Stephen Fitzgerald is Chief Executive of Golden Disc Group. Founded in 1962 Golden Discs is Ireland’s largest, oldest, and best-loved entertainment retailer. Stephen joined Golden Discs in October 2000 after working in event management. He started in operations, before progressing into purchasing and marketing, eventually being made Managing Director in 2008. The following year he instigated a difficult and arduous restructuring of the company which necessitated store closures and layoffs which were vital in right-sizing the group for the difficult trading stage of the industry cycle.
Golden Discs have since gone on to open numerous locations throughout Ireland and expanded their range into new product lines. They also inked a deal to open 80 concession stores in Tesco in 2016 followed by a new transactional webstore and four new standalone locations the following year. The company is continuing this expansion with three more stores scheduled to open this year.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
That is a question of much debate but yes I believe it can. There’s no doubt some people are just born great leaders, they are emotionally intelligent, great visionaries and typically great communicators and motivators. However, most of the attributes of great leadership can be taught and developed through practice. I think the style of leadership is equally important as different types of organisations at various stages of the business cycle require different leadership attributes.
When you are filling a leadership role in your organisation what qualities do you look for from candidates?
I believe in distributed leadership. The person closest to the problem is the person with the most information and therefore best situated to solve it. As such I would look for people who can take control of a situation and make a call rather than deferring or procrastinating. Also look for creative thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit rather than someone who waits for the format to be spoon-fed to them. Managers do things right. Leaders do right things.
If you had to leave your organisation for 1 year what would you ask of your team and what advice would you give them?
Keep the main thing the main thing. So much going on in business today and so many distractions it’s easy for mission creep to distract the team into focusing on unimportant things or chasing the wrong KPIs. I believe in clarity and integrity so one of the few pieces of advice I would impart to my team is to say what you mean and mean what you say. Your reputation is everything in business and if you mess people around on a deal it will follow you long after.
What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?
Golden Discs has been through many format changes from vinyl and cassette to CD and DVD and now seemingly back to vinyl. The company is also moving more into apparel and merch, tech and accessories. Whilst the convenience of music streaming cannot be denied we believe ownership of music in high-quality physical sound format is here to stay. The Irish market is currently underserved and in addition to opening more stores to meet that demand we are also looking to open more experiential stores like our Cork flagship; which marries vinyl with coffee in a space where bands can perform and an exhibition space for local and international artists to exhibit. We are actively looking for space to extend this experimental-retail concept.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
As a visionary, risk taker and for his boundless energy I would have to say Elon Musk. The number and enormity of his business ventures is staggering. His incredible work ethic not to mention his civic-mindedness and philanthropy are awe-inspiring. The late Peter Sutherland was an incredible business leader and was also an influential voice for the less fortunate. He was a patriotic Irishman but also a committed European who strongly believed in the importance of cooperation and international dialogue, ideals that are worryingly challenged today.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
I believe continual learning is essential to successful leadership. There are many great management books that have informed and influenced my management style. Also, biographies can very interesting reading. Harvard Business Review magazine is good for concise articles on the latest business trends. Also plenty of business sites and TED talks which can be very enlightening. Finally if possible join a networking group which can support you in your business endeavours and also help build a network of like-minded leaders.