In our first article in the monthly “See your Career at Specsavers” series we spoke to Sarah Shahvandian, Head of Planning on how her Graduate Placement took her all over the world – dancing Gangnam style with Finnish Partners, chartering planes for events and finding herself in New York on a photoshoot with Helena Christensen!
Sarah started in September 2006 on the first ever Specsavers Graduate programme, armed with an HR Degree and lots of ambition and drive, which gave her a springboard into a varied and interesting international career of 15 years – so far!
Sarah’s first placement was in product, which Sarah describes as “the best possible grounding for anyone at Specsavers, as you get to understand all of the products, frames and lenses as well as get a sense of the huge integrated supply chain we have and innovation that goes on behind the scenes”. During her placement Sarah also learned about finance, marketing and, crucially, how to manage relationships with suppliers – understanding more about what would sell, how much to buy and even looking at international markets and their varied styles / quantities compared to the UK.
Next up on the grad scheme, was a placement in Finance, delving into a world of spreadsheets, profit margins and getting to grips with how stores spend and make money. A valuable insight for any commercial business.
Sarah did get to use her HR degree briefly when she spent time in our HR department, where she developed relationships with the management teams and senior stakeholders – understanding why and where they need to hire and what people issues they needed to focus on as well as the first ever total reward statement, which at the time was hugely manual and involved special dispensation to keep the La Villiaze office open to the late hours to get them all printed and put into envelopes (there was no ink left in the printers for anyone the next day).
With Specsavers focus on international markets in 2007 Sarah’s last placement was amended to join this newly formed commercial projects department and support with launching Specsavers in Finland with the acquisition of a national optical chain. Sarah had the opportunity to experience the huge variety of activity that goes into this type of change – business development, product ranging, IT system changes, press and PR, marketing, legal and towards the end of scheme was placed as Commercial Project Assistant.
Her role in a wide and diverse range of projects and department exposure meant that, when there was a requirement for a maternity cover in Australia, Sarah was approached to make the move and expand her skillset as a Commercial Project Manager. The experience was invaluable, and demonstrates Specsavers’ commitment to using and developing internal knowledge and talent.
As if that wasn’t enough international travel, the next role was Head of Frames, Merchandising and Communication in the Nordics – looking after 4 countries with 4 different leaders. For Sarah, this was a whole new challenge understanding the volumes, brands and what works in line with country competitors, and taking learnings from her time in Australia to improve internal communications on frame launches, product information and merchandising. The role was certainly varied and surreal at times which included gangnam style dancing with Finnish partners at their seminar and supporting on a photoshoot in New York with Helena Christensen.
Continuing on with travel and gaining experience in every part of the business, Sarah supported projects, recruitment and development in the Netherlands as Head of Projects (with one of her more memorable projects involving chartering planes to three locations in the UK for partner events!) before taking a UK based role again. Back in the UK, Sarah worked on a variety of projects such as wax removal, asking big questions such as ‘is ear wax clinical or hazardous waste?’ Although Sarah was back focusing on UK and Ireland markets, she could now bring international knowledge and experience to this and really enjoyed being back part of a “country team”.
Before going on maternity leave, Sarah headed up the Commercial Project Management team – managing a team of seven on big projects such as: display only model; canvas graphic rollout; OCT rollout; GDPR changes; H&S Hub Launch; and CLSP – effectively anything that was cross-functional work. Sarah returned from maternity a few months before the pandemic hit and has spent the last 18 months in Customer Service with a team of four based in Guernsey before taking on the role of Head of Planning, supporting Paul Marshall (our MD for UK and ROI) in ensuring synergy with the Long Term strategy and supporting the optics, audiology, domiciliary and Newmedica GM’s.
Sarahs story is a great example of how you can gain invaluable experience from across the Specsavers business through hard work, learning on the job, reaching out to a network, and becoming involved wherever you can. Although having a degree can support your career, you don’t necessarily need one in the area you can have an amazing career in.
Of her time in Specsavers, Sarah said: “I have done so many different things, all off the back of work and relationships with stakeholders, projects and pushing myself to learn as much as possible from different areas of the business. The leaders at Specsavers have supported me at every step, they all want to give people the opportunity to grow and realise their ambitions. I have certainly benefitted from those opportunities – and never been bored! Specsavers is such a people business and I’ve been so lucky to work with so many great colleagues in the support offices and in the stores. There have been so many random projects and tasks – not all as glamourous as photoshoots in New York … there were also stock takes at 5am in a cold Kidderminster warehouse!”
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