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Pioneer of the Week: Jacqueline Gold of Ann Summers

Thought Leader

Pioneer of the Week: Jacqueline Gold of Ann Summers

It’s time to celebrate all the pioneering female entrepreneurs out there.

 

This week Jacqueline Gold, CEO of Ann Summers, is taking the role of our honorary Pioneer of the Week. Here’s how she went from ditching the power suits, transforming Ann Summers to take on the high street, and empowering women around the world.


Jacqueline Gold.jpg

 

How did you take the lead with Ann Summers to empower women in a male dominated industry? What was the biggest challenge?

 

My career with Ann Summers has been beyond colourful and full of challenges, some of which have been easier to overcome than others!  

If I was to pick one challenge then it would be from the very early days when I took the idea of Ann Summers party plan to the board and asked them for investment to launch my idea.  I was 21 years old, had no business experience or training and had to walk in to a room full of grey suited older men and convince them that my idea was worth investing in and would take the business forward.  I remember vividly walking down the corridor (which seemed very long at the time!), and walking in to the boardroom to face a sea of faces that I knew were already doubting me.  I pitched my idea, it took every ounce of courage I had, and waited for their response. 

 

The first was from a board member who turned round and said “Well this isn’t going to work is it, women aren’t even interested in sex” – as I’m sure you can imagine I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. I thought his statement said a lot more about his sex life than my idea! I of course challenged his view, kept pushing my idea and eventually they agreed to give me the investment.  That year I launched party plan, and in our first year we reached a turnover of £80,000.  Party Plan continued to grow rapidly, and the rest as they say, is history!

 

I have never been someone to be bullied, and if I believe in an idea I will do all I can to make it happen.  This has got me through many challenges in my career and for any woman wanting to launch their own business, you have to be tenacious.  There will be knock backs and so many challenges, but these will be eclipsed by the many highs and success and those pinch me moments when you look around and see what you have achieved.

 

What can we do now to encourage more female entrepreneurs?

 

More role models of great female entrepreneurs will always inspire others and I believe we need to do more to celebrate the successes of female entrepreneurs so that others can see what is possible.  Taking the plunge to set up your own business can be completely terrifying, and the more support that can be provided practically (such as advice with loans, business planning, and employee management) combined with peer to peer support the better.  Women also need to find the courage to believe that they absolutely can set up and run their own businesses. 

 

Having that courage to make your idea a reality is a huge step, and leads to greater confidence.  The more we can do to increase women’s confidence through networking, advice sharing, mentoring and inspiring role models the better.

 

What is the biggest obstacle you think female founders face?

 

I wouldn’t say there are a specific set of obstacles that are unique to women, I think all entrepreneurs face similar challenges. 

 

There are sadly more high profile male entrepreneurs and I do think that this does impact whether women believe that setting up their own business is a viable option for them.  If you can’t see individuals that are similar to you doing it and be inspired by them it can be harder to think it’s a viable path for you to pursue.

 

Women also tend to think first about what they can’t do, rather than all that they have achieved and their potential. I see so many women who just don’t believe in themselves, whereas men will always think that they can do anything – regardless of their experience or whether this is true! 

 

What made you start the WOW awards and what’s your advice to anyone wanting to enter?

 

When I first joined Twitter I noticed that lots of female entrepreneurs were following me and asking for advice.  I loved hearing from these women and was so inspired by the range of incredible business that were starting and thriving.  I saw WOW as a way to not only celebrate and promote these women and their businesses, but to also create a community that allowed them to network, support each other and share experiences. Being an entrepreneur is daunting and can at times be lonely, having a place where you know there are like minded women who have been through the highs and lows and will support you through yours is vital.

 

For anyone looking to enter I would advise them to share what makes them unique, and a photo always draws my attention too!  Each week when I judge the entries, I look for businesses that have a real USP, have spotted a gap in the market, have a strong website and demonstrate longevity to their business. And if you do enter and aren’t selected immediately, don’t be discouraged!  Keep applying as each week I get so many entries and I can only pick three – the next week might be your week!

 

How important do you think it is to build your network? Where is the best place to start?

 

Networking is the one thing I would do more of if I could go back to the early days of my career.  Having the opportunity to network is so powerful, and anyone that is nervous of networking should remember that when you walk into any room, you might just meet someone that could change your life, so don’t be afraid!

 

Nowadays it’s easy to network online as well as in person, so if you are unsure or nervous then start by looking at online communities and networks that you can join where you can chat with people that are in the same place as you, or can offer advice and introductions.  There are so many people out there that you can learn from and that want to support you, you just need to find that courage to put yourself out there and ask.

 

Did you approach your career differently when you first started in business? If so, how has that changed?

 

When I first started in business I had no formal business training and so had to rely on listening to my customers for feedback and this guided me as to what decisions I would make. I thought this was my biggest weakness but it actually turned out to be my biggest strength! At that time, no one really listened to their customers (crazy I know!) so I was doing something totally different, now we live in such a customer centric world which is exactly the way it should be, customers remain, for me, at the heart of everything we do at Ann Summers and always will.

 

One memory that always sticks in mind is from when I was 23 years old and going to an important business meeting.  I thought that to be taken seriously I should look as masculine as possible (!) so I put on a power suit – it was the 80’s so think HUGE shoulder pads, glasses and tied my hair back.  I came out of the meeting and one of the attendees said that I reminded them of a politician!  From that moment I told myself I would never again try and emulate a man and would stay true to myself and who I am.  If I wanted to wear a dress and high heels then that was fine, that’s who I was and I wasn’t prepared to compromise on that for any one.      

 

Which pioneering female do you think is making changes in business?

 

There isn’t just one, its all of the amazing women that every day are finding the courage to push their careers forward, start their own businesses and challenge those around them to sit up and take notice.  They are the true pioneers and the women that I find so inspiring.

 

Comments
Inventor

Brilliant article!

Ultrafast

Thanks Jacqueline for sharing your story and observations. I agree with the support needed for women. I have so many talented female friends who I believe could make a living in what they truly love doing, yet feel it's impossible or too risky financially. But, they admire my passion for what I do and how I have turned it into a business. It makes me feel alone and rebellious in my peer group at times yet so pleased that my work and approaches inspire them. I'd love to see them have the courage to try!

Thank you for the opportunity on WOW too!

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