Cotter’s retail career began as a teenaged employee at Big W. Throughout high school, Cotter worked his way across different retail positions, eventually earning himself the 2002 Young Retailer of the Year Award for his role as a regional manager at Jeans West.
The award cemented Cotter’s desire to be a leader in retail and it created opportunities with David Jones, Coles Myer and Spotlight where he worked as a sales manager, human resources manager and state manager respectively.
In his state manager role at Spotlight from 2008-2012, Cotter was able to further develop a broad range of retail management skills. He then returned to Coles Myer as a regional manager for the Target brand across South Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania, where he worked his way up to state general manager and remained in this role until 2015.
At 38, Cotter’s retail skills have come together as general manager at OTR. As a member of OTR’s executive team, he leads more than 2300 employees across 146 stores and reports directly to the chief operating officer.
Cotter was accepted into the Governor’s Leadership Foundation Program in 2010 and won Target’s National Community Award in 2014.
This month, he was named in InDaily’s 40 Under 40, which recognises the best and brightest young business people in South Australia.
What is the single most important lesson you have learnt in your business career so far?
People are paramount. This is the most important lesson I have learnt not only in business but in life. If you treat people right and understand their values and what’s important to them, you will have an engaged team. They will determine if you and your business are successful or not. You may have the best processes in the world, but you need the right people to execute it. Looking after your people is your number one job. The rest follows.
What do you believe are the strengths of doing business in South Australia?
The local business community in South Australia is very loyal and supportive of fellow SA businesses, which is unmatched in other states. We have the opportunity to be flexible and nimble in SA to trial new products, having a strong cross-section of demographic groups represented in our market. In SA, we also take our time to trust new products, so it is often said that if you can get a new product/business to work in SA, then it will work anywhere. This is one of the reasons I love working in SA and find it is a real strength for organisations like OTR as well.
What do you believe are the weak points of conducting business in South Australia?
Occasionally our state is viewed as slow or conservative, which can be a weakness when conducting business on a national scale. Our best way to combat these misperceptions is to continue to outperform other states through innovation and achieving success.
Do you see your future in South Australia?
Absolutely. I’ve had opportunities to leave for interstate roles but proudly chose SA. There are many people as living proof you can not only be successful in SA but also have a long, thriving career in senior positions. We are continually growing and expanding within this state and the long list of successful South Australians who have chosen to stay here are precedent enough. I plan to show people that by achieving success within SA, you can also have an impact on a national and global level.
How can the state encourage more of its young leaders to stay?
I feel strongly that promoting the success stories of our state is the best way to encourage more leaders to stay in SA, including awards programs like the 40 Under 40. Everyone needs to know what is achievable and testimonials of successful leaders will do that. Providing a forum where local talent can see a clear pathway and receive the support they need is important to encourage young leaders to base themselves here and show the succession plan that is possible. Encouraging and supporting businesses and startups to attract and hire local talent is another important step the government needs to work with key industry business owners to train and identify talent early, then reward and recognise them on their career journey. Establishing a positive culture that is long lasting will also ensure this trend becomes the norm.
To see the full list of 40 winners, go here.
InDaily is profiling each of the winners – go here to read more.
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