September Spotlight Mark Johnson COO Global Retail Academy




Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East.

  • I have been lucky enough to have a retail career spanning over 30 years predominantly in the UK before moving to the Middle East in 2013.

Retail is my blood having gained a deep rooted understanding by working at all levels starting from the shop floor working up to the Board Room and most recently senior leadership roles in the Middle East. Having worked with large international retail brands across multiple sectors if I was asked what is the one thing I have found most rewarding over this time it would have to be seeing people blossom & grow into better retail professionals.  At the Global Retail Academy with an amazing team I now have the opportunity to spend time doing what I enjoy most by helping future retail professionals to learn and grow as they progress their careers

What is the Global Retail Academy?

  • Global Retail Academy is a soon to launch retail education site. Our vision is to be the Worlds Leading Education Site and we are working diligently in order to create a truly Global Centre of Retail Excellence. Global Retail Academy primarily is an Edu-Tech business with personalised learning. Programmes are being designed to fit the personal needs of today’s retail workforce, catering to the changing needs such as learning speed, learning style, and learning pathways. GRA will be able to offer a comprehensive high content quality and inexpensive library of learning programs that cover all functions and all sectors of retail through eLearning, vILT programs, videos, micro videos, webinars and much more.

Why launch the Global Retail Academy

  • Across the ME there are moves by governments to lesson the dependence upon the expat workforce along with a desire to promote retail as a career rather than just a job, in addition there is much across the ME that is impacting retail. Digital advancements, Ization and the current trading conditions are just 3 examples that are having a direct impact on training and development. Traditional classroom training is also expensive and unsurprisingly when margins and sales are under pressure historically training is one of the 1st departments to see cuts. Global Retail Academy addresses this issue by offering both Retail Students, Retail Professionals and Retail businesses the opportunity to get access to world class retail training delivered by best in class retail practitioners who between them have a collective experience of over 500 years

What are the biggest challenges?

  • Mindset is a problem and as such retail training hasn’t really moved on from traditional class room instructor led model that has been around since time began, the world is a changing place and retailers and people development is probably more important now than ever.In its most simplistic form a retail success model could be achieved simply by focusing on the 3 P’s, People, Process & Performance, retail businesses across the ME tend to focus heavily on performance and not so on the people. So retailers must change the mindset & utilise the technology that is available to help educate and develop their teams. Fortunately there is a shift happening with businesses realising that people and the skills people have are the most important asset of any business.

What are the skills and competencies that you would need to train in order to meet the regions talent requirements.

  • There is no shortage of people on the planet but what retailers need is good talent and competition for well-trained retail professionals has increased with retailers trying to operate faster and more efficiently. As such employers are struggling to find the skills that they need. As retailers we all need to take the responsibility to focus much more on training and developing the retail teams and not just the front end sales staff. To give two examples, here in the Middle East retailers have an ever growing inventory problem, sales and margins have been under pressure but because of a lack of knowledge on how to properly manage inventory the problem is growing. Same for Area Managers who look after a collective group of shops. If you are a good store manager you will probably get asked to move into an Area Manager role and over night find yourself looking after 6-10 stores. 85% of Area Managers currently doing the role are not operating as efficiently or effectively as they could be and thus end up fire fighting or simply playing the role of the store manager in different stores. Why, because the Area Manager role is a very different role to that of a store manager and uses a whole different set of skills, the problem is that there is a lack of knowledge about the role and as such the store manager gets thrust into the role without any development, training or understanding. It becomes a sink or swim situation.





September Spotlight: Anitha Alappat Regional Director ME

1.    Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East.
I have been associated with this region for the past 25 years. I was brought up in Abu Dhabi and did my Primary and Middle School from Abu Dhabi Indian School. I moved on in mid-90s to complete my high school in India, and from then till 2010, Abu Dhabi was my summer vacation home! I moved to Al Ain in 2010 with my husband, and later to Dubai in 2012. I have an undergraduate degree from BITS Pilani, a master’s from Purdue University and an MBA from the Indian School of Business. Over the years I have worked with General Motors, SunEdison (erstwhile MEMC) and Amba Consulting in sectors spanning from automotive manufacturing to semiconductors to education consulting. Simulations, product marketing, operations, consulting and training are some of the domains I have been exposed to so far.

My heart lies in education and lifelong learning so I have dabbled in these spaces from 2006 onwards.

A few months back I plunged into Learning & Development full time and joined KNOLSKAPE as Regional Director to expand Middle East business.

