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Start your own business, urges Jack Wills founder

Those in the early stages of their careers in fashion retail should not be afraid to start up their own business, Jack Wills founder and chief executive Pete Williams said today.

Pete willams next gen

Pete willams next gen

Speaking at the Drapers Next Generation event in London, Williams told the audience he left a well-paid management consultancy job to set up Jack Wills, because he was not fulfilled.

He said the hardest thing about it was finding enough cash to pay the rent. Yet he urged delegates not to let that dissuade them: “If you have to, get a job in a pub. What have you got to lose?”

Williams described founder-owners as “obsessive and obstinate, like marathon runners”: “They are the catalyst for everything. Without their drive and charisma, those businesses wouldn’t get off the ground.”

But he added that founders can also become the ball and chain that holds the business back, if staff are afraid to challenge their thinking – he said the words “Pete says” are banned in the office.

Giving advice to future leaders, he said: “To be successful, you need a strong personality that gives you the strength to keep going, but also the humility to listen to other people. You need a good team and you’ve got to work hard.”

Asked about how the Jack Wills customer has evolved, Williams compared it to organic chicken breasts.

“They taste and look the same, but one is more expensive than the other. If organic is important to you, you’ll pay a premium for it. Neither is right or wrong, it’s just the way you look at the world.

“We cater a customer who looks at the world the same way we do. Those core principles, the DNA of the business, don’t change, so the customer doesn’t change that much.”

He added that the business is trying to move beyond thinking of its customers in terms of their age.

He touched on the restructuring announced last week, in which it was revealed that Mark Wright will become multichannel director – a new role for Jack Wills.

Williams explained out that customers don’t care about channels in the way retailers do: “We’re aligning the organisation to the customer.”

His final piece of advice was: “If you’re obsessed about the customer, if you intimately understand what they want, how could you fail?”

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