icture the scene: a shy young woman nervously approaches an all-male board in a male dominated industry with a yet unheard of idea. Inspired by a Tupperware style sales party, Jacqueline Gold, pitched the concept of all female sexy lingerie parties to the Ann Summers board; an idea that would rejuvenate the business and eventually come to change the high street as we know it. Despite one man on the board dismissing her idea due that fact that “women aren’t interested in sex”; 36 years and a truckload of lacy thongs and sex toys later, Gold has certainly proved him wrong. Having transformed Ann Summers into a £150m business with around 150 stores and a sales force of 7,500 women as party organisers; Gold triggered a rampant rabbit revolution in living rooms all around the UK, and has now set her sights on empowering women, not only in the bedroom, but also in business.
So with no formal business training how did Jacqueline Gold come to be CEO of a multimillion pound company? Gold says that she has ‘always been hardworking’ and ‘quietly ambitious’, taking on several part time jobs as a teenager in a quest for independence. While doing work experience at her father’s company, a then rather seedy, subdued version of Ann Summers compared to its loud, proud and vibrantly pink presence on the high street today; she found it to be a business owned and run by men, despite the fact its products were designed for women. As a result, Gold says in an interview with The Telegraph, all you could buy was crispy and harsh underwear. “Think black and red. Cheap fabric. Slutty – but not in sexy way”.
Gold’s party plan was turned out to be a huge success. It turned out (shock and surprise) that women were interested in sex after all, as Gold insisted on fun, all-female environments, that empowered women to explore their sexuality. The recent hit ITV drama series Brief Encounters explores these early party experiences, from the awkward to the hilarious; showcasing how before Ann Summers, there was no place to go for women to buy sexy lingerie other than official sex shops. From her first successful idea, Gold progressed steadily through the company, finally being appointed chief executive in 1993 and opening the first store shortly after. Having aimed to ‘liberate women between the sheets’, sex had arrived on the British High Street for the first time – and it was women that were in control.
Gold’s path to success had not run entirely smoothly. She recalled how she has been arrested twice, and once even sent a bullet in the post on opening a store in Dublin, with the company still facing opposition and criticism to this very day. Alongside this, Gold has had more than her fair share of personal tragedy. Opening up in an interview with Louise Peacock, Gold spoke about the traumatic events of her childhood, the death of her 8 month old son, death threats, and even the attempt to poison her by a nanny, but, she said, she has never let these events hold her back. “It’s so important in life not to allow yourself to fall into victim mentality,” she told Peacock in the Face Your Fears podcast. “There’s a huge temptation to do that but it will hold you back. […] There’s nothing like adversity to help you progress forward in life.”
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Following this business ethic throughout her whole career is a reason why Gold is one of the most recognised and successful business women today. Having been awarded numerous accolades for her pioneering entrepreneurial work, the crowning glory being the presentation of her CBE earlier this year for her services to entrepreneurship, women in business and social enterprise; Gold now hopes to be able to help others. Utilising social media, Gold runs the Twitter campaign #WOW every week in order to promote businesses and start-ups run by women. Many exciting female run businesses have been recipients of this award, including Silkarmour, and is part of a wider initiative by Gold to empower women in the workplace. Her advice to women in business, she told The Guardian, is for them to make sure they push themselves out of their comfort zone. “When you do that, she says, “it gives you the confidence to do it more and great things come if you engage more”.
“I have a six-year-old daughter and I want her to believe she can be whatever she wants to be”, Gold told The Guardian, “I think women getting paid less than men for the same job is an outrage and not enough is happening about it”. However, with Gold paving the way not only for her daughter, but ambitious women globally, it is possible to see a future where this is not the case. “Success is about confidence,” says Gold. “But first comes courage”.
Words by Scarlett White