How Cathryn Wills won the top job at bag and shoe maker MIMCO

Cathryn Wills had never really considered herself as a candidate for the top job at handbag, jewellery and shoe label MIMCO. She told at one of a series of ‘Business Events Program supported by NAB’as part of the 2016 Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival.

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Cathryn Wills is pictured second from the left, attending the International Women’s Day Breakfast, supported by NAB.

How Cathryn Wills won the top job at bag and shoe maker MIMCO

Cathryn Wills had never really considered herself as a candidate for the top job at handbag, jewellery and shoe label MIMCO.  She told at one of a series of ‘Business Events Program supported by NAB’as part of the 2016 Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival.

The previous general manager had left and Wills, who was then creative director, asked the CEO of owner the Country Group when they were going to make an appointment.

“He said ‘why don’t you put your hand up for it’,” Wills recalls.

So she decided to apply. “If someone thinks you can do it and asks you to do it, you think, OK, I’ll do it.”

Wills is now managing and creative director at MIMCO, which has 600 staff and 120 stores across Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Her experience of not putting herself forward for a promotion is a common one for women, because women are “incredibly tough on themselves”. Wills says if there are five attributes required for a job, men will say they tick all the boxes, while women will say they have just two or three of the attributes and talk themselves down in the job interview.

“I think that’s a great thing in some ways to keep you on your toes and keep you striving, but I think it’s also quite debilitating and we can all do so much more than what we think we can do,” she says.

She described the progression of her career from knitwear designer to creative director to eventually leading the label, and said taking on the business side was “really tough”.

“I worked incredibly hard, I read a lot and I made sure I looked at the sales numbers every day. I was very fortunate to have [former Country Road CEO Iain Nairn] upstairs taking me through the profit and loss and talking to me about rent deals and daily sales and margins.”

She says when she first started as a manager she had to learn to ask for help when she needed it. “I felt very alone in the leadership journey and had a lot of angst and insecurity about that, but then hopefully as you learn about yourself and progress through time you realise you are actually experiencing very similar things to a lot of other people who have gone along that managerial path, that leadership path, particularly women.”

Wills says the biggest lesson she has learned as a leader is that she can’t do it all by herself. “It sounds like a cliché but it actually is all about the team, how to find the right people, retain the right people, engage the right people,” she says.

“I’m very fortunate to work in the industry and in a role that I love. I couldn’t work the hours and put the energy that I put in – the creative energy in particular but also the team energy, the strategic energy – unless I loved the process and what I do.”

The breakfast was held to mark International Women’s Day, and along with Wills, the audience also heard from Melissa Barbieri, the former captain of the Matilda’s Soccer Team about her battle for equal pay in sport, and from former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja about her work for women’s rights around the world.

NAB is proud to support the 2016 Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival.

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