Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Space NK boss: Let women reach the top on their own merits

Ulster woman Nicky Kinnaird, the founder of Space NK
Ulster woman Nicky Kinnaird, the founder of Space NK

The Northern Ireland-born founder of luxury beauty chain Space NK, Nicky Kinnaird, has said she is opposed to quotas for women in boardrooms.

Ms Kinnaird, who is also a non-executive director of Danske Bank as well as Space NK president, said she did not believe in a "tick-box" mentality when it came to representation of women in the higher echelons of business.

The entrepreneur was speaking ahead of last Friday's Women's Leadership Conference in Belfast, which had the theme 'leading with confidence' and was organised by the Institute of Directors and the Chief Executives' Forum.

Around 70% of 300 delegates at last year's conference voted against compulsory quotas to ensure representation of women at board level.

Ms Kinnaird said: "I am very much a proponent of people getting to whatever position in life on back of their own merits rather than satisfying quotas... people should be there because they have the skillset and deserve to be in that position, rather than ticking a box."

Ms Kinnaird founded Space NK in 1993, beginning with a single shop selling exclusive beauty brands in London's Covent Garden – and now has a chain with 62 shops in the UK and 23 in the US.

She said women's role in business had changed since she started out. "Certainly there are so many more women in the full-time workforce and of course attitudes have changed quite dramatically," she said.

"People are being viewed on their skillsets and have to earn their stripes and get the merit they deserve."

Ms Kinnaird, a former pupil at Ashley Prep and Victoria College, said she grew up immersed in business – her father Alexander was the head of a firm of surveyors.

"I grew up in a family of two kids – one boy and one girl – and it was very much a business-orientated family.

"I went to an all-girls school and was one of 10 girls in my year at university out of an intake of 150. We didn't regard ourselves as any different from any of our male counterparts."

A degree in land management at the University of Reading – which embraced construction, economics and law – was a "great all-round business degree," but retail had been "a steeper learning curve". Part of the equity in Space NK was sold in 2008 to private equity business Manzanita Capital, led by Bill Fisher, whose family founded US clothing chain Gap. Ms Kinnaird said she did not feel any loss of control from the decision.

"Space NK, has had private investors since day one...Manzanita didn't really change much but the great benefit to me was exposure to a family involved in building a great international retail brand."

And she has no plans to float the business. "We are very much focused on building the company, especially in the US, from within."

While the online side of Space NK was growing, its bricks and mortar stores – there are two in Belfast – remained pre-eminent, she said.

"You can't transmit smell down a computer, or convey the texture or smell of face creams, and the colour rendition of of make-up is hard to get right on a computer."

The Northern Ireland stores were performing well and she felt an improving economic attitude during frequent visits here.

"You can definitely see a more positive attitude coming through and our sales figures speak for themselves.

"Economic statistics are improving and further, there's a slight improvement in house prices.

"There is a buoyancy in the consumer attitude."

Nicola Kinnaird: Curriculum Vitae

Education: Victoria College Belfast and University of Reading.

Work: Space NK apothecary, 1993 to present: founder and president.

Started the first Space NK store in Covent Garden in 1993.

Expanded the base to include 61 stores in the UK and 19 stores in the US. Space NK is now recognised as one of the most iconic sources of the world's best beauty brands.

A portion of the equity was sold in 2008 to Manzanita Capital (headed by Bill Fisher of the legendary GAP retailing label). Kinnaird has been retained as president of the company and is now heavily involved in expanding the retail base into other parts of the world, while at the same time searching for both creative talent and other health and beauty products.

Also, non-executive director of Danske Bank since 2011.

Awards and achievements: Member of the Order of the British Empire, New Year Honours 2009; Cosmetic Executive Women (USA) Achievers Award 2009; WWD Beauty Biz Award for the Most Innovative Marketer of the Year, Prestige Person Category 2008; Queen's University Belfast, Honorary Doctorate in Economics 2006; The Irish Tatler Woman of the Year Award 2006; Invest Northern Ireland Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2006; The Save the Children Woman of Achievement Award 2005; Cosmetic Executive Women (UK) Achievers Award 2003.

Interest and hobbies: Tennis, gym, Pilates, yoga, art.

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