" A ‘sound grounding’ of finance is critical in most roles in business, according to Portfolio, Programme and Service Operations Manager at retailer ASOS, Jo Kiely, who started her career by pursuing just that.

By Christopher Argent, Founder, GENCFO

Sponsored by Coupa.

Jo Kiely



After finishing a degree in History at university, she took a graduate scheme in finance, working for the Metropolitan Police and qualifying as an Accountant. 

But after a switch to the Home Office, she felt that her skills were more aligned to project management. 

“I think you need a sound understanding of finances to be able to manage projects and their budgets effectively and while exposed to projects at the Home Office, I felt that my skills would align to Project Management, so I took the opportunity to shadow some Project Managers and retrain as a Project Manager, which I enjoyed.” 

Jo’s journey into retail

But it was moving to the retail sector that really excited Jo. She took a job at John Lewis, which she was attracted to because of the brand, business model and its ethics. 

“I took a leap and moved out of the public sector into retail, which was totally different,” she says.

“I instantly got a real buzz for it and its fast-paced nature.”

After five and a half years at John Lewis, working on an exciting supply chain transformation programme, she moved to ASOS where she is now Portfolio Programme and Service Operations Manager.

This essentially gives her responsibility for technology and transformation across a number of long-term business plan ambitions. 

Working at ASOS

“Although still in retail, ASOS was a different opportunity for me,” she says. 

“What attracted me to ASOS was its digital presence. ASOS is very advanced in its web and apps and its focus on customer experience, as well as its maturity in adoption of agile methodology for project and product delivery.”

All teams are autonomous in terms of how they develop their products and technology platforms, which was a different approach from the John Lewis Partnership, where everyone had a say. 

Through this model and the business’ values of authenticity, bravery, creativity and discipline, all ASOS employees are challenged on how to push the business forward. 

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The Returns Working Group challenge

In 2020, this took shape as part of a Returns Working Group, which Jo was part of. The group had a challenge to improve the customer experience and reduce the cost of returns. 

“We came up with a number of different projects that we delivered to meet that target, but the one I’m most proud of is the Paperless Returns project,” says Jo. 

Previously, customers had a paper return slip in their parcel. 

“We removed that and made it into a digital experience on the app or website, where the customer can select which items they want to return from their order history.”

“It’s a more modern experience and the project also saved over 320,000kgs of waste paper each year.”

This digital method also allows for better data capture, which is ‘critical’ for business insight and operations, says Jo. She’s learned by leading projects and programmes at ASOS that innovation is about starting small. 

The right investment in innovation

“It’s investing in discovery work that’s so small it’s just testing a theory,” says Jo. “Some projects are meant for a big waterfall change and transformation, like standing up a new warehouse, for example – something that’s tried and tested and repeatable.” 

When you’re entering into new spaces and innovating, you need to do small pieces of discovery work, says Jo. You should not invest too much time or resources, but prove the theory as best you can, then deliver small incremental changes towards the end goal. 

“You’ll never get perfection, but it’s about realising value as early as possible.” 

This agile project delivery is something Jo says is at the heart of what ASOS does well, and what she enjoys about working there. 

“It means we can deliver things quickly, which is important, particularly in the retail space, which is highly competitive and fast-paced,” she adds. “I also love that I get to work across all of the different teams and be in projects that transform all aspects of the business.”

Power Profile

What music empowers her?

"Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ is on my playlist when I want to reframe things in a positive light. I think it’s important to have the view that no problem is insurmountable and that we all have a lot to be grateful for."

Who is her hero?

"My mum. She was a mum to four children, a homemaker and also had a couple of cleaning and bar jobs when I was growing up but then when we were at school, she wanted to retrain to become an accountant. So, she was taking us to school, dance lessons, rugby and other clubs and then in the evenings studying for her ACCA exams – she’s now a fellow of ACCA. I’m really proud of her for all she achieved and the example of hard work and dedication she set for me."


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Christopher Argent, Founder, GENCFO

Chris is the founder and MD of GenerationCFO.com and creator of the Digital Finance Function Model and a contributor to many articles on our platform. Chris focuses on the shift toward digital transformation in accounting and finance, shows you what good looks like, then helps to get you there!

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