Business Lessons from Mr Selfridge

Jeremy Piven as Harry Gordon Selfridge in the hit ITV series Mr Selfridge. Image: The Oxford Times

Emotionally charged and teary eyed, I took a deep breath and realised that there is so much to learn from this wonderful story. As Harry Selfridge said his final goodbyes to his beloved store in the finale of the TV series, Mr Selfridge, I realised, after wiping away the tears, that is much to learn from this retail legend. There is little point trying to separate what was fact vs fiction but rather to consider it all as entirely plausible and worth learning from.

Lesson #1 — Love what you do

There was never a moment that I doubted Mr Selfridge’s love for his work. At times he loved it too much, which can often be a problem for those of us who love our work, but he did find the balance towards the end. I would say that it is really important to love what you do but equally important not to love it so much that you neglect other important areas of your life and have regrets. Mr Selfridge’s love for his work and his store was infectious. Did you notice how loyal his staff were and how they too loved their work?

Lesson #2 — People matter

Mr Selfridge’s love for people shone through as much as his love for his work. He really cared about his staff and this made all the difference. They worked together, had fun together, cried together and grew together — one big happy family. Staff were offered higher than average wages and real opportunities for promotion giving them no reason to ever want to leave.

Lesson #3 — Thrill your customers

Harry Selfridge didn’t just sell products, he gave his customers an experience! From the lavish window dressing and advertising to draw customers in to the elaborate in store events and displays. Everything was designed to thrill and excite. Sales at Selfridges wasn’t about meeting a need but rather to create the need — to show people what they wanted before they even knew that they wanted it.

Lesson #4 — Manage your time

“Everything that needs to be said can be done in 15 minutes and everything else is just hot air”, said Mr Selfridge when asked how he managed so many meetings in a day. I wonder how many of us waste our time on unnecessary meetings? There is a fine line between needing to spend time with someone to really listen and build a relationship and wasting our precious time on ‘hot air’. I know my life changed when I stopped saying yes to every meeting that was requested and started saying no to possibly 90% of the meetings that I was invited to attend.

Lesson #5 — Embrace probletunities

Yes that is a word, a special Women’s Business Club word that we like to use — probletunities. We may have coined the word but Harry Selfridge lived it’s meaning in the 1920’s. Where others saw a problem he saw an opportunity!

Read more about probletunities in Issue 6 of the Women’s Business Magazine.