Ann Summers is one of the most recognisable names on the UK high street. Famed for its broad range of lingerie and adult toys, empowering women in the bedroom has been the retailer’s core focus for decades.
But when Jacqueline Gold CBE joined her father’s company at the age of 19 for work experience in 1979, Ann Summers was more of traditional adult shop that catered almost exclusively for men.
At 21, when she pitched what was to become one of the most transformative business lines for the company, the Ann Summers Party Plan — informal, women-only Tupperware-style events where can browse items and play party games at home — she was practically laughed out of the room by the board.
“I remember one board member actually throwing his pen on the table, standing up and saying, ‘Well this isn’t going to work, is it, women aren’t even interested in sex’,” Gold said on Yahoo Finance UK’s Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show.
“I remember thinking, oh my goodness — this says a lot more about your sex life than it does about my idea.”
Ann Summers now organises around 2,500 parties a week across the UK, according to Gold’s website.
Overall, Ann Summers generates more than £100 million in annual sales. The combined worth of Gold, her father David — who also owns a stake in West Ham Football Club — and sister Vanessa — who serves as managing director of Ann Summers — is estimated to be around £470 million, according to the 2019 Sunday Times Rich List.
‘I want all girls growing up knowing they they can be whatever they want to be’
The journey hasn’t been easy. Jacqueline Gold, who became Ann Summers’ CEO in 1993, has overcome a multitude of challenges in both her professional and personal life, she told the Global Change Agents show.
She recalled her abusive and traumatic childhood; receiving a bullet in the post as she prepared to launch the brand in Ireland; being arrested for showcasing her products at a trade show; losing her son at just eight months old; and recently overcoming a cancer diagnosis. That’s not to mention the current turbulent retail environment in the UK and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
She would be forgiven for wanting to retreat from the spotlight, but Gold continues to use her profile to empower women — from the bedroom to the boardroom.
“I want all girls to grow up knowing that they can be whatever they want to be without any ... barriers, without quotas, without gender pay gap,” Gold said. “I want it to be the norm: I don’t want us to be having the same conversation that we’ve been having for the last 30 years. That is when I believe we can say it’s job done.”
Watch the full Jacqueline Gold Global Change Agents interview for:
Gold on when “the penny dropped” for the Ann Summers party concept
Gold’s early steep learning curve in business
The people Gold takes inspiration from
How traumatic events in Gold’s life made her stronger
Gold on Ann Summers’ past challenges — from receiving a bullet in the post, to taking the UK government to court
How Ann Summers strives to stand out against a wave of new online competitors
Gold’s view on Brexit
Gold’s biggest career regret
Gold’s advice to women looking to advance their careers
Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded explores the journeys of some of the world’s most inspirational women across business, tech, and academia. Catch up on all the latest episodes here.