Q & A with Michael Wyatt

Michael Wyatt, country manager of Bata Australia and New Zealand, recently took on more responsibility as Asia-Pacific regional coordinator of Bata Industrials. He shared with Bata World News what is going on in his corner of the world, as well as his thoughts on management.

What is at the top of your agenda as the new regional coordinator of Bata Industrials?

First step is setting up a strong and lean team in APAC [Asia-Pacific], identifying market potential and negotiating with the country managers to hold at least a basic ex-stock facility. The Industrials business is not a pre-sold model; it is largely a non-seasonal business that operates on a very different principle to that of fashion retail. Customers demand immediate supply to satisfy evolving worker and industry demands – they cannot wait three months for shoes. Article planning and stock control is the key, so we have a lot to do!

Tell us about your vision for Bata in Australia and New Zealand.

As a team, the vision is to become the foremost specialist in very focused areas of footwear: Safety, School, Professional and Bata Flexibles. We have spent 2016 asking the hard questions and really figuring out what we are about as a business. This has meant cutting hundreds of lines and only spending OTB [open to buy] on what we are about as a business.

Traditionally both countries have had a rather wide focus, trying to please everybody but being a specialist to none. The new focus has shown growth and a healthier profit strategy.

What is happening there right now that you are most excited about?

Locally as well as globally within the organization, I must say I am most excited about product and innovation! The renewed “Product Is King” mentality has 110 percent of my support. Ultimately we are a footwear maker – we can have the best stores and best marketing, but the customer will only become a repeat purchaser if the shoes are king!

Tell us about your best "Bata moments" so far.

Where to start? The best “Bata moments” come from the Bata people. One minute you are working with South Africans, then Australians; the next minute you are in Italy spending time with Malaysians and the Singapore team.

Personally, Tomy Takkies, becoming country manager, teaming up with Bata Best on developments and working with Charles Pignal on the very young Bata Bullets project stand out for me.

How has the retail sector changed in the region? How do you see it changing in the future?

As a wholesale business we deal with the best retailers Australia has to offer, and the market has become far more saturated as international brands try to establish a foothold in Australia, often failing in the process.

Locally I see the gap between leading and struggling retailers growing faster than ever. Leaders’ profits are allowing them room to breath, think and innovate quickly, while those at second and third place are so fixated on processes they keep missing the next opportunity. It’s a Catch-22 situation unfortunately.

What trend are you paying most attention to at the moment?

I am impressed by trends in modern management styles, for example “consultive” and “persuasive” or even “chaotic.” With the move from the traditional “top-down” pyramid hierarchy, I personally find leaders who focus on softer skills very successful. Often explaining, selling ideas, building consensus, trusting staff, listening and helping guide willingly bring the team along with you. It’s of course easier said than done when you have an estimate to meet, but if you are conscious of the global shift I believe the business will be better off long-term.

One of the Bata Core Values is “Be Bold.” How does this fit with what your team does?

We practice “Being Bold” daily by committing to what we believe in. We have taken calculated risks in design, marketing and refocusing our product ranges. We are all about belief in what we are doing, and the results are starting to show.

What is the best professional advice you have ever received?

“Treat everybody with respect.” Just stay humble – from the cleaner to the president, everyone is trying their best. Plus you never know who you will be reporting to next week!

Name your favorite Bata products. What makes them stand out?

I am very proud of our Australian and New Zealand development with Bata Best, the Helix Bata Industrials boot collection. It’s a collection that was designed, innovated and built entirely with product as the focus. We built the absolute best possible boot and then priced it accordingly. The customer feedback has been nothing but positive.

Is there something you wish more Bata people knew about Bata Australia?

Typically, as in many countries, locals think Bata is an Australian company, so part of our marketing campaign always focused on the history and heritage of the organization. We have the greatest story to tell, and when customers hear it they feel part of something much larger than just the purchase.

Is there a book you like that you would recommend to readers of Bata World News?

I would highly recommend “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal. There are very, very relevant and illustrative points in that book on reducing competition and growing profits through innovation.