This former Microsoft Australia boss says fashion giant Zara does one thing every company should copy

Pip Marlow. (Source: Microsoft)

BRISBANE — Former boss of Microsoft Australia Pip Marlow says a multinational clothing retailer has taught her a valuable lesson on how to keep innovation alive in an organisation.

Marlow, who has been in her new job as strategic innovation CEO at Suncorp for 13 days, told an opening night audience at startup festival Myriad that she looked to Spanish company Zara for a corporate environment that fosters new ideas.

“How do you create a culture that creates space in the business for innovation? I always talk about the story of Zara, the clothing company,” she said at the event. “What they do is they build space into their production to allow for innovation. So instead of planning to run production at 100%, they leave spare capacity.”

Marlow said that Zara runs at less than full capacity so that the company can monitor how the consumer reacts to its new products. The organisation then builds in the feedback into a new iteration of the product then uses the spare capacity to ultimately deliver what the market demands.

Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

“If they didn’t leave that space for innovation, divisions would be fighting about whose product didn’t get made.”

Marlow said that, 13 days in, she is pleased to find that Suncorp does have that spare capacity to allow for innovation, which can be rare in a large financial company.

The tech exec, who spent 21 years at Microsoft, climbing the ranks to eventually become Australia and New Zealand managing director, also told the entrepreneurial audience that the big banks, by necessity, need to start letting fintech startups in and develop mutually beneficial partnerships.

The old financial institutions had a “bias to build” as a legacy of historically building systems in-house from scratch, Marlow said, but now the agility of startups creating micro or modular fintech services could not be matched by the big incumbents.

“There’s a real opportunity for financial services – both banking and insurance — organisations to rethink their model,” she said.

“So these fintechs and insuretechs — how do we help them? What we have is a great understanding of the regulatory environment, we have trusted relationships with customers. But most of these companies starting up don’t know how to acquire customers… so if organisations like Suncorp become more porous and says we want to bring [startups] in and be a part of that, it means we can deliver an even better service to the customer.”

The Myriad festival is on this week at the Brisbane Powerhouse to showcase some of the nation’s rising startups. The sold-out event, supported by the Queensland government, features seminars as well as access to local and overseas investment identities for Australian startup founders network with.

The journalist travelled to Brisbane courtesy of the Queensland government.

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