, with me – our family’s first generation at university – I gave up a well-paid job in investment banking to, as she saw it, work in a sports shop. Although, in fact, I joined Sports Division’s finance department. I loved it there – ended up running the franchise operation for part of the group. It helps that I really enjoy shopping, most blokes don't say that. But, I genuinely do.’

Buckley’s passion for the Retail space meant the move into senior-level executive search within the sector was, after an insightful head-hunter first suggested it to him, a logical decision.

‘Once I’d made the move, I loved it. I had the accountancy training from Standard Chartered, and I’d learned about how the customer really thinks and behaves in the Retail sector at Sports Division. For me, strategic executive search brings the two together. The fact that I've been on the other side of the fence means that if I'm sitting down with the Finance Director of a big retailer, or the CEO of Greggs, I can talk to them with authority about the issues they face. Greggs is such an impressive company. A well-established business that continually innovates. They've just launched the black “Concierge Service” card and given it to Stormzy and Sam Fender, amazing marketing.’

As the interview progresses, Buckley’s enthusiasm for the Retail sector continues to come through. He has strong and informed views about its future. ‘You have got to give people a really compelling reason to go to the high street. For me, the experiential angle is vital, you have to create retail theatre. Retailers like Harrods and Selfridges are thriving and flying, in part, because they understand that. Hotel Chocolat, I admire them too. They are doing really well because they're giving people a reason to go – chocolate classes, ethical trading seminars on where their cocoa is sourced. That’s what Retail has to be now – entertainment.’

To Atherton – the F.E.C. – how he missed Gary’s ball, presumably, remains a mystery. But, after our conversation, I think I know why. Buckley still possesses a sportsman’s natural competiveness. Whatever he does in life, he will always be aiming for a middle-stumper.