Lindsay Austin is the restless retailer looking to make an impact at The Bayford Group in Leeds

Lindsay Austin is aiming to put her experience in the retail industry to use and secure The Bayford Group’s future for another 100 years and more, writes Ismail Mulla.

Tuesday, 10th December 2019, 6:00 am
Lindsay Austin is the new managing director of The Bayford Group. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

If you have as diverse a portfolio of businesses as The Bayford Group has, then appointing a new managing director isn’t going to be easy. Especially if in the past you’ve mainly promoted from within the business and there haven’t been many changes.

However, when you speak to Lindsay Austin, the new managing director of the Leeds-based group of companies, it becomes evidently clear why owner Jonathan Turner has trusted her in the role.

Ms Austin has actually had a long run up to taking on the post. She joined Bayford in May 2018 as managing director designate.

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This was to enable her to learn the ins and outs of Bayford’s various businesses from Liz Slater, who progressed to the position in 2007 having joined the group in 1988.

Looking at Ms Austin’s impressive CV, you’d think this was an odd move. She cut her teeth in retail working for the likes of Marks & Spencer, Mamas & Papas and Topshop.

But her two stints at M&S in particular prepared her for the role at Bayford, whose core sectors are energy, property and hospitality.

Ms Austin said: “I have worked for M&S twice now and I would say it’s like going to the best business school in the world. There’s as many opportunities as you create for yourself.

“You can diversify and work across different departments. You can work across different business units. There’s almost no rules to it. It’s very unique in that way.

“For someone like myself, who is an avid learner, it really suited my hunger for continuous learning.”

She wasn’t always destined for the retail world. Her father would have loved to see her become a lawyer.

“I remember doing my work experience at about 15,” Ms Austin said. “I was sat in a lawyer’s office looking at all of these books. It was very quiet, there wasn’t much of a buzz. I probably knew at that moment that that wasn’t going to be for me.”

She instead joined M&S on a management graduate scheme in 1997, kickstarting a career in the upper echelons of retail while also managing her family’s expectations. She might not have become a lawyer but she had joined a big name in M&S.

Ms Austin came under the tutelage of George Davies, who was responsible for the Per Una brand at M&S.

She said: “He was really disrupting the thinking and culture in a positive way. I had amazing access to this entrepreneurial guy, who was so not corporate.”

When she got to her late 20s, Ms Austin, who has always had a “restless mind” felt she could apply her skills and experience in a different way.

At this point she was approached by a recruiter with an offer to take up the role of head of retail at Huddersfield-based Mamas & Papas. The Huddersfield-based wholesaler of baby products was looking to switch its business model to retail.

It presented Ms Austin the opportunity to test herself, something she had always wanted to do.

“We really evolved that business and that culture in quite a short space of time,” Ms Austin says. “I had absolute autonomy to do that but with autonomy, I always say, comes accountability.”

The then retail specialist said she learnt a lot and that it was a “fun time” and “really energising”.

However, when you have a “restless mind”, you are always looking for that next step and being at a family-run business with succession already in place that progression is hard to come by.

“It got to a point where the inevitable question comes, when you’re hungry and ambitious, of what next,” Ms Austin says.

Another phone call out of the blue from a recruitment consultant led to her being offered the job of global head of retail for Topshop.

Despite having a family of her own back in Yorkshire, the hunger for a new challenge took over and she returned to London.

While Ms Austin looks back at her year in that role with fondness, the travelling and being away from family made her re-evaluate her dreams and ambitions.

“I’ve got no issue with working hard but not at the sacrifice of everything else,” Ms Austin says. “A year into that I thought, am I really living my core values? Am I being the best that I can be professionally? I think the honest answer was probably not.”

She’d kept the door open at M&S, leaving on good terms the first time.

Hankering for a return to the North of England she went back to general management in Meadowhall for the retail giant.

“It worked for me in terms of balance at that time,” Ms Austin says.

But when you’ve got an impressive track record like Ms Austin’s, it was inevitable that the moment she stepped back through the doors, conversation would turn to whether she wanted to return to the upper management level again.

A couple of years in, she inevitably became bored and restless.

She would take up the role of head of region, first for the home counties and then for the North East.

Ms Austin’s innate restlessness, led to her doing voluntary work for various charities. It was through this that she met Mr Turner.

The Bayford Group, which has 215 employees, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Ms Austin wants to ensure that it’s here for another 100 years and more.

She said: “The biggest challenge will be constantly looking for new opportunities.

“Constantly evolving and keeping that restless entrepreneurial spirit that has made the group so successful. It’s about keeping that alive and not becoming too corporate.”

Liz Slater will continue working at The Bayford Group, helping Mr Turner grow the Gulf Gas and Power business and explore new buying opportunities.

Ms Austin also says she will be relying on the “superb” team around her. “As a leader, one of the best attributes that you can have at times is humility,” she said.

Ms Austin added: “It’s about having the humility to ask for help.”

The Bayford Group presents a different dynamic, compared to the other businesses she has been at, with Mr Turner taking on a very active role. There’s also ultimate accountability and responsibility for profit and loss.

What does the “restless” Ms Austin ultimately want to achieve? She says: “Do I have an ultimate goal? No, I don’t because if I had an ultimate goal and I’d achieved it, I’d be like what is next?

“I don’t think I’m ever going to be the person that will sit still.”

Curriculum vitae

Title: Managing director at The Bayford Group

Date of birth: ‘You can’t ask a lady that question’

Lives: North Yorkshire

Favourite holiday destination: Anywhere sunny and hot with my family

Last book read: Option B by Sheryl Sandberg

Favourite film: Mary Poppins

Favourite song: Anything by Queen

Car driven: Hybrid

Most proud of: My son

Education: Liverpool University