Working at intu
Today we chat with Vicki Costello, general manager of intu Watford about her time with the company and what she loves about her job!
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a forensic scientist, would you believe! So I studied the sciences and maths to A Level and failed badly. I didn’t ever want to go to university that was the problem. So then I focussed on doing nursing. I went for all the interviews and I got accepted at the three London hospitals, the big ones, as they were then. I was only 17 at the time and it was a step too far to move to London and live in the grotty digs. It wasn’t like it is now! So I took what I thought would be a temporary job doing payroll for C & A, the retailer, and 11 years later left as customer service manager when they closed the business. Throughout those 11 years I experienced a whole variety of roles.
Did you ever think that you would have the job you have now?
Never! I didn’t even know it existed! And I think many people think the same. When you come into a shopping centre you don’t appreciate that there’s a landlord, you don’t appreciate all the back of house work that goes in to it. All the operations and the marketing and the commercial element to it... you just think you come through the door and there you are – shops! So no, I never even dreamed of this role!
What was your first job with intu?
It was a very different structure back when I joined but my first role was as a customer service manager. It’s the equivalent of what we now call the guest service manager.
And how long have you worked for intu?
Almost 16 years!
Wow that’s such a long time! What has made you want to stay so long and why do you like working for intu?
Because it genuinely is different every day of the week. I have worked in two centres; intu Lakeside and intu Watford. In my five years at intu Lakeside as the customer service manager there was the ability to move around and build up my knowledge. That’s one of the reasons that I’ve stayed so long because there’s always an opportunity to move around and develop all round knowledge of the business and the industry which I guess is why I am a general manager now!
Why do you enjoy working in a shopping centre?
It is never dull because no one day is ever the same. It can vary from resolving issues, engaging with and having some fun with customers, dealing with a piece of equipment that has failed or liaising with the council about improvements in the surrounding areas. It is so vast and I have such a great team. That’s really what makes it fun - the people that you work with. And working with the public means you are always going to be entertained!
How difficult or easy was it for you to progress your career?
It’s never easy, I won’t lie.
Do you think it’s especially hard for a woman?
No, I don’t see any difference with being a female in this company whatsoever. There is absolutely no difference, we get treated equally. It is just about being in the right place and time when opportunities arise to progress. For me it was geographical as I wasn’t always able to move house and move to different centres. I think if you’re able to relocate it is much easier to take advantage of opportunities. My progression wasn’t difficult as such but it takes time because you have got to have that all round knowledge. You can’t wave a magic wand for that – like most things you have to earn it. But what made it easier is that intu is really supportive in helping you achieve your goals... It wasn’t a quick win but that 16 years has flown by!
How has intu helped to develop you and help you to reach your career goals?
I did a Diploma in Shopping Centre Management. It’s a two year diploma which the company paid for and supported me through. I’ve also had a lot of in-house support, especially from my regional centre director Howard Oldstein, who gave me the opportunity to be in an acting role which enabled me to learn on the job and evidence what I can do. Other than that, it is just about building my knowledge and by spending time with people from across all business departments such as asset managers, marketing teams and directors. Networking with retailers and other stakeholders in town is also important because again, that whole-rounded knowledge and ability to build relationships is key regardless of where your centre is geographically.
Who has been your biggest influencer in your career development? And your biggest supporter?
I think Howard Oldstein has been my biggest supporter as well as Paul Lancaster who’s also a regional centre director as I’ve been able to seek advice and support from both of them. I could name many, many people, but Howard has definitely given me the opportunity to grow further into the role.
What has been the most significant change in shopping centre development during your career?
The investment and development programme. For example at in intu Watford we are investing £180 million to create a new 400,000 square foot extension as the company continues to invest in further enhancing our centres to create destinations that offer a compelling mix of retail and leisure to meet the needs of our customers. When I first started we were known as Capital Shopping Centres - we were very conservative as a company, we were (and still are) very good at what we did – very good landlords, very good property managers, we knew our stuff and we did it well. With all that experience, knowledge and teams of talented people plus now having the intu brand above our doors and running throughout everything we do, we are a really dynamic business. It’s great to be a part of a really forward-thinking company.
What one thing would you tell a younger you in forging their career?
Be patient, and see what comes along because life is full of surprises and you can’t predict what opportunities you’re going to have. And have more confidence in yourself – there’s more to you than you know!