2.    How would you describe the culture of your business?
Our culture is best described by two words: Experiential Learning. This is reflected both in how we build and grow our organization as well as how we partner with our clients. Knollies, as our associates are called, being experiencing our products right from hiring stage through our flagship CodeDetective simulation or the KMAT quiz! For our clients we offer pilot programs so that every stakeholder gets to experience our solutions and potential business impact before they make a commitment.

3.    What are the biggest challenges in the next 5 years?
This region has over 75% mobile penetration, one of the highest in the world. With the onslaught of digital, the HR and Learning space is currently being disrupted. Middle East region is also in the foray, with many regional organizations now investing in HR technology and systems, engaging in non-traditional modes of learning and making learning possible anytime, anywhere. Technologies such as Virtual/Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence have already entered the HR space in areas such as on-boarding. For an organization, the biggest challenge would be to ensure that they build on this momentum and sustain it to deliver real, long term business impact. Entry of Gen Y and Gen Z into the workforce means that engagement must now be individual and not generic. This poses an additional challenge.

4.    What are the skills and competencies that you would need to train in order to meet the regions talent requirements?
This region is a melting pot of cultures, generations, and experiences. Therefore the skills and competencies needed are multifaceted. I would place developing leadership skills as one of the top needs. This is essential for building a robust leadership pipeline right from front-line all the way to C-suite. Adding to this would be scaling up digital competencies to engage a digital-savvy customer base and thinking big to expand business boundaries.

5.    What is your Philosophy?
We believe that the best way of learning is by DOing. Aligning with this philosophy, our solutions are designed to be immersive, engaging, mobile, business-needs driven and inclusive.
KNOLSKAPE is an award winning immersive gamification and simulation software company focusing on talent transformation. Using experiential learning products, KNOLSKAPE helps organizations attract, grow and retain talent. Global Fortune 500 companies and Top-10 B-schools use KNOLSKAPE’s products and solutions for on-boarding, training, assessments and talent engagement.


September Spotlight: Ron Thomas CEO Great Place To Work


Bio Photo





1. Tell us about your experience in the Middle East

I arrived in the Middle East about a 18 months  ago from New York City, as the head of HR for a Saudi based private company. My role was to head up an HR Transformation project. I have been involved in HR for the past 20 years from leading an HR department to HR consultancy at a major consulting firm. My expertise is aligning HR/Talent/Executive Leadership to the organizational goals.

My experience here in the Middle East gave me a refocus of HR , reminding me of how it was practiced in the US in years pas, but I also see companies marching towards developing a new partnership of a modern  Human Resources function.

This modern HR  function is focusing on a slow move from the transactional aspects of HR to a strategy driven approach to the profession, with some enlightened organisations including their HR Director in their Board Membership.

  1. How would you describe the business culture here in the Middle East vs. New York.

I think the biggest takeaway for me is that business is personal. People do not do business with companies, they do business with people. That is why it was important for me to build connections for the long-term. I speak at a lot of HR conferences and I always take care to meet and greet with as many participants as possible. However I also follow up with a quick note referencing our meeting to begin the process of building this relationship.

The rush meeting of the US is not a part of business protocol. Time if NOT of the Essence. Business meetings always begin with “other conversation” and this often can takes some time. I have had to embrace, this as the way business is done and it is a part of the connecting process so important in this part of the world.

  1. How easy is it for you to get direct access to the decision makers in your company?

In my new role as CEO of Great Place to Work, our reputation precedes us. The vast majority of companies have heard of the work we do as employee engagement consultants. So this gives us access to decision makers who are concerned about building an engaged workforce through our “Trust Model”.

We are experts on the field of employee engagement so decision makers understand that we invented this vertical and have been doing this for over 25 years with all the data to back it up.

  1. What are your biggest challenges in the next 5 years?

My challenge is to enable companies to build high-performing workplaces in this region. With the list of multi-nationals, privately owned firms and governmental agencies, we are on a mission to partner with them to build  a 21st century workforce that highlights talent as the competitive differentiators.

  1. What is your philosophy?

My philosophy is the most often misunderstood phrase in our business: “People are our greatest asset”. That is the phrase that I live by and that is why my new role syncs up perfectly with my philosophy.

People [Talent] has become the greatest differentiators between successful companies. If you take a look at companies that rise to become great places to work, they outperform their industry peers over numerous financial indices.

The takeaways are relevant for not only organizations but investors as well. That is why culture and engagement should be on the tips of every leaders tongue. This is not only an employee-manager dynamic but a board and executive leadership concern. Everyone benefits from their organization being recognized as great place to work.
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