An ocean of talent gives business bite-Interview with SharkNinja’s Lauren McMullan

By creating an open environment for employees such as Lauren McMullan to blossom, UK design giants SharkNinja have discovered a new wave of talent within their employee base – with Entrepreneurial Scotland’s Saltire Scholar initiative now set to benefit from their workplace strategy, writes Nan Spowart.

Lauren McMullan, Vice President & General Manager of SharkNinja's London Office

Despite enjoying phenomenal growth in recent years, the innovative design company SharkNinja has not lost its intrapreneurial spirit. The company's refusal to restrict employees to rigid roles is just one of the reasons it has continued to innovate and expand its products.

Lauren McMullen from Denny is the perfect example of the philosophy, having started with the company as a contractor before being asked to join - even though there was no defined role for her at the time.

Four years later, she is now General Manager of the London office where she is responsible for 172 employees and the day-to-day running of the business in London, which also has offices in the US and China.

"The great thing about SharkNinja is that it is super-intrapreneurial for a big company and you are not put in a box when you come in," she said.

"When I joined it was a case of 'we like you but we don't know quite what to do with you so do you want to join and figure it out?"

Another indication of SharkNinja's intrapreneurial commitment is its partnership with Entrepreneurial Scotland's Saltire Scholar programme.

"It's an amazing partnership for us to get talent through the door as it helps create that intrapreneurial mindset," said Lauren.

Shark Ninja takes around four graduates from the programme every year for internships at the Boston and London offices and a good proportion have gone onto become full time employees.

Lauren's own rise to the top began with a degree in product design engineering from Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow University, a combined course that has seen graduates secure jobs all over the world. She then did a Masters in design and manufacturing management at Cambridge and, after first working for a small company that she helped to scale up to mid-size production, she moved to London for a job as a product manager for a software company.

She was then headhunted into L'Oréal where she spent eight years on design and merchandising, before working with the Charlotte Tilbury brand on store design. While she was with Charlotte Tilbury, she launched the firm's first stand-alone store and its first moves into American retail.

It was an exciting time but at that point Lauren decided she wanted to go back to her roots in product design and found work as a contractor with Shark.

"I was offered a permanent job pretty quickly and started a new function called Technical Product Management because we have engineers in China, London and Boston and we needed to make sure all the teams across the different sites are rowing in the same direction and getting the decisions they need when they need them," Lauren explained.

The Boston-based firm now operates in 26 markets and has 2800 employees worldwide, including 700 engineers and designers.

"We have been an incredibly successful product innovation engine for some years and earlier this year listed on the New York stock exchange," said Lauren. The company is enjoying double digit growth in sales at the moment, with much of that driven by the growth in the European market.

"SharkNinja is already one of the most popular brands across every product it sells in the US but we are earlier in our journey in Europe so it is our massive growth engine," Lauren explained.

SharkNinja has a three-pillar growth strategy which comprises growth in its 31 existing product categories, as well as entering into new and adjacent categories and expanding internationally.

"Our portfolio on the products we are working on are always furthering these three growth pillars," said Lauren. Many people will have heard of the Shark vacuum cleaner, one of the

company's most popular products, but Shark is also a huge part of the air fryer trend and has just launched its first beverage system. It has expanded into the beauty market and had some "incredible" success with styling products and hair dryers. "We always have innovative technology and if you look at how consumers rate our products, it is extremely highly." Lauren said.

A family business originally, SharkNinja's growth exploded around 15 years ago, with the London office opening ten years ago to take advantage of the design engineers produced by the education system in the UK.

"The UK education system is very unique globally and incredibly useful for SharkNinja because it creates an all-rounder from the courses, whereas in other markets you tend to get people who are technical in a given area," said Lauren.

The flexibility of the design engineers produced in the UK is "hugely valuable" for Shark and its intrapreneurial spirit. The company has also recently moved into a huge open plan space at the former Battersea Power Station, which Lauren describes as "game changing" as it means employees can share ideas more easily. "It's quite rare to have a design/ innovation house with this type of technical space and sheer number of employees in central London and that is hugely beneficial when we are trying to attract talent," added Lauren.

The lay-out of the office also helps her role, which is to make sure it is a safe space operating at its optimal capacity, with employees working on the right programme at the right time.

"I have a very mixed role but I thoroughly enjoy it," Lauren said.

This article was written by Nan Spowart for the Winter 2023 Edition of The Herald Business HQ Magazine. Click here to read the full edition.