Powerful People: Mary Devine

This fashion retail power player helped bring mega brand Topshop to New Zealand

Mary Devine. Picture / Supplied.

Last year, this fashion retail power player joined Jamie Whiting, Karen Walker and Christchurch rich-lister Philip Carter to help bring the London-based mega brand Topshop, and its men’s offshoot Topman, to New Zealand. Devine has screeds of retail experience. Earlier in her career she was key in establishing the Canterbury brand and bringing Miss Selfridge to New Zealand as part of the retail kick-start in Christchurch. She also worked as managing director of Christchurch department store Ballantynes, in the challenging post-quake period. Before that, Devine was CEO of EziBuy as the business transitioned from being a mail order business to a multi-channel retailer.

Her CV became even more formidable last year when she took up the role of chief executive of Carter Group. Despite having since moved on, Devine still has a big influence in the retail world, becoming heavily involved last year in the design and establishment phase of Christchurch’s $140 million fashion, food and beverage precinct The Crossing. Now she acts as a consultant to a select group of potential retailers (and yes, Topshop is on the cards.) She also sits on several boards, including the Briscoes Group, IAG, Meridian and Top Retail.

What is your involvement with Topshop?
Well, to give this context, I have always been drawn to retail as it is the adrenaline-filled, ever-changing front line of business. But within this what interests me is creating dynamic winning teams. When bringing Miss Selfridge to New Zealand to be part of the retail kick-start in Christchurch, I gained great insight into the Arcadia Group, who also own Topshop. It seemed Auckland particularly was ripe for this brand to make a bigger play. So, I became interested in assembling what I thought might be the dream team. Karen (Walker) whom I knew well, had of course an existing agreement with the brand and it seemed that the Barkers turnaround, headed by an old colleague of mine Jamie Whiting, would make an exceptional partnership. We three got together and established a new entity, Top Retail Limited, to realise the Topshop vision for New Zealand. Jamie and his team have the responsibility of managing the business, whilst I sit on the board as a director providing governance and strategy input.

And what is your involvement with The Crossing in Christchurch?
I am a Cantabrian committed to the success of the Retail Precinct in Christchurch — it’s vital to the successful rebuild of the city: initially via my role as managing director of Ballantynes, where I was also involved with the establishment of Re:Start, the pop-up container mall. Then last year I was heavily involved through the design and establishment phase of The Crossing (which will be an outstanding retail development within the Retail Precinct). Now I act as a consultant to a select group of potential retailers for The Crossing.

What are your priorities and recent achievements in the retail/fashion world?
Among other things, I was involved in the Canterbury brand in early days, had my own apparel brand which I sold, and then some years later I had a wonderful opportunity to lead the EziBuy business at a pivotal time, as the business transitioned from being a mail-order business to a multi-channel retailer. When I joined Ballantynes, the iconic department store in Christchurch in 2011, it was during a critical period. We were recovering from the earthquakes as well as transforming the offering to become the nucleus of fashion and design in the heart of Christchurch. Despite the challenging times, I seem to love the change and turnaround in retail. It goes back to my background in sport, I think. In my younger years I played sport at a highly competitive level, I was never the top player but often the captain, — probably because I was always interested in how the leadership of a combination of people is the key to a competitive edge. I sit on a number of boards (including the Briscoes Group, IAG, Meridian, Top Retail) all with critical retail interface and significant front-line staff numbers. I think it is a fascinating world to be involved in , particularly as we see the increasing presence of global brands and the increasing impact of digital. Nothing stands still in retail, the constant change and challenges I find enthralling.

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