After almost 30 years in the retail industry, Officeworks general manager of merchandising Jim Berndelis has gained plenty of experience and life lessons. Here, he speaks with Inside Retail about his career progression and highlights, why he prioritises bringing his true self to work and why he isn’t an email-warrior. Inside Retail: Tell me about your career journey. How did you get into the retail industry, and what are some of the different roles you’ve held along the way? Jim Berndelis: M
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lis: My first role at Officeworks was on the shop floor at Maribyrnong, Melbourne while I was studying at university in 1995. At the time, there were only four stores in Australia. We now have 166.
I was part of the set-up team that launched Officeworks into the New South Wales market. From there, I’ve worn many hats in our support office and in various roles across the merchandise function: from demand planning to buying to buying manager.
After a seven-year stint outside of the business I returned in 2012 and was appointed the national merchandise manager – office supplies and furniture. Then in 2020 I moved into my current role, as general manager – merchandise, reporting into our managing director, Sarah Hunter.
IR: What are some of your career highlights so far?
JB: I’m very grateful for the variety of opportunities I’ve had in my career at Officeworks, many of which have led to some pretty memorable moments. Playing a part in Officeworks’ success story in the early days was pretty special, and being promoted to a buyer in the merchandise function early in my career was a pivotal moment for me.
I have also been lucky to travel the world with Officeworks early on in my career. I’ve attended a number of study tours and sourcing trips across South America, Europe, the United States and South-East Asia, as we expanded our product range and learned from what other players globally are doing.
IR: What are some of the key leadership lessons you’ve picked up over the course of your career?
JB: A 27-year retail career means you’ve learned a few lessons here or there. One of the most important being to build the right team around you and empower them to make decisions. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve spent more time focusing on strategy, team culture and supporting our people rather than the ‘doing’. It’s important to surround yourself with the right team who you can trust to make those decisions confidently. The other lesson I’ve learnt is to talk to your customers regularly. You will always learn something from them.
I also pride myself on bringing my true self to work. It’s something we encourage our whole team to do. Authenticity is really important to me, so I try to reflect at work who I am at home, and in my everyday life.
IR: Do you have any “work hacks” for getting things done?
JB: I’m lucky to have a great EA who helps to organise my work life. One tip I do have is: don’t be an email warrior. Don’t watch your inbox. Instead, turn off those new message notifications and balance your attention to where it’s needed. Your personal life is important too.
IR: Do you have any hobbies that help you switch off and stay balanced?
JB: I love the garden! Spending time with my family at every possible moment and finding the time to take a break is important to keep life in perspective, and balance what’s important. I also love a good read and getting out on the water to fish. Keeping busy is my motto while stopping occasionally to smell the roses.