Each day in June, FN is highlighting female forces in the industry as part of our Women in Power series.
Here, we talk to Natalie Ellis, VP & GM of Foot Locker Asia Pacific, about her journey through the ranks of the industry’s leading specialty athletic retailer.
What was the biggest breakthrough moment in your career?
“I’m not sure there was one breakthrough moment versus a number of important transitions. I think anytime you make a transition — that is a critical moment. As I think of my time in the last six or so years at Foot Locker, starting Six:02 was a watershed moment for me. In particular, the day that we opened the first three stores and having the opportunity to work with a team to create the Six:02 concept from scratch, and it was really a labor of love in terms of us really believing that there was a miss in the marketplace for women. And being able to create that concept in the marketplace for women and bring along a team — of men and women — who also became passionate about that same idea was really an incredible journey.”
Is there anything you would have done differently?
“What I would do in hindsight is celebrate more both for myself and for the team. We move incredibly fast, and I tend to set really high standards for myself and for the team. Whenever we do something, we’re always thinking about what we can do next and what we could’ve done differently and what we could keep doing better. I think [it’s important to] take a little bit more of a breath sometimes to enjoy a moment of success and think about what we did right as well as what we could do differently. It’s what I’m trying to encourage myself to do more of as we go forward. There have certainly been times in the Six:02 journey where we’d stop a year or so later and be writing a strategic review and we’d say, ‘Wow, we really did all of that in the last year.’ So I really [want to] make sure that we take those moments to take a little pause.”
Do you think women do enough to support other women in the workplace?
“I’ve been pretty lucky. In addition to Foot Locker — which has a very supportive culture, coming from both women and men — I’ve also worked for L Brands at Victoria’s Secret, which has a lot of women and is very supportive of women. Before that, I worked in strategy consulting for the Boston Consulting Group, which is incredibly supportive kind of company. Women supporting other women is important because we may sometimes have a different perspective or way of looking at things, and we can help each other through certain career challenges in a unique way. But it’s been equally important to have men supporting me and having men I can turn to along the way. The biggest thing is both finding the time to reach to others to be there for them when they need support and also to reach out yourself [when you need] support. I think our biggest constraint in supporting one another is probably time.”
What is the biggest challenge you faced in the last year, and how did you overcome it?
“I’m probably going through a really big challenge right now with the transition to my new role [from VP and GM of Six:02 to VP and GM Foot Locker Asia Pacific. There are challenges] on both sides. It’s hard to let go of the business I’ve been working on for a long time and that I’m passionate about. And also, it’s a challenge of getting to know a new team, a new market and a new landscape, and at a time when the customer and marketplace are both moving incredibly fast. Then you layer onto that moving my family to another country. Facing it comes down to breaking the challenge down to its various parts and determining the best way to approach each part and embrace it step by step. (Ellis began her career with with Foot Locker Inc. in September of 2011. in the new role of VP of strategic planning. She was promoted to VP and GM of Lady Foot Locker in December of 2012 and the following year became VP and general manager of Six:02. She most recently succeeded Phill Laing as VP and general manager of Foot Locker Asia Pacific and is in the process of relocating to Australia.)
Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?
“Don’t be afraid to fail. I tended to be the kind of person that did well in school, got good grades and had lots of answers. I think the more you move in career, you don’t have all the answers and you just have to jump into things. And in order to test new ideas and to try to move forward, you won’t have the answers quite often, and you’ll get some things right and some things wrong. But it’s really that journey of going through some failure and some success that gets you to better answers and to become a better leader over time.”