Jacqueline Gold is chief executive of Ann Summers and Knickerbox and is renowned for managing a company run by women, for women. She began her career at 21, and conceived and launched the Ann Summers Party Plan.
Today, under Jacqueline’s leadership, Ann Summers is a true multi-channel retailer, with gross annual sales turnover of over £150 million, over 140 UK and Ireland stores, 6,000 party ambassadors and a thriving online business. Jacqueline is also married with a four year old daughter, Scarlett. She tells us who inspires her, the challenges she’s faced as a woman in business, and how she supports other ambitious women.
What has driven you to succeed?
I have always had a real passion for what I do and I believe this passion along with determination has given me the drive to succeed. When I first started Ann Summers party plan I strongly believed that what we were offering was something that women would want and that there was a real need for the party plan concept, and having this belief really focussed me and drove me to make the idea a success.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in business?
Running a business like Ann Summers has meant that I have had my fair share of challenges, and I would say most of these have been in relation to the business and what we do rather than me being a woman. However, that’s not to say I haven’t experienced sexism or judgement because I am a woman – unfortunately you will find most women have felt this at one point in their career.
When I started at Ann Summers I was 21 and a woman in a man’s world. I was desperate to fit in and be taken seriously, and I decided that the best way to do this was to wear power suits with big shoulder pads, tie my hair back and wear glasses. It was only when someone told me I looked like a politician that I realised what I was doing was ridiculous and I should instead be true to myself and embrace being a woman instead of trying to emulate a man.
This was one of the biggest lessons I learnt and since then I have always been proud of being a woman and my femininity and I would encourage other women to do the same; don’t be afraid to be who you are.
Did you change the way you worked after having your daughter?
Absolutely! When you have a child everything changes and you have to adapt your life to a totally new routine. I’m very lucky to have an amazing husband and team around me which has allowed me to balance my role as CEO with being a mummy.
I make sure that during the week I split my time between being CEO and Scarlett’s mummy effectively; I always have breakfast with her and I’m always there for dinner and to put her to bed, and the weekends are always family time. Becoming a mum has taught me to be even more organised, something I didn’t think was possible!
How important is it for you to champion women in business?
This is hugely important to me. When I started in business over 30 years ago there were hardly any women in business and it was a very lonely place for a woman. Whilst things have of course improved and there are now more women in business and female business leaders to act as role models, I still don’t believe enough has changed and I’m disappointed by the low numbers and levels of inequality that there still are.
It’s clear that more needs to be done to increase these figures and I feel extremely passionate about using my experience and influence to be able to help support women in business. There is still a long road ahead and it won’t change overnight, but if we work on creating the right support for women and also work on changing the perceptions of businesses and business leaders towards women then I really do believe we will start to see a change.
How does your #WOW Twitter competition help to support women?
Every #WOW winner that I have had has reported a real increase in visits to their website and enquiries regarding their business, so the first thing I would say the competition gives is exposure. The second is support, from both myself and also from the #WOW winners community and I would say this is the element that provides most ongoing value for the winners.
I have heard from so many women that having a network that offers support and advice is invaluable and that women feel much more comfortable networking in this type of environment and I’m proud that #WOW has created such a community.
How can women enter #WOW?
The #WOW competition runs every Wednesday between 1pm and 3pm. Female business owners need to tweet me using the #WOW hashtag with a brief overview of their business. I will then pick my top three from that week’s entries and announce the winners by 5pm that same day. I look for businesses that have a unique offering, show potential for growth and have an impressive, user friendly website.
What advice do you have for mums thinking of starting a business?
Do your research and make sure that there is demand for the business you are starting. Take time to speak to people about your business idea and listen to feedback about what they like and don’t like and what they need, and use this research to inform your business plan.
One of the best pieces advice I can give is that the most successful businesses are the ones that never stop listening to their customers. Be confident, and if you don’t feel confident remember that courage comes before confidence, so find that courage step outside your comfort zone and I promise you won’t regret it.
Who is your own business inspiration?
Dame Anita Roddick has always been an inspiration to me. She took a concept which she believed in and was hugely passionate about, and stayed true to this and her values through her career. She also wasn’t ashamed of who she was and what she stood for.