My Story

“I never imagined I’d be any kind of commercial consultant.”

As a kid I wanted to be a chef, but the educational culture of the time firmly shut that door. It was woodwork and not home economics, if you were a boy.

My dreams were kind of dashed right there and then, and I joined the crowd of my peers headed to University to study something I wasn’t that interested in nor suited for. I found myself working night shifts in a petrol station to pay for it, at first, and then in clubs… the night-owl hours made studying even more difficult, and after a year I left Uni and took my first ‘proper’ job as an administrator at Renault, in London.

The job was pretty much a disaster to be honest – I enjoyed ordering stationery, but had to use a complex dealer commission system, and I seemed to mess it up every week. So, I switched to selling high APR loans in the banking sector. Perhaps I’d still be there today, if Heathrow Express hadn’t opened in 1998.

The Heathrow Express rail link between London Heathrow and Paddington was a brand-new start-up, and recruiting. My dad was working there after leaving the army and suggested I should apply. I did and, at age twenty-four, I found myself Station Manager responsible for three locations. I had to deal with Unionised staff and look after up to thirty people per shift, as well as dealing with disgruntled passengers who had missed flights because of train delays. I stayed for over six years and only left when the effects of walking up to eight miles a day (yes, we measured it!) on concrete surfaces caused me troubling back pain. The next stop for me was customer service management, and I ran call centres for Audi, Triumph, Harley Davidson, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Shell and Asda

Eventually, I moved to Levi Strauss (London) where my retail journey ‘proper’ began: it was my first taste of managing online content and I liked it. I also felt the ‘spark’ of a passion for fashion. At last I had a direction I wanted to explore.

In 2006 Cloggs took me on, initially as a buyer, but – and this was my stroke of luck – the directors were open-minded and decided to take a chance on me: someone who had no fixed career agenda, a brief background in sales with Levi Strauss and who had run train stations for Heathrow Express! They made me Head of Buying and E-Commerce.

Cloggs taught me not only about buying multi-brand footwear, but also about all the functions of e-commerce: buying and merchandising, logistics, marketing, customer service, profitability and how to run websites. The knowledge their team generously shared set me up for the future. Of course, I made mistakes and a few tears were shed on the way (!), but the environment was supportive and taught me to embrace my errors as lessons.

I learned to be forward thinking and to venture where others hadn’t: we launched which was a French-version website that used international affiliates; the whole site was translated; and it relied on a dedicated French customer service team – you can perhaps imagine that over ten years ago, for a Midlands-based company, this was a unique challenge.

When I left Cloggs to relocate with my husband to Brighton, I took over the website of Irregular Choice, a very eclectic brand with passions for ethereal design and disrupting the footwear market. Irregular choice had been outsourcing their e-commerce but wanted to bring it back inhouse. This meant a site rebuild. But, to support the New York store the site needed to transact in US dollars and use the New York store stock to save shipping costs. The site launched under the .com url and serviced both countries using various payment portals and courier services, all managed from Brighton. 

Now there was no stopping me… positions with the luxury website, high-street retailer Jane Norman, Premier Inn, Beefeater and Costa (Whitbread Group) all added to the e-commerce expertise and a growing track record of results. A twist even took me into the NHS Supply Chain, owned by DHL, and here I drove revenue of £3.2billion a year online though new channels, including hand-held scanners in hospitals placing orders based on Nursing stock checks.

I didn’t know it then, but one of my biggest challenges was about to come, and it was the event that led me to become the commercial consultant I am today.

I joined a start-up where the CEO had a great vision but struggled to delegate, and for this and various reasons the business folded. The difficult experience was the push I needed. By early 2014 I knew I wanted to be in control of my own destiny. And most importantly, I realised I wanted to share my expertise and experience where it could most make a difference and where it was most needed.

The turning point was when NCT hired me as their Trading Consultant and trusted me to take full control of their online commerce business. The results I achieved and the reputation I gained, quickly led to referrals and I began to consult for many globally recognised brands. 

I formed The Digital Landscape because the work is sometimes bigger than me alone. Along with my trusted colleagues and my wide network of specialist collaborators, I am privileged to help many leaders and business owners with their specific commercial challenges. 

I believe there is no problem that cannot be solved from the touchpoint of having a good honest and open discussion. Today, as a consultant and adviser, I love having those first conversations, the ones from which I know that something great and transformational can be achieved – for the people I’m talking with, for their businesses and for their customers. 

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Lee Carpenter-Johnson story images