20 February 2023
Team profile - meet Chief Operating Officer Leigh Brown
Leigh Brown is the Chief Operating Officer at Miconex. With a career spanning retail, higher education and place management, Leigh told us more about her journey to Miconex:
“I was born in London to Scottish parents and grew up close to Dundee. My dad was a hairdresser, and I’d regularly help out in the shop, so I understand the issues faced by independent business in a town. I did a business degree at the University of Abertay before getting married and moving to Swindon, but we also lived near St Andrews, York, Shrewsbury, and close to Farnham.
“When my daughter was around one and a half, I took a Christmas job at M&S. What started as a temp job turned into a career, and I spent 8 years at M&S, moving up the ranks to store management and staff training. The instant results and the fast pace of retail really appealed to me.
“There was an opportunity to move up to Scotland, which we took, and I started working for Lush and launched their Dundee store. It was a really interesting role, and I was involved in training new store managers and product development too. One year, we’d noticed that there were lots of customers buying secret Santa gifts, so we were off to the factory trying out new ideas and created a bespoke gift for the following year!
“I then started lecturing at Dundee College’s business department, on their retail and hospitality courses. It quickly turned into a full time job and it was something I enjoyed. This developed into work with Colleges Scotland, who promote the college sector in Scotland, as part of an educational policy to engage young people to set up their own businesses. The idea was to add an entrepreneurial element into the courses.
“An exciting project I was involved in that still stands out to this day is TestTown. Organised by the Carnegie UK Trust, the idea was for towns and education providers to make their vacant spaces available to young people to set up test businesses, giving them a pathway into a new career but also giving places the chance to test future town centre solutions. TestTown started in Dunfermline in 2018 and was rolled out around the UK.
“Careers and the way we work is changing as much as our places are changing. Young people all have side hustles, many people have portfolio careers rather than one set job and entrepreneurship isn’t just The Apprentice style that we see on the TV. TestTown was innovative because it tapped into the differing ideas of careers and entrepreneurship, and new ideas for how town and city centres can be used. One young person set up a café that was also a place to do crafts and socialise, another set up a gym, a third set up a soup kitchen where you could also buy soup kits to make soup at home.
“My work with Carnegie led me to Perth & Kinross Council and a role as City Centre Manager. Placemaking is very similar to retail in many ways. You have to ask the same things about your town or city that a store manager will ask about their store; is it clean, is it tidy, how can I make it look better, how can I bring money in and where is that money being spent. It was an exciting time in Perth with a new events team and celebrity filled events like the Christmas lights switch on. A fond memory is trying to get Mark Wright into his carriage, pursued by his many fans!
“As placemaking was a new field for me, I joined the Association of Town and City Management (ATCM) Scotland Network so I could speak with and learn from others supporting high streets across the UK and Ireland. When the Scottish Chair stepped down, I was asked to take on the role and was later asked to become the Chair of the ATCM, the first female Chair in its history and perhaps in some way contributing to the strong and diverse board that ATCM has today.
“When I started with Perth & Kinross, the meetings were 80% male dominated. Over time, more women came into the placemaking industry. It’s vital that we have a good gender mix. Women contribute much of the spending on our high streets, and can offer a different view around what we want and need of our high streets. Like me, many people move into placemaking from other sectors like retail, but it is great to see that place management is becoming more recognised as a career in its own right. It is such a diverse job requiring a range of skills, like marketing, planning, policy and tourism.
“I’d met Colin Munro of Miconex at networking events whilst working in the higher education sector, and when Colin heard I was going to work at Perth & Kinross Council, he said there would be a pitch waiting for me for Mi Perthshire, which was Miconex’s focus at the time. One of my goals at Perth & Kinross was some type of gift voucher, and this is something Colin and I would discuss over coffee. Colin went away, did the research and worked out how to create a gift card specifically for towns and cities. We piloted the Perth Gift Card in Perth at Christmas 2015 and that’s when the Town & City Gift Card concept began.
“From my work with businesses in Perth, including my own brother who has a jewellery shop in the city, I could see the gift card concept would work because the benefit to businesses is so tangible. They see the gift cards come through the door, and through the till. After a time at Perth & Kinross Council, I felt I’d brought in all of the initiatives I wanted to, and it was time for someone fresh to come in with new ideas. As a family, we had the chance to move to Spain with my husband’s work so I took on consultancy and began working with Miconex. When covid hit, we asked ourselves ‘how can we be ready to support the high street’, and that’s what our focus has been.
“My role at Miconex has developed organically, initially as a consultant, to Client Success Director and now to Chief Operating Officer, working with clients across the UK, Ireland and North America and being involved in a range of exciting projects. When I talk to clients, the fact that I’ve lived in lots of different places, both in the UK and Europe, does help to give me a sense of that area and the particular challenges they face. I love seeing clients’ success, seeing how they develop their program and the big figures start to come in. What is interesting though, is that wherever in the world a client is based, the issues they are facing are the same. The really refreshing thing about working with Miconex is that we work as a team, not just a head office team, but with our wider clients, collaborating and celebrating success.
“I believe the concept of 20 minute neighbourhoods will become more fundamental in the future. People are far more aware of where their shopping comes from, and places need initiatives to make local shopping convenient and enjoyable. The demise of the identikit high street will make way for high streets that are community hubs, with diverse uses of space. I believe Miconex is ideally positioned to give each of the key towns and cities in the UK, and around the world, its own gift card program, giving customers a real, and local alternative to Amazon.”
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