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Back Chat: Shell Retail's Fiona Low on compulsory sabbaticals before the age of 30

We catch up with Fiona Low, global head of digital marketing at Shell Retail, who talks House of Cards, who inspires her in marketing, and why she would make sabbaticals compulsory for everyone before the age of 30.

How are you and what have you been up to?

I’ve just come back from a hectic week at SXSW, so I’m exhausted! It was hugely rewarding and motivating to experience the intersection of technology, film and music. At work, what’s been keeping me busy is transforming our business operations to deliver a better level of service, every country, every time.

Shell is one of the biggest single-branded retailers in the world. Every day we serve more than 25 million people across our network of 45,000 stores, so our challenge is how we deliver consistent service. My role is to identify how digital can enhance this experience, while at the same time looking at ways to extend the time we’re able to connect with customers after they pull out of the driveway.

What’s been a major pain in recent weeks?

My phone somehow falling from my seat tray table into the cargo hold of the plane on my way to the States. After a 12-hour flight, I had to wait for the plane to be cleared, an engineer to board and 60 minutes later I was reunited with a cracked phone.

And what’s been going well?

I’ve got an awesome, capable team who are hungry to make a difference so that’s going great. Our motorsports partners winning keeps me happy as it makes for great content and positive engagement. Joey Logano winning the Daytona 500 and Sebastian Vettel on the podium at the Australian GP has got the year off to a good start.

If you ruled the world, what would you change and why?

I’d make it mandatory for people to take a six to 12 month sabbatical from work before they turn 30. My husband and I did that several years ago, which is how we ended up in London. The life experience, appreciation, respect and awareness you gain meeting people from different cultures is priceless. You become a more rounded, patient and informed person, giving you smarts and creative energy to take into business.

Which one campaign do you wish you had been involved with?

The Foster’s Good Call campaign. As an Aussie I’ve never chosen to drink Foster’s but that campaign triggered a deep sense of patriotism and was entertaining. Demonstrating that £34 of revenue was generated for every marketing pound spent is pretty great too!

Who’s your greatest inspiration in life?

Nadia Comaneci. She was the first female gymnast to score a perfect 10. And who in marketing most inspires you? I met some inspiring people at SXSW. Billie Whitehouse at WearableX showed how useful and fashionable wearable technology can be to enhance everyday tasks. Jeremy Gutsche at Trend Hunter prompted his audience to “awaken the hunter” to win. Jack Welch’s inspiring words for success centred on “having a passion, care a lot about what you do and be authentic”. And I was won over by Shia LaBeouf talking about his #followmyheart project stating “Sincerity is the new punk rock” when cutting through the noise that is social media.

Mad Men or Downton Abbey?

Mad Men. But I’m totally addicted to House of Cards. I find fascinating parallels between politics and corporate business. Marketers can learn a lot from political campaigns in the way they use data to grow campaign funding, influence supporter sentiment and get their candidate elected.

What’s your message to the industry?

Keep things simple. Be curious. Be entertaining.

Fiona Low joined Shell Retail as global head of digital marketing in 2013, having previously worked at Virgin Media and at Optus. Her role is to identify how digital can enhance service across a network of 45,000 stores around the world.

This feature first appeared in the 15 April issue of The Drum.