How retail queen Jane Gordon turned herself into the FMCGenie

Wondering what to do next with your career? Read the inspiring story of Jane Gordon, who turned her back on university to become the retail queen. And discover how, following her divorce, she became the FMCGenie.

My dream job was simple: to do something I was good at

Everyone has a dream job. It might be what you’re already doing. For some it might be to be a pro-sportsman draped in half-dressed bikini clad ladies earning gazillions, showing your recent medals/cups/awards on the cover of a sporty glossy magazine.

For others, it could be getting suited and booted Trump-esque style on the international board of some multinational global conglomerate, with eyes on the next company/country take over.

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For me it was always something far more simple. I just wanted to be good at what I do, be known for doing it well and to ultimately be there for my children.

Sounds easy, right? I am nothing flashy. I never have been. I don’t crave the limelight, draw attention to myself, nor pretend to be something I am not. I was never a good actor or liar and I don’t intend on starting now.

But I have a humble view of where I have been and how my career has progressed. It’s only now that I’m in this place, right now writing this, that I can genuinely reflect and say, ok, I did good!

I chose retail over university

Having chosen not to go to university when all my friends around me had high aspirations in law, architecture, teaching etc, I made my way in the world in retail and I started as one of 3,000 applicants to get one of two roles as a Management Trainee at the much-adored John Lewis Partnership back in the early 90s.

Despite the ordeal of having a JLP uniform that made me look nine months pregnant, my career in the 90s and 00s was amazing. Not that my career was amazing, just that having a career in that field at that time was.

I moved on from JLP to work at Safeway Head Office, and this was when my love affair with FMCG started (FMCG = Fast Moving Commodity Goods. industry jargon for food and drink).

I loved everything about it. The buzz and the cut and trust of the vibrant buying office. I experienced the ‘baked beans wars’ of ’95 (seriously, you haven’t lived!), experienced the demise of Kwik Save, Somerfield and, regrettably, Safeway.

I set up my own sauce business

My foray into something bigger and better came when I started at Premier Foods in the late 90s. This exposed me to the retailers from the supplier side and wow, was it an eye opener.

I was lucky to land a gem of a role, and a boss that, to this day, cannot be bettered because he and gave me the autonomy to get the job done and I shone. These were the halcyon days of retail. A true blessing and, if I’m honest, where I properly learned about the nuts and bolts of retail. Happy, adrenaline-fuelled, hard work but carefree days.

Since then I have observed the growth of the food innovator, and opportunist and accelerator. And from nowhere have seen the rise in high street coffee shops and online shopping, and observed the discounters thriving. Retail has and always will be the barometer of the country. And working in the heart of it, was and still is, a true privilege.

With a few years’ career break to start a family early in the 00s, in 2009/10 I set up my own sauce business with my then-husband, and it was just starting to show success. Selfridges had really got behind it, which in turn was opening doors for further opportunities: Fortum and Mason, Jamie Oliver, National Trust etc.

But the timing was lousy and the income now insufficient, as in 2013 my husband and I separated. I needed to collect my thoughts and I made the leap back into the corporate world.

The sauce business sadly had to be put on ice until such time as I could make it work properly (hold this thought, it might be back sooner than you think!) and I needed something that paid a working wage and fast.

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The long commute didn’t work for my family

So off I went, indeed with a new squeaky suit and killer heels back to do the corporate lifestyle. Still in retail. But having had the freedom and taste of running my own business, this was quite an adjustment.

Here I was, a number. A bod. Another chair to fill. Another partaker of the corporate bake-off, or sponsored stair climb. A watercooler natterer. A discusser of company politics and corporate jargon.

My role was insignificant with a boss so arrogant and obstinate that I knew that whilst in my early career I may have been able to tolerate him then, that the older, wiser me with commitments to a young family, and the “ I simply cannot be arsed with you” attitude, was no longer cut out for this.

Combined with a horrendous daily commute across west London, and kids who have seen the foundations of their family rocked and sent off to various childminders, for many reasons, this was not going to be a long-term solution.

