Back in March, I wrote my annual column on International Women’s Day, celebrating the inspiring female leaders who had been nominated for the Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman and Bold Future Awards. Sitting on the judging panel for the last ten years has been one of the biggest privileges of my career – and I could hardly wait for the ceremony and the chance to profile the winners.
But, as you may have already guessed, Covid-19 got in the way. At the time, I was disappointed that the announcements were to be postponed, but now – six months later – I feel they will have an even bigger impact.
Firstly, this year’s awards provide us all with much-needed reminder to continue thinking about diversity, at a time when many business leaders are focused solely on survival strategies and implementing new models of trading. Secondly, the winner of the Bold Woman Award is perhaps even more deserving of her prize now than she was six months ago, having navigated one of the toughest – if not the toughest – periods in retail history.
The winner of this year’s Bold Woman Award is Anne Pitcher, Managing Director at one of the UK’s most iconic retail businesses: Selfridges.
Over the past two decades, Anne has played a transformative role in defining the UK’s luxury retail landscape. The daughter of a businessman and a journalist, Anne’s love for retail began at just 16 years old, as a store assistant in an arts materials shop in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Instead of the traditional university route, Anne opted to stay in retail, learning the ropes on Harrods’ training scheme.
After 25 years at Harrods, where she was Deputy Merchandising Director, Anne moved to another iconic institution in luxury retail: Harvey Nichols. Here she led buying for womenswear, menswear and accessories, before being promoted to Buying & Merchandising Director in 2005.
In 2011, she moved to Selfridges & Co to lead Selfridges stores in the UK as Managing Director. It was here that Anne oversaw significant investment into the heritage business, including launching the accessories hall in London and Birmingham’s enhanced footwear offering. In 2018, Anne was appointed Group Managing Director at Selfridges & Co, giving her responsibility for Selfridge’s UK estate as well as Ireland’s luxury stores Brown Thomas and Arnotts, Holt Renfrew in Canada, and de Bijenkorf in the Netherlands.
Anne is one of the few leaders in luxury department stores who looks after stores and online operations. Respected by brands world-over, she is not only excellent at what she does, but has been able to share her skills with countless young people, and teach the art of buying and spotting talent.
Over the past few months, in the face of never-before-seen challenges, Anne has proven her position as one of the sector’s most forward-thinking leaders. In conversation with the financial website This Is Money, Anne laid out her thoughts on the future of retail:
“The question is how do we come back better than before? You start by being agile in your thinking and being prepared to challenge anything you thought was normal before. It’s important to start thinking about doing things differently and respond to new social behaviours. All that might seem very huge and grand. But look at everything though the lens of the customer, think what they need and build your ideas around that.”
This is already playing out in Selfridges post-Covid strategies, such as its Sustainability Initiative. As part of what it calls Project Earth, Selfridges is collaborating with Hurr Collective to allow shoppers to rent rather than buy luxury items such as dresses and handbags. Under Anne’s leadership, we can expect to see more creative, customer-oriented developments like this.
Alongside the Bold Woman Award, the Bold Future Award celebrates innovative female entrepreneurship. I have always been excited by this category: it is one of the many perks of my job to see up-and-coming female talent shake up the industry, and witness first-hand the impact of having such strong female role models in our sector.
The winner of this year’s Bold Future Award is Celia Pool, co-founder of DAME. Celia’s business is transforming the tampon category, with the world’s first reusable tampon applicator. Launching as recently as 2018, DAME has gone from strength to strength, winning the Dezeen Product Design Award and launching in Waitrose. Covid has made us ever more aware of our planet and the abuse it has been put through. DAME is tackling the environment and to date have offset 100 tons of carbon, is a certified B-Corp and to date 300 million pieces of plastic have been saved from entering our oceans so far by women switching to reusable tampon applicators.
This certainly has been a year like no other. While there’s a long road ahead for much of the corporate sphere, celebrating the successes of inspiring women feels like a welcome return to normality.