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Devine Inspiration

by fatweb

Baptism by fire only begins to describe it. On February 22nd, Mary Devine was less than three weeks into her new job as managing director of Ballantynes when the earth started shaking. She was at Riccarton, hopped into her car and headed back to town to see the street that had been, only a couple of hours ago, the heart of our city’s retail district. by Bridget Gourlay
Cashel Mall was almost unrecognisable. The Edwardian facades that so prettily framed the pedestrian walkway had burst, collapsed buildings and debris was everywhere. Several people were dead, many more were injured. The CBD was a maze of sirens and shocked, white-faced people.
But Ballantynes’ solid 1960s building withstood it. The bunker-like store was born from a previous calamity; in 1947, the original shop burnt down, killing 41 members of staff. Fifty years on, calamity had hit Christchurch’s CBD once more, with Ballantynes again right at the centre of it.

The woman in charge

So February 2011 was a first month for the history books. But even before the quake, becoming managing director of Ballantynes was a big enough job in itself. Devine was the first non-family member to run the iconic department store in a century, tasked with overseeing one of the most-loved institutions in the city. Her predecessor, Richard Ballantyne, was moving to a position on the board.
“I felt a real sense of responsibility taking on the role and the importance of ensuring we protect a lot of those cultural aspects of what makes Ballantynes special, but still lead us and continue to bring the business forward. I must maintain that balance.
“Also I’m fortunate Richard is still in the business, he’s still involved a few days a week. It’s great we’ve got him around and he can provide a guiding hand and insight for me which is invaluable.”
Devine was approached for the top job because of her impressive career history. She’s only in her 40s and has a young family, but she was previously chief executive of online retailer EziBuy and Max Fashions. Before that she ran Arthur Ellis, manufacturer of the Great Outdoors and Fairydown brands.
This knack for finance could be in the genes. “Mum gave me her Watties shares at a young age and I followed the stock exchange,” she remembers. “That’s what we discussed at the dinnertable.”
Part of Devine’s appointment as managing director was continuing to help the iconic department store charge forward into the future.
But the earthquake changed every strategic plan the company had. Like every other business in Christchurch, every deadline, every agenda on every meeting had to be changed. Within minutes on February 22nd our city was destroyed. Devine and the team sprung into action.
“The first few days we had a great communication tree, so within three days we had located staff – that was our number one priority. We started meeting at home, we even met our insurance assessor within seven days.
“We actually moved with a degree of speed…We quickly got into a routine of on a Monday having a staff briefing to the top 50 managers who then met with all of their staff of on the Monday and Tuesday of every week. It was about informing staff of where we were at. Even if we didn’t have any insights or much to say, it didn’t matter, it was that clear communication.”
Devine and the team immediately started thinking about how they would cope in the interim. She met with the key suppliers and travelled to Timaru. Soon, bus trips to the South Canterbury branch were established and the online shopping part of the website was seriously beefed up. They took over a spot at Riccarton Mall temporarily for their café staff.
With no idea what the prognosis of the CBD was, Devine looked at “every retail site in Christchurch” seeing if there was another spot that could be the department store’s new home. In June, crowds packed into the CBS arena for the annual ‘Ballys sale’.
“In hindsight, within the first six weeks we had made a lot of decisions quite quickly. We didn’t stop to pause, we kept moving.
“I knew the main building had stood up well. In the first couple of months there were elements of doubt which was why we looked at other retail locations and what would the business be. But after the first couple of months we knew we would have a store, a base – we got more confident. We’d had extensive engineering reports, we’d had seismic modeling.
“We were lucky in being Ballantynes that we were able to get expert assessment on different areas early on, so we knew what we were dealing with, which was advantageous, for it has helped us with the speed in which we recovered.”

restarttheheartRestart the heart

Eight months after the devastating February earthquake, Cashel Mall reopened. Devine is part of a tight-knit group of property owners in the CBD who had come together during the past few years to revitalise it and meet the challenges the September 4 and Boxing Day quakes had brought.
Restart was their brainchild – and to kick off Cup & Show week it was opened by the Prime Minister to a crowd of thousands.
Beautifully landscaped, with bright appealing shops, Christchurch people are embracing their new CBD retail district. That energy is contagious, Devine says.
“Restart is better than anyone ever anticipated. It’s got people hopeful again, there’s a real upbeat nature which is encouraging because it’s been such a difficult year. I think with Restart, it’s progress in an innovative way. If we apply that in a city perspective what we achieve could be amazing.”
In the Ballantynes complex, the historic Stables buildings and the new Anderson building have both been demolished.
So, like the rest of the shops on Cashel Street, parts of Ballntynes operate from temporary containers. However, the transition is seamless – if you found yourself inside the department store, you’d have to be actively looking to see how it changed from solid building to temporary structure.
It may sound contradictory, but retailers must work together with their competitors to form a cluster – because people want to visit a range of shops, not just one. That’s why Devine was so heavily involved in Restart and why she says it is so important the CBD is rebuilt as a thriving centre.
“With the city plan we must ensure there is an economic model for property owners through it all so that it is viable, so there are incentives so commercially it stacks up.
“I think people can buy into a vision, but at the end of the day they’ve got to ensure they’re being prudent from their own commercial interests. So it’s ensuring we can match the vision to the commercial reality – that’s the area we need to focus on.”
2011 may have been a rough year, and the next few are sure to be the same. But Devine remains energetic, positive and confident.
“It’s been a real journey. We certainly still have challenges ahead but I think that we know where they are now. Prior to opening we didn’t really know how things would evolve. I think we’re really fortunate with the loyalty we’ve been shown by our customers – and we’re getting new customers which is wonderful as well.
“So here’s to 2012!”

Ballantynes A History

1854    Ballantynes is established, originally named Dunstable House by its founders
1872    J Ballantyne buys the business
1883    Timaru branch opens
1920    Becomes a registered company, run by John Ballantynes’ descendants
1947    41 staff are killed when the Ballantynes building burns down
1960    The new building reopens on the same site, the corner of Colombo and Cashel Street
1996    Richard Ballantyne takes over the management from his uncle Campbell Ballantyne
2010     Mary Devine is appointed managing director, the first non-family member in a century to hold the post
2011    The February 22nd earthquake destroys much of Cashel Mall, including parts of the Ballantynes building.
2011    In October, Ballantynes and the rest of the Restart project reopens to a crowd of thousands.  

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