An Interview With Olivier Kerckhove
Tell us a little about yourself and your background? I am Olivier, 41 years old, a proud Belgian, family man, and father of 2 little…
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I am Olivier, 41 years old, a proud Belgian, family man, and father of 2 little boys. I have been in consulting and recruitment for almost 20 years and started my career at Sthree in Brussels. After an initial career as a consultant, I was lucky to be offered the opportunity to set up offices and brands in France, Belgium and the Netherlands mostly in Technology and Life Sciences. In 2019 I moved to London with my family where I launched and managed businesses in the UK, the US and Germany.
My educational background as an Interpreter in Dutch-English-French-Russian, gave me the skills to be very sensitive to culture and cultural differences between people which has truly been one of the main drivers in my career. I was approached about the opportunity at Storm5 through Angela Ward, our VP of Europe for Storm2 and Victoria Maloney, our NED. I feel fortunate to be founding Storm5 as it’s undoubtedly the most exciting project in the Staffing world today.
What are you most proud of professionally?
I am very fortunate to have been able to work with several great colleagues and customers who I am proud to consider friends now. The Recruitment and Consulting world is quite competitive but luckily there are also a lot of people who just want to do the right thing and help clients and candidates in their journey for development.
From a personal standpoint, my career has allowed me to work in different countries, learning about different cultures and I am very proud that I can do this with my family. It’s so wonderful to see my (native French) little boys grow up in an English-speaking environment, in the end that is the real purpose and what keeps you going every day.
What is Storm5’s mission?
Storm5’s mission is to build the most powerful and efficient Retail Tech and E-Commerce talent ecosystem globally. We want to contribute to creating outstanding B2B/B2C online customer experiences by connecting rare talent and fast growth scale-ups.
Are there any particular areas of RetailTech that excite you the most?
I am very excited about how the overall customer experience will be evolving in the next few months. Tech companies and retailers are really pushing the boundaries when it comes down to online experience, but instore experience is also becoming a lot more immersive and engaging. Other areas like Data (and the security of that data) as well as sustainability are really exciting fields currently. The companies who get the data piece right and who are able to convince their clients that their brand is doing what’s right for the environment are definitely taking a step ahead of the competition.
What’s the biggest challenge for RetailTechs currently?
There are 3 main challenges for a RetailTech business: People, People and People! Most of the companies are very well funded as there is a lot of cash available on the market to scale up great businesses with great leadership teams. The biggest key to success is their ability to attract and retain the best talent out there. Remote working is a great opportunity to attract talent who were inaccessible previously, but the flip side to this is that it also opens up opportunities employees to be headhunted by businesses offering a more exciting or attractive opportunity.
What’s been the impact of Covid-19 on the RetailTech jobs market?
Next to Life Sciences, Retail technology was one of few the sectors that benefited massively from the pandemic as consumer buying behaviour was forced to go digital. Every business scrambled to get their digital platforms ready and in the first 3 months of lockdown, the growth of Ecommerce / Retail Tech was equivalent to the growth from the previous 10 years! There was also a massive increase in demand for all people with expertise in logistics and delivery.
Are companies actively hiring?
Absolutely! There are hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs across the US, Europe and Asia so it’s a great time to be launching a recruitment business in their sector!
What do you see as the growth areas in the sector over the next year?
Great Tech companies looking to grow will always be hiring excellent engineers and product managers as they are integral to the quality and scale of their technology and products. The tech ecosystem is as such that where one area scales, the rest follow, so if an engineering team doubles, you’ll be sure to need more product, data professionals as well as finance, operations, risk & compliance teams. On the B2B side, there is very high demand for commercial talent who have experience in SaaS businesses as there is a race for market share.
What makes Storm5 different from other Retail Tech recruiters?
We are unique in the sense that we look and act more like a software scale-up than a recruitment business. We support our partners throughout the whole Product life cycle, from the initial product development phase up until the post-sales customer success phase. Our teams and individual consultants are designed to be micro-niche specialists in their areas, so we, quite literally, have the best database for RetailTech talent in the world. We are growth partners with our customers providing ultimate specialisation of growth through people.
What’s your advice for RetailTechs on attracting and retaining top talent?
It’s all about creating a powerful and efficient talent ecosystem which is based on 3 main principles:
Great leaders will hire great people. If you get your leadership right, you will be able to attract and retain the very best talent available. Those leaders will also drive the company’s purpose and provide clarity on the mission daily. From a practical standpoint we would always recommend entertaining an exciting dynamic between internal talent teams, a strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and employer brand and creating an internal culture and network of reliable and high performing partners.
Do you have any insights on what the most desired competencies are across Retail Tech?
There will always be specific hard skills required for the different roles people are applying for. In general, there are two main soft skills that stand out in the Retail Technology world:
- Customer Centricity: always put the customer experience first, whatever you do.
- Flexibility/adaptability; companies are looking for Futureproof talent i.e. people who will be able to adapt to a world that is changing at a very high pace.
How have retailers used technology to respond to changing shopping habits over the pandemic?
A lot of investment went into product visualisation strategies. We are buying more and more online, and our average spend is going up as well. In 2019, a lot of people would never have considered buying a car or renting a house without face-to-face contact, but through the pandemic in some cases it was a necessity. As consumers we are keen to buy but we want more assurances and a more reliable visual experience. Technology and software providing 3D, Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality experiences are seeing a dramatic increase in demand.
Do you have any advice for maintaining ‘company culture’ in fast-growing teams?
The best advice I can give about culture to any business, is to look for ‘Culture Add’ and not ‘Culture Fit’. Companies that are going through big transformations will see their culture and subcultures evolve and sometimes CEOs and founders can be guilty of trying to cling on too long to old culture which “got them there” in the first place. The last 24 months have shown us that culture is not about the funky offices, pool tables and an excellent coffee machine, culture is defined by the dynamic in which teams collaborate to get the best out of themselves and, by consequence, for the business.
What do you think will be the biggest trends in the RetailTech sector over the next 5 years?
I am very cautious with predictions on this one, as no one could predict what happened over the last 2 years. I think there is going to be an interesting dynamic regarding the privacy of our data. Sustainability is obviously a very hot topic in e-Commerce, and I am sure we will be seeing a lot of investment going into companies who truly want to contribute to a better environment.
With regards to diversity in RetailTech, how are we doing? Is there a gap, and if so how can it be bridged?
Traditionally diversity in Retail was good, and we can be hopeful that with brands becoming more digital, this trend will be carried over. There is a lot of work to be done still in the Engineering space, which is why Storm5 is very committed to providing diverse shortlists to our customers and act as a thought leader on the subject.
For more information on Storm5 and the recruitment we specialize in, take a look at our specialisms page.