This clearly wasn’t working and my hankering for working for myself grew stronger. The flexibility and accountability. No-one to steel my glory or take credit for someone else’s work. I hate being micro-managed, yet somehow, despite my many years’ experience often much greater than my line mangers’, they seemed to do it. Surely that’s counterintuitive? I have never understood this.

So, after a few years of gaining further experience back in ‘proper work’ in a few other well-known brands, the time has come. I am striking out on my own. After all, if not now, when? My kids are older. I have a new partner. Life has moved on. And I am owning 2017. You watch!

I turned myself into the FMCGenie

Cue weeks and months of wondering what product should I launch? What will make me my fortune and fast? And then came a dawning realisation. I am not looking for a new product to launch. I am the product. I have enough experience to do this on my own.

And it looks like I have made the right decision. I have left my full-time day job and launched FMCGenie. It’s new. A baby of just two months. Something that I have nurtured in my head and heart for quite some time and after a pinch of good luck, some perfect timing and significant risk taking, it’s arrived.

Well, by that I mean the website is launched and the social media is getting chatty. But in its purest form, I have indeed launched a business. On my own. It’s exceeding all expectations too. My diary is full with fee paying clients, and I can hear my (new) other half and co-mortgage payer gasping a huge sigh of relief. Oh ye of little faith!

Today I work from home, I am my own boss and I am no longer micro-managed. Only I can dictate where/what/when. I can take and collect my children to/from school most days. I am there at the end of the day without the stresses enforced in previous roles. I am here. I have arrived. THIS is my dream.

FMCGenie, my third born ( I am a mother of two real people already) is the result of now 30 years in the retail business. I know I don’t look old enough *snigger* but I count my teenage years as chief flunky working in shops in my local town as the foundation of my career.

And in my humble opinion, until you’ve grafted, got your hands a bit dirty and understand your trade at grass roots, you don’t really deserve the next level of success.

So here I am, from handling grubby suits in Sketchleys on a Saturday, to latterly presenting at board level at blue chip Premier Foods, and everything in between (Budgens, Londis, Spar plus a few start up brands for good measure) I’m ready to get this show on the road. Which appears in the short time it’s been active, to be doing mighty well. Thankfully.

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I’m the Girl Friday of FMCG

In my many years in food retail I have covered most categories and sectors of the food and drinks market and have a genuine interest in the SME food and drink sector.

Often founders in this area are still in the infancy of their foodie journey and are too cash flow restricted to take on any full-time people but require assistance with a broad knowledge of expertise not just in one specific area.

FMCGenie has been set up to provide affordable and flexible hands-on executive support and project management in SME Food and Drink environment. I’m a wing woman. A Girl Friday. A safe pair of hands. I am the Swiss Army Knife of retail. *slaps thighs Dan Deany style*

Daily, I have people contacting me and, if we ever meet, you’ll know that I am always happy to chat. I’m good at that! School reports anytime in the 80s would read “Jane is a delight to have in the class. However, she would do much better if she stopped talking and applied herself a little better”.

I hope these days I’m a much better listener and applicator of lessons learned, but I do love a good natter! And over time what sings loud and clear is that of the thousands of new foodie start-ups that launch in any year, the vast majority are launched by people whose only experience of food is a quick trip round Tesco for the weekly shop.

Okay, perhaps a nosey around a local food market, but often the CEOs, founders and head honchos of this world have zero experience in ever launching a food product. So at some point a little intervention with some degree of experience will be needed. Of course, I’m happy to oblige, and my doors are open.

So what’s your dream?

So in essence, your dream job is what lies within. I feel that I can square up to even my lawyer, architect and teacher friends now with pride. And I’m living proof that success can happen even without a degree.

And whilst I might have taken a slightly different path, this one is mine and I am delighted that I am here. I have too many friends that are prepared to travel the other side of the world to chase their dreams and are still unhappily moving around looking for something new. For what exactly, I don’t even think they know. But they are looking externally for their happiness.

For me the dream job is what you make of it, and what, ultimately, makes you happy and content. Even if it is bikini-clad Donald Trumps. Sorry did I just mix my analogies?

So what’s your dream? And when are you going to start making it happen too?

Find out more about Jane and how she can help you on her website