Natalie Ellis can’t remember a time in her career when she wasn’t faced with a challenge. “It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned to thrive in challenging, changing situations. In fact, I don’t do well when there aren’t challenges,” she admits. Over the past 20 years, Natalie has turned this penchant for problem-solving into a career, starting at the Boston Consulting Group and then at leading women’s retailer Victoria’s Secret.
“I led brand development in its growing beauty business, focusing on deeper consumer understanding to identify how we could deliver a better product and a better experience for every customer,” she explains. In 2011, Natalie joined Foot Locker in New York as Global Vice President of Strategic Planning, before being promoted to Vice President and General Manager of Lady Foot Locker and SIX:02 a year later.
“These positions helped me to understand the overall global business and I got to focus on how to better grow and deliver a great proposition for women in the athletic retail space,” she reflects. “The result was our start-up, SIX:02, which has now grown to around 30 stores and a strong e-commerce website in the US. It was a very rewarding time in my career.”
In May 2017, Natalie was trusted with an entirely new position and geographical imprint when she accepted the role of Vice President and General Manager of Foot Locker Asia Pacific. “I’ve been able to bring my skills and perspective from the US business to Australia and New Zealand to see how we can tap into new opportunities here, where we have around 100 stores focused on delivering a great retail experience for athletic footwear, apparel and accessories.”
Founded in 1974, Foot Locker’s rise to the top of the industry started as a bold experiment. With just three types of sneakers on the market – tennis, basketball and running – the idea of a sneaker collection with various models in various types was truly revolutionary. Today, Foot Locker is the world’s leading retailer in athletically inspired shoes and apparel, with more than 3,200 stores across the globe.
In line with the rise of the sneaker culture in Australia, in June 2017 Foot Locker launched its first Australian e-commerce platform, stocking its full range of sneakers and apparel. “At this time, the industry is developing rapidly because consumers are changing. Through social media, they’re aware of new global trends and global stories instantaneously,” Natalie explains. “We’re relentlessly focused on being aligned with consumers so we’re always two steps ahead in delivering new and exciting concepts to them. This all starts with our product and our partnerships, where we have highly collaborative relationships with brands like adidas, Nike, Puma, Asics and Converse.”
“You have to keep trying new things. It’s often better to avoid the beaten path. There’s a chance that you could fail, but there’s also a chance you’ll find something you’re truly passionate about. Your career doesn’t always follow the exact path you planned, but if you embrace something new, you might be greatly rewarded.”
Natalie aims to drive further consumer engagement by bringing stories to life. “We’re focused on elevating our digital and retail experiences and we’ve invested heavily in IT worldwide – so we’ll be launching a new range of experiences in the near future,” she says. “This all comes back to our committed team, who have an amazing passion for what they do. As a leader, it’s my job to understand how we can create a great place to work that taps into their ideas and customer insights. Throughout my career, and particularly at Foot Locker, I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing leaders both above and below me who have helped me grow personally and professionally.
“We’re focused on elevating our digital and retail experiences.”
I’ve learned that you have to seek out those mentoring relationships so that you’re constantly learning and becoming a better leader.”
To encourage greater cohesion and motivation among its team, Foot Locker runs an annual ‘Team Week’. A key theme this year was to ‘Find Your Why’. “This means asking each team member and ourselves what our ‘why’ is for being here at Foot Locker and trying to deliver a great experience to our customers,” Natalie explains. “For me, it’s about my team and about the customer. I’ll often clear my calendar and go out and visit the stores because that’s where the best customer interactions take place. We all enjoy working together and I think that’s the secret to enabling creativity, trust, respect and learning.”