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Naomi Simson entrepreneur EO

It is always wonderful to discover the journey of successful female executives. Last week I had the privilege of meeting the 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 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. (ie 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 work force.

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 retail is essential ie it is not ‘bricks & 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 are 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 retail customers

Reader Interactions


  1. Wonderful lady, truly inspiring. Numbers guru and savvy business lady at the top of her game. 2million transactions per week through the Big W chain.
    Julie wore a gorgeous outfit and then went on to explain her jacket and pants are from Big W at a total cost of $50 for the outfit!
    This is one example of the woman clearly wearing the clothes!
    Bravo Julie.

  2. Very good advice from Julie Coates to women about remaining in the workforce to keep their skills, contacts, networks up to date. It is essential to building a career path for yourself, for your own sanity, freedom, self worth and financial security.

    Women generally retire with half the super balances of men because of the gender pay gap and lost super contributions during their child-bearing years. If they stayed out of the workforce for long it would mean not only loss of income, but loss of super. I don’t think many women thought to make up for loss of super before their child bearing years by making extra voluntary contributions. They say you need to contribute about 8% to make up for those years out of the workforce. It would be rather difficult to re-enter the workforce after an extended period of leave because unfortunately mothers are still being discriminated against in the workplace. There are bosses who don’t like hiring women with children for fear of them rushing home for every whimper and stuffed nose.

    Having said that I acknowledge that many women have different priorities when the children come along, which is fine. However at the end of the day, you want to ensure you are making decisions that are financially sound for yourself to provide with the life you want to live. Having money gives you more choices than otherwise, so it is true you must make small sacrifices to reap long term rewards.

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