Ann Summers chief executive Jacqueline Gold has been credited with transforming the lingerie company into a more female-friendly business – and in the process has become Britain’s 16th richest woman, according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List. So what was the key to her success? Gold believes that identifying a gap in the market was what turned Ann Summers into such a recognisable brand.
‘I knew that women were desperate to buy sexy lingerie and sex toys, but there wasn’t anywhere they could do that which offered a female-friendly, safe environment.’ she explains.
‘I spoke to friends and saw that we could replicate the popular concept of ‘at home’ parties, but with Ann Summers products. The reaction from that very first party demonstrated instantly that customers loved it, and we haven’t looked back since.’
Gold believes that in business, it is far too easy to get distracted by what your competitors are doing: ‘It’s important to stay focussed on your own business, whilst keeping a regular check on what others in the market are doing.’
It has not always been plain sailing for Gold. As a woman, she has met with opposition to her ideas in the boardroom – and the recent row over the gender pay gap at the BBC suggests that attitudes are still slow to change.
‘When I started in business 35 years ago there were very few women in business. Where we are now is of course a huge move on from that time, but I am so disappointed that we are still having to have conversations about gender equality in the workplace. I would have thought that in 35 years more would have changed.’
‘Equality in the workplace is a huge passion of mine and we all need to be doing more. This isn’t just a female issue, it is everyone’s issue. For individuals, businesses, business leaders and the government to all pull together and start to make real changes in this area.’
‘We need more female role models, better flexible working, more support for working parents, balanced careers advice and we need more women to shout about their success and for men to help promote these successes too. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the next generation isn’t still having this conversation and that the doors are fully open to all.’
She argues that there are many facets to being a successful businesswoman and running a business – and that there is more to success than making millions.
‘To run a successful business, whether it has a turnover of £100,000 or £150m, is about showing a passion for what you do, having a focus and drive to succeed, truly understanding what your customer wants and being a leader that inspires and encourages.’
But despite the time pressures of being an entrepreneur, Gold believes that work-life balance is important: ‘Being in business is a full-time job, but it doesn’t have to take over and it’s not healthy for it to take over. Balance between home and work life is critical.’
She offers the following advice to would-be entrepreneurs setting out in the business world today:
‘You have to have a thick skin and be willing to stand up for what you believe in, but you don’t have to be aggressive to do this. Stay true to yourself and your style of management and people will respect you for that.’
Gold believes that the Ann Summers’ business still has longevity despite the challenges of Brexit, terrorism and soaring business rates: ‘There is no doubt that the [UK] High Street has been a challenging place for all retailers over the last few years, but I believe it’s important that we continue to focus on our high streets and on creating an experience for our customers to enjoy.’
‘Ann Summers has had a presence on the British High Street for many years. We are committed to continuing this presence in to the future and creating a unique shopping experience for our customers.’
She adds: ‘People will always have sex, and there are of course peaks when people are having more sex than not. The trend for staying in rather than going out has been good for us; as you might expect, people want to have fun nights in at home and Ann Summers provides many solutions for ensuring you have a very fun night whether that’s an Ann Summers party with your best friends, or date night with your partner.’