The group’s finance director on the changing face of Houlden.

Helen Haddow was this year appointed to Houlden’s board of directors having worked for more than a decade on the financial and operational side of the group. Away from work she’s an avid highland dancer and judge of world dancing competitions. She was named a Business Big Shot in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012, in association with the Company of Master Jewellers.

Professional Jeweller: Tell us about your year to date – what have been your highlights?
Helen Haddow: My highlight has been being appointed on to the board of directors. Over the last 12 years I have been heavily involved in the financial and operational aspects of the company, it was good to receive recognition from the membership that they value this input by supporting my appointment to the board. On a personal front the high of the year has to be my son Craig’s graduation ceremony at Herriot Watt University, where he gained an honours degree in Quantity Surveying, and more importantly got a job with Robert McAlpine in Aberdeen; while my daughter Zoe following in my footsteps, successfully completed her first year at Glasgow University studying Accounting and Finance.


PJ: Have you hit any challenges along the way this year?
HH: Like many people and companies the world over these are austere times and there is less money around. In our industry we just cannot afford to be complacent. For many years some retailers have relied upon loyal customers and passing trade but those customers are disappearing. The challenge facing our industry is to ensure we don’t ignore the next generation who are as keen on jewellery as ever. We just need to adapt the stock to reflect the changing trends in the industry. For example many of our members have opened separate boutique stores offering fashion brands such as Hyman group – Chique in Lytham; Wm Pyke – Pyke’s Boutique in Chester. Our role at Houlden is to ensure that we have the right portfolio of suppliers to meet these retail challenges and then to communication those successes, ideas and concepts to all our members so they can benefit from each other.

PJ: After years of sending out messages of intention to change, it seems that the group is really embracing a new strategy this year – what has changed in the past 12 months?
HH: Stuart Laing and I, together with the Houlden Board have been working tirelessly over the last three years to communicate what Houlden is all about, and to try and dispel some of the myths about the group. Previously we were too quiet – we just didn’t shout out about the group; however more recently we have become aware that we need to communicate to the wider industry what Houlden is all about – and stop being the best kept secret in the industry. It has taken time to eventually get this message over. On reflection, however, there are two key initiatives that perhaps have helped get this message over – the first being the Designs of Excellence project, developed with The Jewellery Show – this has definitively improved Houlden’s profile in the world of designers; and secondly has been an enthusiastic embracing of a new breed of supplier: fashion and designer brands both in jewellery and watches. More and more of the Houlden members are diversifying into this area of the industry, and hence we have listened, responded and negotiated some fabulous preferential deals with these suppliers, resulting in tremendous boost to our members underlying businesses.

PJ: How would you describe your approach to work?
HH: I have always been very driven and goal orientated, an ethos that stems from my competitive dancing days. This helped me achieve my ultimate dream – the Adult World Highland dancing champion. This ethic is applied to work – excellence is the only level of achievement worthwhile. This high expectation rubs off on all my staff and helps us respond to the fast moving changes within the Houlden Group. Prior to joining Houlden I was fortunate to have been a senior audit manager with Ernst & Young, hence I have top class accounting background, while at same time have a highly professional approach to work.

PJ: How do you manage your work-life balance and how do you relax off the job?
HH: I am very actively involved in highland dancing, teach twice a week. It helps me unwind for the demands at the Houlden office, but can be very time consuming but at the same with very rewarding – last year one of my pupils was selected to dance at the Edinburgh tattoo – what a proud moment watching her perform on the castle esplanade. I also regularly judge and attend many meetings associated with the world governing of highland dancing of which I am finance convenor and a member of the Quality Assurance Committee. I judged the South African Championships this year I’m set to judge at the Commonwealth championships to be held in Stirling. So my time away from work is not very restful – but I do thrive on being kept busy and stimulated.

PJ: What are your plans for your business for the next year?
HH: It is imperative that we continue to push the barriers to help our members; we can’t rest on our laurels we need to keep exploring the opportunities which are going to give us a good return. I look forward to being further involved in the strategic planning of Houlden Group, working alongside Stuart Laing and the other Houlden directors to continually raise the offering from the Houlden Group.