Some advice: Work for nothing to get ahead

It is always wonderful to discover the journey of successful female executives. Last week I had the privilege of meeting Big W general manager Julie Coates.

Whilst she primarily spoke of the success of the discount department store over the past few years, I was also interested in her journey through retail to her present role. She started her career as a maths teacher in Victoria. (She is clearly strong with numbers and has a great head for customer experience).

She lamented that she too was surprised that there are not more women in leadership and store manager roles in retail in Australia, given that 75% of all purchase decisions are made or influenced by women.

She said her advice for women is that no matter if childcare is expensive, and it seems as if you are working for no return, you must keep your networks, contacts, and experience to progress.

Julie spoke of a young woman she advised years ago to ‘stick at it’ even though with the cost of childcare it did not make financial sense (i.e. she was effectively working for nil gain). Now, years later, this woman has progressed and her salary more than doubled. This would not have happened if she had stepped out of the workforce.

Many entrepreneurs work for nothing for years to get ahead. We just don’t think of this happening to our corporate counterparts.

Some other insights on retailing from Julie’s presentation:

  • In recent times, with the fluctuation of currency and increasing cost bases, you have to sell twice as much to get the same profit result.
  • Multi-option, or omni-channel, retail is essential i.e. it is not ‘bricks-and-mortar’ versus online; successful retail takes an integrated approach including mobile devices where people will compare prices whilst in your store with other retailers.
  • Innovate constantly. Big W is first retailer to have online layby functionality and pay via mobile.
  • Customers are valuable – care about them. Big W online customers spend twice as much as in-store retail customers.

Naomi Simson has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded,, including the 2011 Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year – Industry.


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