Dunelm Company Secretary – Dawn Durrant
Dunelm Company Secretary, Dawn Durrant talks to us about her role with the homewares retailer, which has achieved significant growth in the four decades since its birth at a market stall in Leicester. We learn what attracted her to Dunelm, the diversity of work on offer in a small in-house legal team and how trusting shared values helped navigate the challenges thrown up by the pandemic.
Our interview with Dunelm’s Company Secretary is the latest in Florit Legal’s In-house Legal Journeys® series.
This coincides with us having been exclusively retained by Dunelm Group on a search to appoint another senior lawyer. So anyone who thinks they might be interested in joining Dawn’s in-house legal team at Dunelm is invited to get in touch with Miguel Florit by email.
You’ve been Dunelm’s Company Secretary for just over 14 years. For those lawyers who have never shopped in one of your stores or online, please tell us a little more about the business and how it has changed since you joined.
Dunelm is the UK’s no 1 homewares retailer, we have 175 stores and an online store, Dunelm.com, and we have over 10,000 employees.
Our “heritage” category is home textiles, but we also sell furniture, kitchen and bathroom goods, home décor and many other items for your home, mostly under our own brand. We offer choice, style, quality and value, and, increasingly, sustainability.
The business was started by the Adderley family just over 40 years ago on a market stall in Leicester – the Adderleys still own more than over 40% of the company and Sir Will Adderley is Deputy Chairman. The company still has “family values”, but is run very much as a FTSE 250 PLC.
Since I joined Dunelm sales have grown significantly, from £355 million to £1.33 billion, and we are still growing strongly. We started our online business from scratch and opened more than 100 stores. All of our support functions have become larger, more complex and have needed to be more efficient and professional. It has been great to be able to support and shape this.
Increasingly we are also focusing on climate change and sustainability.
Having started out with Allen & Overy, your in-house legal background hasn’t always been in home furnishings, what factors made you choose to work at Dunelm originally?
Before becoming Dunelm Company Secretary, my in-house legal career spanned food manufacture and wholesaling, office supplies and retail.
I joined Dunelm just after it floated – I was attracted by the opportunity to establish a Company Secretarial / Legal function in a fast growing company. I also enjoy retail as it is fast-moving and offers a wide variety of legal topics, and homewares are a product that everyone can relate to. I also liked the idea of working for a business with strong values and ethics.
Why is Dunelm a good place to work, from your perspective?
In addition to its values and ethics, Dunelm is a business that genuinely wants to learn, develop and grow, and where you can really be yourself and be valued for the contribution you make, whether it is unloading stock at the back of a store or forming strategy.
What opportunities for growth have come your way in your time with the company?
My job has grown with the business and also the Company Secretary role itself has developed. I have also assumed functional responsibility for risk management, environmental performance and health and safety.
I was asked to join the Executive Board in 2015, and this has helped me to develop my business skills and help to really shape the strategy of the business. This includes taking the lead on our sustainability strategy and responsibility for our Brexit preparations.
Any particular highlights?
The highlight has been developing the Sustainability Strategy, and getting Board approval for the Pathway to Zero greenhouse gas emission reduction commitment and our 2030 targets.
This has really challenged me personally as I have needed to work across the business and gain expertise in a topic that is completely outside of my skill set. I am really proud of what has been achieved and have handed over to the CEO this year to lead this as it becomes a business-wide priority.
What are the key challenges facing the industry?
Currently it’s principally inflation, supply chain disruption, and labour and skills shortages.
The future is all about becoming a more sustainable business, being able to train and attract resources with the right capability, and continuing to manage economic uncertainty.
What are the key skills and behaviours you look for in an in-house lawyer?
You have to be a good listener and communicator and enjoy working as part of a team. Organisational skills are very important, as is attention to detail.
I look for people who set themselves high standards of behaviour and performance and who want to learn and develop.
Why might now be a good time to join Dunelm?
Dunelm is a growing company with great prospects.
As far as the legal team is concerned, since it is comparatively small, we are able to offer a truly varied, generalist role and an opportunity for personal growth and development as the business continues to develop.
Who’s been the most influential to you in your career?
I have been lucky enough to work with many successful people and it’s really hard to single out any one of them.
I think we can all learn from other people in all walks of life, the important thing is always to watch and listen.
What do you do to support your own and your team’s mental health?
I insist on taking all of my holiday and totally switch off from work. I also try to keep regular hours and always take a break at lunch time – away from my desk and preferably outside.
I actively encourage my team to do the same.
How has work changed as a result of Covid?
It’s much more flexible now. My team works 2 days in the office, with the remainder at home.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Time with my family. I enjoy running, cycling and generally being outdoors.
How has the pandemic affected you?
It has really made me appreciate the things that matter – health, relationships and being able to get outside and enjoy nature.
As an executive team we faced some really tough decisions through the pandemic, particularly at the early stages – I learned from this the value of strong relationships and that if you trust your values and always aim to put people first and do the right thing this will always turn out to be the right thing to do for the long term.
What was your very first job?
Sales assistant at Woolworth.
What’s the most interesting/enjoyable book you’ve read in the last year?
Hilary Mantel – The Mirror and the Light (I am a huge fan of historical fiction).
If you hadn’t become Dunelm’s Company Secretary what would you do if if money were no object?
I would want to be a travel journalist so I could travel the world.
Where do you most like to travel now?
I’m a real Francophile, so anywhere in France.
Our next planned long haul trip is a road trip across Route 66 in the US.
Do you have a favourite restaurant?
Moro in London.
How do you commute these days?
I love driving my electric Mini – it looks great, it’s fun to drive and sustainable.
What would you say is your guilty pleasure?
What should people not say to you at work?
I hate it when people say “we are on a journey”. No offence intended, given the name of your feature!
None taken Dawn! 😁
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