Mar 8, 20208 min read

Interview with Jane Wilson, Head of International Trading at Gymshark.

Emily Thomas

by Emily Thomas

Jane Wilson, Head of International Trading at Gymshark.

Where did you start your career, did you always know what you wanted to do?

I started my career at The Hut Group in Manchester, but at university I studied modern languages with the aim of becoming a translator. I was fortunate and attended ISTI (a translation school in Brussels), it was there I realised that actual translation wasn’t for me. Instead of repeating other people’s ideas and opinions, I wanted to be giving my own. Obviously, that put a bit of a spanner in the works, but I finished my degree at Manchester, got good grades and that’s when I started an eCommerce internship at The Hut Group (that’s now 9 years ago).

How did you get your current role at Gymshark, did you know about Ben and the team before joining?

I’m from Bromsgrove which is where Ben (Gymshark’s founder) is from. We always heard about Gymshark and what this local lad had done from his garage – it was inspiring to everyone in the local area. However, I’d never had an interest in having a career in the Midlands. Even though I stayed living around the Midlands, I’d been working in London for the 7 years prior to joining Gymshark. It was only when I was pregnant with my son that I realised that commuting and the London way of life might not be for me anymore. Steve Hewitt (Gymshark’s CEO) sent me a message on LinkedIn and asked if I’d be interested in having a conversation and of course the answer was yes.

What are the greatest challenges or frustrations you face as a woman at the top (if any)?

Gymshark is ever so slightly different to other retailers in their entire ethos – the best idea wins and it doesn’t matter who that idea comes from man, woman, chief level, executive. It’s so open that anyone can share an idea. So for that reason it’s not a struggle being a woman at Gymshark, but I know that I’m fortunate to be saying that which is unfortunate. I do think that times are changing, and I believe that for women nowadays the stereotypes are changing. We are getting rid of terms like bossy and we are saying things like assertive. Gymshark is ahead of that curve so for that reason it isn’t hard to be a woman at Gymshark.

The harder part is that it can sometimes be a challenge to be a mother at Gymshark, being in a minority however, Gymshark is totally supportive of every area of a woman’s life and that’s a fantastic position to be in. I don’t feel persecuted in any way having priorities that lie outside of the four walls of work.

The key at places like Gymshark and other organisations where you do have women in leadership positions is that the women in those positions don’t just conform and change who they are because of their position. Pushing the female agenda is something that every woman should be doing, and those in leadership positions should make sure that the voices of the many get heard and are championed within the organisation. This will hopefully then filter out to the industry and then ultimately the world.

Who is a woman who inspires you?

I don’t have a celebrity who inspires me, I’ve never been one for celebrity culture. Similar to lots of women, my mum is the woman who inspires me. My father passed away when I was very young leaving her to single handedly care for a two year old disabled son alongside me and my sister. I think if you grow up around someone who is so strong, and so resilient consistently putting other people first, that rubs off on you. She’s now got three really successful children and I think that’s because she never let her circumstances dictate the standard at which she should operate and raise her children.

In terms of your career, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am proudest of the fact that I have been able to take on the challenge of motherhood and not let my professional standards slip. It’s hard and emotionally, I have wobbles wondering if I am doing the right thing; should I be spending more time with my son, should I be spending more time at work, do people judge me for leaving the office at 5:30. All of these things cross your mind, but I think there is this concept that women have to trade one or the other. You either have to be a slightly worse mum, or, you have to be a slightly worse employee. I disagree, I think you can maintain both to a really high standard – it just depends on how much drive you have behind you. Instead of using kids as an excuse, use them as a motivational tool. Know that even though you probably spend less time with your child than other women, you’re doing it for the best possible reason so that they can have the best possible life.

Be accepting of when you can’t do it all because there will be those days. Instead of running yourself into the ground trying to do it all, take a step back and take some time. I’ve learnt to put myself first so that I can then be the best mother and worker that I can be.
Taking time out to work on yourself and your mental health is ok. Prior to having my son I would never have done that I would’ve kept going until I had some sort of meltdown.

What’s the riskiest move you’ve taken in business?

My decision to stop living in the South of England and start commuting to the Midlands was the riskiest move. It had a huge impact on my physical resource. I would spend 2.5 hours each way, so 5 hours a day commuting from Bromsgrove in the suburbs of Birmingham to London. It was super risky, but I did it because I thought my quality of life would be better. It was tough with the earlier starts and later finishes, I couldn’t stay in the office late because I had a train to catch, but it definitely helped connect me to my roots and be closer to my family. It was also fantastic for my mental health and life outside of work; ultimately I think that made me more productive in work because I had time to decompress in the evening and at the weekend.

What 3 traits do you think are most important when running a successful business?

1. Compassion, no-one wants to work for a manager who doesn’t understand their lives and what makes them tick
2. Motivation and leadership, accepting you can’t do everything by yourself you need good people around you to get the job done
3. Transparency and trust, which Steve Hewitt the Gymshark CEO does really well. When your employees feel valued and that the business trusts them, you unlock so much more from them. Steve is a phenomenal example of that, he cares about every single person in the business. When you feel trusted, you don’t just want to do a job because you’re getting a salary, you want to do a job because you want everyone to get their salary and help the business grow.

What’s the best business advice you have ever received?

My old boss at Arcadia told me do whatever makes you tick, because at the end of the day when you look back in 50 years time, you will be so glad you didn’t spend your days wishing the time away, you will be glad you spent your time doing something you care about. If you don’t care about it, don’t do it. It was really valuable because it’s a whole different perspective when you think about things like that.

Any advice to future female leaders?

– Don’t change who you are based on what you think that people expect of your gender
– Be strong, be fierce, share your opinions
– Ultimately make sure your voice is heard, your voice is just as valuable as any other voice in the business, regardless of gender