COO of THE ICONIC, Anna Lee talks to Power Retail about her e-commerce journey so far, and the role she has to play as a female executive in a thriving professional community.
Starting her career more than 20 years ago as an undergraduate finance student at PwC, Lee has become one of the most recognisable faces in the Australian e-commerce sector. How did she get to where she is today, and how is she helping to promote diversity in the workplace? Speaking to Power Retail, Lee shares her inspiring journey and how proud she is to work for an organisation that promotes “female representation” from the inside out.
Can you please tell us a little about your professional background?
I started my career over 20 years ago in finance as an undergraduate at PwC, where I worked while I studied for my business degree. After I graduated from uni, I went on to gain my Chartered Accountant qualification. I’ve worked at Executive level for over 15 years in a variety of industries including out of home media, group buying and most recently online fashion at THE ICONIC.
In July 2014, I joined THE ICONIC as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and in mid-2017, I was fortunate to be able to pivot my career path by taking up the Chief Operating Officer (COO) role. As the COO, I lead a team of over 500 passionate and talented people, who create liberating, memorable and seamless experiences for our customers each and every day. This drive has seen THE ICONIC consistently achieve one of the highest NPS scores in the country.
What attracted you to the online retail space?
Online retail is an extremely dynamic and fast-paced industry and the growth possibilities are extensive. The nature of online retail in having to constantly innovate and work to improve your customer offering is something I find incredibly appealing.
In an era where customers seek instant gratification, online retail is constantly challenged to meet the ever-increasing expectations of customers. At THE ICONIC, we’re on a mission to redefine the future of retail by creating a seamless shopping experience through world-class delivery, convenient returns, outstanding customer service and a personalised shopping experience anywhere and at any time.
What do you love most about the space?
Throughout my career, I’ve realised that I thrive in fast-paced and constantly changing environments, with online retail certainly fitting these descriptors. I love the challenge of evolving processes at speed and working with a super talented team who have the shared objective of ensuring that any stakeholder who engages with THE ICONIC, whether a consumer, brand or employee, is liberated by the experience. The fashion component, of course, is also certainly a bonus.
Looking at the industry as a whole, do you feel like the e-commerce sector is a welcoming one for women, especially women in executive-level positions?
All industries have challenges when it comes to promoting diversity and inclusivity, it’s no different for the e-commerce sector, however, the progress that has been made is inspiring to see and even more rewarding to be a part of as a leader at THE ICONIC. As a female executive, and an executive of an organisation that is actively engaged in promoting female representation, I know I play a crucial role in continuing to lead by example, challenging the status quo and supporting gender equality.
We recently welcomed Erica Berchtold, our new CEO to the Executive team making our C-Suite one of the highest female proportioned and represented boardrooms in Australia. This is something we’re incredibly proud of at THE ICONIC and with my female C-Suite colleagues leading different parts of our business, I hope it stands as not only an example to aspiring female professionals that no role is unattainable, but also that we can have a deep connection with our customers who are predominantly women.
Alongside the five extremely talented women that join me on our executive team, we are fortunate to work with our two male executives – Patrick Schmidt (Chairman of THE ICONIC) and Alex Meyer (Chief Marketing Officer of THE ICONIC), who actively foster and promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. The chemistry and dynamics of this group in the boardroom are simply amazing and makes for great decision making.
What have you found most difficult about working your way to the top as a woman?
As a leader regardless of gender, all eyes will be focused on you, your values, your behaviours and your ethics, so you have to be authentic. It’s imperative that you are focused on continuing to improve on your strengths and be humble about your weaknesses, while understanding and building the value you can bring to your team and organisation.
It’s been highly rewarding to witness that if you lead by example, and remain steadfast in your values of transparency and fairness, you will earn respect amongst your team. This respect will be crucial in fostering a successful team culture.
What have you found most fulfilling about establishing yourself as a prominent player within the industry?
Beyond my involvement and contribution to THE ICONIC’s creation of a market-leading customer experience, one of my most important successes has been the growth and development of our people, both as individual professionals and a team.
It’s been incredibly rewarding to have helped build and foster a working environment where an entire team is motivated, always up-skilling and prepared to do what it takes for our customers.
I have also loved being able to drive and encourage discussion about key industry topics, along with having involvement in meaningful opportunities to raise awareness and lend support for organisations like Dress for Success and CA Australia & New Zealand, where I am currently an ambassador for both.
What advice would you have for other women looking to work their way up in the space?
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was given by the first CEO I worked with. He told me that I should never try to be ‘one of the boys’, instead stay true to yourself as ultimately this is what you’ll be remembered, respected and valued for by those around you.
This piece of advice speaks to the importance of being authentic and holding yourself to a standard that you will respect yourself for, even if others around you are happy to make compromises.
I encourage all professionals, particularly young females, to take pride in themselves, be authentic and stay true to their ethics and morals, regardless of what might go on around you.
We recently celebrated two talented women in my team with their seven and five-year tenures respectively. The first started her career as a customer service team member and now leads THE ICONIC’s whole Customer Service function, a team of around 100+ staff. The other began as an inbound leader at our Fulfilment Centre and is now the Head of Fulfilment Operations, leading a huge team of over 300. These women are great examples of how anything is possible and that success stories are everywhere.
My advice to female professionals would be that there’s no silver bullet or single answer to furthering your career. Success is built on hard work, a can-do attitude, learning from mistakes, supporting your team while recognising that positive environments and mentors play a huge role in your own success.