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How Ann Summers' CEO overcame trauma and adversity to build her retail empire

Lara O'Reilly
Executive Producer

Jacqueline Gold transformed Ann Summers from a traditional high street sex shop into a multi-channel retailer aimed at empowering women in the bedroom, which now pulls in sales of more than £100 million a year.

But Gold, who received a CBE for her services to entrepreneurship in 2016 and is often cited as one of Britain’s richest women, was forced to overcome a multitude of hurdles along the way.

Speaking on Yahoo Finance UK’s Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show, Gold recalled just some of the many setbacks she has faced during her lifetime — and how they made her strong, more resilient and determined to succeed.

“I had a very difficult childhood,” Gold said. Later in her life, “I lost my son [when he was] 8-months-old; I have had breast cancer; I’ve received a bullet through the post when I tried to open a store in Dublin. That’s just the beginning — there’s been other issues as well — but I think that it has shaped my life.”

Watch the full Jaqueline Gold Global Change Agents interview here

Jacqueline Gold on Yahoo Finance UK's 'Global Change Agent with Lianna Brinded' show. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK

Gold said her recent breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent recovery is an example of how she looks for a positive in difficult situations rather than opting to be a victim.

“I thought there is an opportunity here for me to have a second chance,” Gold said. “There’s an opportunity here for me to live a healthier life, to eat healthier, to be more engaged with life, and do the things that I feel really passionate about.”

“I did then receive a bullet in the post”

In terms of professional setbacks, Gold recalled the resistance from the Dublin Corporation in the late ‘90s to Ann Summers opening a store in the Irish capital. In response, Gold invited two members of the Corporation to meet in order to get a better view of the business and what Ann Summers was hoping to achieve.

“All I ever wanted to do was empower women in the bedroom,” Gold said. “I wasn’t trying to shock people.”

“They came over and, to cut a long story short, they were men on a mission. They had an agenda, and their parting words to me [were], ‘We cannot be held responsible for what might happen to you’,” Gold said. “And of course, nothing to do with them, of course, but I did then receive the bullet through the post.”

Gold’s brush with the law

On another occasion, Gold was arrested for displaying Ann Summers products at a trade show in Bristol and told to close down her stand or face charges.

“I thought, do you know what, I know not doing anything wrong here. I’m going to carry on. And of course I did and they didn’t come back,” Gold said.

“It’s about courage, so it’s not just about resilience. It’s about thinking: No, I believe in this, I’m passionate about it, and that’s what I did.”

In perhaps her most high-profile challenge to authority, Gold took the government to court in 2003 after Ann Summers was banned from advertising for staff in job centres.

The Department for Work & Pensions had argued job centres shouldn’t be advertising roles connected with the “sex or personal services industry,” the BBC reported at the time. Ann Summers won the case and the ban was overturned.

Jacqueline Gold at the High Court in London in 2003. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

“The irony is that with all the press outside [the High Court], we were the lead story on News at Ten, so we didn’t actually have to advertise for some time after,” Gold said.

“I felt at the time it was very important to put our stake in the ground and to stand up for what we believe in.”

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.