5 Minutes With Simon Gresswell, Chief Operating Officer, Sanrio

There's no denying that Mr Men & Little Miss are two of the most iconic British cultural exports. Alongside Hello Kitty, it has helped parent company sell over 250 million books worldwide. With a global store estate as well as a direct-to-consumer ecommerce platform, the Retail Gazette caught up with Simon Gresswell, the British COO of Mr Men's parent company Sanrio.

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Simon Gresswell

Sanrio is available in the UK through its own ecommerce platform, but are there they any plans to open a dedicated bricks-and-mortar store here?

Never say never, but no immediate plans. We are working on other possible character-themed locations.

What is like being a British national who also happens to be the head of a company that owns one of the UK’s best-known literary & cultural exports?

An absolute privilege. Mr Men is still my favourite set of characters, in terms of its fantastically simple conception – from a son asking his Dad “what would a tickle look like if it was a person?”

How is Sanrio addressing some of the challenges facing the UK retail industry?

Trying to keep up. The high street is moving faster than ever, so we aim to offer flexibility to our brand and retail partners, to allow them to put their signature on our characters.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

Further devaluation of the pound could really hurt, regardless of whether retailers are buying from suppliers or managing their product supply direct.

Who can say what will happen after Brexit, short, medium or longer-term?

Describe your role and responsibilities as chief operating officer at Sanrio

My teams, agents and I are responsible for the sustainable growth of our IP licensing business across EMEA, China, India, Oceania and Russia.

Day-to-day this includes sales, marketing, diplomacy, banging on about the value of internal and external communications and trumpeting the value of our brands to all and sundry.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Sanrio.

I’m a proud, rugby-loving Englishman and European, who has been very lucky to work on all sides of the licensing business over a 25-year career, with some great brands and some great people.

Immediately prior to Sanrio, I spent 11 years at global sports and marketing agency, IMG. I worked with some prestigious brands/sports institutions and some inspirational people, but wish I’d joined the company in the 80s or 90s.

What got you into licensing and retail in the first place?

An ad in Marketing Week, which sounded like juggling graphic design with products.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

It’s all hardened and softened me in equal measure. I work hard, but know now more than ever, that work is not everything.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Sustainability of profitable licensing programs based on iconic, classic characters that (currently) have no TV or film media, which retailers have regarded as the yardstick of likely popularity in recent years, more than inherent equity and value.

And the most rewarding?

People and places, inside and outside the company and the country.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Two bits of advice: 1) if you’re in a customer-facing role, then treat others as you wish to be treated yourself and 2) if you’re not, then pretend you are, because that will serve you well too, within the best retailers.

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