When we met Debbie Edwards, Vice President of Gap Europe
This month, I have had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Debbie Edwards, Vice Present of Gap Europe. Myself and some of the team here at MarketMakers were recently attending the UK Best Workplaces™ Awards in London, which is where I met Debbie. Debbie and her team were on the same table as us and placed 18th in the ‘extra-large’ Business category. What a result for their first year of being entered!
Debbie is a super successful woman in business and her story was tremendously motivational. I hope those reading about Debbie’s journey, find it as motivated as I did!
Debbie started by telling me that she never really enjoyed school or sixth form and was very eager to just get out into the world of work. After leaving sixth form at the age of 16. Debbie told me that her first job in the real world was working as a waitress and with her mum on their market stall.
Whilst working on the market stall, Debbie found that she enjoyed learning how to sell, how to lay things out on the stall and working out prices for merchandise and profit margins. This is where her thirst for selling and being in fashion first started.
As a young girl from Essex, (and in Debbie’s words), not too sophisticated. Debbie was employed by Russell and Bromley as her first ‘proper’ job. Shortly after, Debbie then moved onto Hobbs.
Learning the Standards
Debbie told me how there is always one business in your working life that will teach you standards and Hobbs was that business. They would have to scrub the floors and always give every single customer the very best level of customer service. This taught Debbie to always give everything you can. Within Hobbs, at the age of just 19, Debbie was running her own store and was even training managers on how to open Hobbs stores. This is where her first love of developing people came from.
After working at Hobbs for some time, Debbie’s friend told her that she was going to be working for a company called Gap. Gap were due to bring their retail clothing stores over to the UK from America. Debbie followed her friend and got an interview.
Starting at Gap
Debbie joined Gap as the Training Manager. Debbie’s role was to train new management recruits on how to run stores successfully, a key note here is that at this point, Gap only had 5 stores in the UK!
On her first day, Debbie walked into Gap’s Head Office and was presented with a desk and PC and told her first task was to write some training documents. At this point, Debbie recalls how she thought ‘wow, am I out of my depth here?’ After lots of late nights, using her practical knowledge and calling upon people she knew to gain and share experience. Debbie had written Gap’s first ever Sales Training Program and their first Management Development Plan. What an achievement at such a young age with no qualifications!
Within her early career at Gap, Debbie’s boss was very passionate and gave her opportunities because he believed in her. This is something I know I can relate to as someone that doesn’t have any ‘qualifications’. Debbie said that she would often lose confidence in herself because she hadn’t been to university like others, but had gained all of her experience firsthand on shop floors in ‘real life’. That said, Debbie battled her fears and always told herself that she COULD do it.
The Sales Floor
After being within the training role for some time, Debbie realised that she was really missing the sales floor and her team (as well as the clothes!), she spoke with her boss and told him how she was feeling and that she wanted to be in store driving sales and impacting the overall company results.
Debbie’s boss saw something in her that Debbie couldn’t see herself. Debbie was given responsibility of four mini district of stores that were in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. She said she bounded out the office on cloud 9 and loved it. She recalled how she had the mentality that she would not let her boss down for giving her this opportunity.
Debbie’s career continued to go from strength to strength, although Debbie did remind me here that it is not all plain sailing in business, she said you have to take the rough with the smooth. At points everything you touch will turn to gold and at other points, you’ve changed nothing but you can’t seem to crack it, but you must persist and stick with it.
Taking Gap to Italy
After going back to London and running UK Operations, Gap within the UK grew to new heights and kept her engaged within her role. From here, Debbie was selected to launch the Gap brand in Italy. In Italy she learnt to work within a cross functional team, the result of which saw the Milan launch make history, with record sales.
Debbie doesn’t see herself as an ambitious person, she said she’d never had a ‘5 year career vision’. But always, and still to this day, wants to do the best and be the best that she possibly can and because of that others have seen how she could influence the business and have given her these opportunities.
Debbie’s advice was:
“Clear eyes can’t lose, have clear goals and don’t give up on them – have confidence in yourself and your abilities. Ask yourself how you thrive at work? Look for opportunities to learn and grow and show your initiative, find ways to create value for your company by utilising what you are great at!”