Specsavers - 'I certainly can't think of anywhere better to work'
Sarah Shahvandian joined us as a graduate 11 years ago,
read her career journey since then below...
What was your background before joining Specsavers?
I joined Specsavers in September 2006 straight from the University of Northampton with a 1:1 in Human Resources. Before university I worked as a general assistant in hotels doing everything from bar work reception, waitressing etc. fitting in a stint as Christmas cover at River Island.
I opted for a sandwich degree which is 4 years where the third year is a year in industry. During this year I worked for Magnox (formerly a part of British Nuclear Fuels) as a Training & Development Assistant at the Berkeley Nuclear power site. It was a really interesting time at the company as the business moved from an owner operator to a manager operator model with the introduction of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. As part of this move I got to work with the senior and middle manager cohorts on a major development programme delivered by Cranfield University. Being in 2 years of an HR degree seeing first hand this degree of business change and the scale of employee relations activity on a company where many employees had over 15 years tenure in a highly specialised area was amazing.
Tell us a bit about your career journey at Specsavers?
I joined on the graduate scheme having completed my degree with a first. I joined the first ever graduate cohort for Specsavers, at this time the structure was a choice scheme so over 2 years I would select 6 different business areas to work across to get a broader understanding of the Specsavers business. This meant a move over to Guernsey where I lived for 18 months.
My first placement was in frame buying which gave me the best possible grounding outside of the clinical side of the business, what went into the product we sell to the customer (at this time Hearcare wasn’t yet launched). I was able to be involved in everything from product design, supplier meetings, range and sales analysis, user groups as well as understanding the end to end frame manufacture process. I then went on to complete placements in HR, Finance, Retail Training and commercial.
The best part about all of the placements was having a real job vs arbitrary assignments so I was very much a part of the team and could share in the challenges, process and successes. To give an example these included the first ever staff Reward Summaries which now are fully digitalised but back in 2007 were spreadsheet driven with me and the rest of the HR team printing these out until 0100 and being involved in the Tahti Optikko merger that saw our store network in Finland triple.
Following completion of the graduate scheme I moved into the Commercial team on a permanent basis from here my career history is as follows:
- Commercial project assistant – Group (2008-10).
- Commercial project manager – Group (2010 – 2011). Included running projects ranging from launching new brands, introducing hard coat as standard on all lenses, online Hearcare batteries service, activities to support our Nordic businesses following the 2008 credit crunch.
- Commercial project manager – ANZ (2011) Secondment to the Melbourne office for 9 months covering maternity. Projects include private health insurance system enhancements, stage one completion on contact lens omni channel.
- Head of Frames, Merchandising and communications – Nordic region (2011 – 2014). A new role outside of Project management with direct reports and responsibility for leading day-to-day and strategic change of frame product lined in with the retail and marketing teams. Supporting the 4 Nordic countries with delivering this change which included a minimum of 400 new frame launches a year, changes to the frame discontinuation model and supporting Nordic alignment with the collection with bespoke photoshoots and celebrity endorsements including with Helena Christensen.
- Head of Project Management – Netherlands (2014-2015) A move back to project management with a small team picking up final delivery of two major change projects – central glazing and omni-channel contact lenses.
- Head of Project Management – UK & ROI (2015-now) Remaining in project management but for the UK & ROI estate focusing on major changes with a team of 4 PM’s across optics, Hearcare, Healthcall and contact lenses
How have Specsavers supported your development?
As you can see from my career history above, Specsavers really commits to the ‘grow our own’ philosophy which has enabled me to take on multiple secondments. It’s really empowering to have senior members of the team to have confidence in you that you can do something new or different.
The vast amount of my development has been through this approach but under pinned by selected training such as PRINCE2, Arbinger and personal and introspective development through team development training. I’m also currently working on a CMI certificate sponsored by Specsavers.
What makes you most proud of your time at Specsavers so far?
There are so many things that make me proud but they are not necessarily of my personal doing but just by association happening across the company I work for:
- Incorporating domiciliary visits as a core business to ensure that customers who are unable to come into store can still get eye tests and hearing tests
- The number of stories from our in-store teams going over and above to help customers including one who spent her own time and money decorating a test room into a ‘Frozen’ theme for an autistic child who was hugely apprehensive about having an eye exam
- Our commitment to charity and corporate social responsibility that has seen millions raised as well as changes in recycling and water reuse in our manufacturing facilities
- Our Creative team and the genius minds that come up with videos or stills under our ’Should’ve…’ slogan… I love it when my friends and family call me with a ‘have you seen this…’
- Launching enhanced optical services and having over 2000 optometrists get behind this initiative and complete training to deliver this service.
- I equally love the special events that are put on for the staff the parties with their differing theme each year as well as the bi-annual balls are amazing and the fact that we can bring our partners as they all hear about Specsavers so often!
Describe the Specsavers culture in three words
What advice would you give someone looking to join Specsavers?
After 11 years at Specsavers I certainly can’t think of anywhere better to work. Working for the largest privately owned optical retailer with an ethos grounded in providing value for money eye and ear care and a commitment to transforming eye health is a privilege. Even though I am not a clinician seeing the scale of advancement and commitment to spearheading clinical training and technical advancement to best benefit the communities we serve is frankly staggering. Not to mention the journey employees can make from apprentice through to Partner - or from IT service desk apprentice through to Major Incident team leader or graduate to Head of Project management for the UK!