LEADERS SURVEY: Officeworks MD Sarah Hunter on hiring for values and the effects of the cost-of-living crisis

Adrian Rauso
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Sarah Hunter is MD of Officeworks.
Sarah Hunter is MD of Officeworks. Credit: Officeworks

Sarah Hunter, the managing director of Officeworks, believes hiring someone with the right temperament is more important than their skillset.

“The best advice anyone ever gave me was ‘recruit for will, train for skill’,” she told The Nightly for its exclusive Leaders Survey.

“It is so important to ensure that you are working with someone who is a cultural and values fit with your organisation.

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“If that means taking extra time in the recruitment process to find the recruit who aligns with the values of your business, it will pay off in the long run … once you have found that, the skills can be taught later.”

Ms Hunter helms one of the crown jewels in the Wesfarmers empire and her retail powerhouse is responsible for nearly 10,000 workers nationwide.

Officeworks’ significant footprint has given the former Coles executive a strong insight into dealing with business spot fires.

“One of my greatest leadership lessons was understanding the importance of delineating crisis or major project activity away from ‘business as usual’ activity,” she said.

“Having a clear direction for each area of the business and view on how to approach the strategy is critical to ensuring strong results in all areas, and ultimately business and leadership success.

We’ve seen that customer behaviours have shifted to goods and services of value that offer them longevity and sustainability.

“There was no better example of this than during COVID.”

The latest challenge Ms Hunter must face is the current inflationary environment.

“Amid the cost-of-living pressures, consumer confidence across Australia is at an all-time low and the broader economic uncertainty has left customers uncertain about their financial futures,” she said.

“Customer retention is now far more important than customer acquisition.

“We’ve seen that customer behaviours have shifted to goods and services of value that offer them longevity and sustainability.”

Ms Hunter says Officeworks has focused on providing products that are both sustainable and affordable.

“Customers increasingly expect retailers to provide environmentally responsible products, and we continually put in place higher standards within our organisation to meet the biggest environmental and social challenges facing our customers, team members, suppliers and the wider community,” she said.

“Private branded products sold at Officeworks provide our customers with a wider range at a lower price and enable us to design and develop more products with sustainability attributes as part of our People and Planet range.”

Ms Hunter says Officeworks’ aim is to sell its People and Planet Products at the same price as their alternatives, so customers don’t have to choose between saving money and being sustainable.

“We also offer a price beat guarantee, meaning that if a customer sees a product that we offer cheaper elsewhere, we’ll not only match that price but then offer an additional 5 per cent discount.”

Ms Hunter also believes the cost-of-living crisis is heavily impacting children and widening the education divide.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen that the cost-of-living pressures are widening the poverty gap in this country, negatively impacting on many children going through school and their education experience as a whole,” she said.

“Last year we also donated 252 laptops to students through The Smith Family nationally to provide access to the vital digital resources and technology required for their learning and educational development.

“We continue to donate laptops as part of our contribution to helping close the digital divide for students impacted by poverty, with 142 being donated so far this year.”

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