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Luxury leaders: an interview with Sue Farrow

Written by

Jessica Marrazzo

Posted on

May 30, 2022

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career background

I started my career at the age of 15, working as a Saturday girl at a local independent shoe store. I loved it so much, I worked there throughout all my time at university. I’m really a shop girl at heart and my love of retail remains as strong today as it did then over 38 years ago.

At the age of 23, I was lucky enough to start as a Store Manager for the luxury Swiss shoe company, Bally. I found my way into the business through a connection of my former boss. I moved to London and began working with a small group of inspirational female managers in what was definitely a man’s world. It was so tough, and you had to constantly prove yourself. Looking back, it was really the grounding I needed. I would always encourage younger managers to listen, pay attention and ask questions early in their career. It’s important to absorb everything and never ever give up. Working my way through various stores, I had the privilege of opening the brand’s concession in Harrods. It wasn’t long before Harrods asked me to join them, making this a pivotal moment in my career. 

Harrods was the ultimate training ground for any luxury retailer. My time spent there was truly incredible. I built boutiques with leading luxury fashion houses, travelled to fashion capitals and worked with some of the most inspirational female retailers out there. We still remain friends to this day. This experience gave me a fascinating insight into the clients’ end-to-end shopping journey across fashion, beauty and lifestyle. It taught me to never be complacent, never stop being curious, never be afraid to stand out in a crowd. And to never ever lower your standards. 

From there, you moved to Burberry. What was that like?

The brand was only just venturing into luxury, and I was excited to be a part of it. I worked with the likes of Rose Marie Bravo, Joy Frommer and Angela Ahrendts. All great female leaders who were fearless, driven, passionate – and most importantly – lead with empathy. Perhaps the highlight was opening the Burberry Regent store in 2012. It was triple the size of any store we’d previously opened, a true global flagship. The team delivered it with immense pride. 

How did that experience hone you as a leader in luxury?

I took on so many invaluable learnings throughout my time at Burberry. I learned to believe and see the best in people, that meaningful engagement with colleagues is key. It’s crucial to take a real interest in your teams and make sure that they are the best, amplifying their strengths as well as supporting their learning and development. I’ve always valued teamwork throughout my career. You need to be able to trust the people around you to be experts in their fields, let them do their job, make mistakes and develop. They will thank you for it later. 

Most recently, you’ve moved into taking on independent mentorship roles. Why do you think mentorship is so important within the industry? 

The up and coming talent will be the leaders of tomorrow so its vital to share your knowledge and insights of the industry with them to support their growth and get them on the right path.Its also beneficial to keep your  finger on the pulse of the younger generation as they work and think very differently to generations before.Providing the tools knowledge and resources to help them land their dream jobs also allows you to gain fresh perspectives and fresh ideas about the industry and allows you to give back to the industry that you love.

What do you think makes a good mentor? Have you had someone who was able to provide you with guidance in this way earlier on in your career?

You need to be passionate about people with a genuine interest in whats right for them and not always what worked for you.Strong active listening skills are a must as you need to interpret verbal and non verbal messages that are being sent, so you can share the appropriate feedback,plus you must have the time for physical and emotional availability.

Sharing your own stories can also be important so the mentee can trust that you have followed a similar path and their journey is possible. If they see a role model in you they will trust your guidance and motivation which is key. Having access to identify resources, develop contacts and giving them support to set goals and explore their careers is also important.

I’ve had the great fortune to work with many great mentors during my career, of course some were my direct line managers, but it also important to look for people who dont work and think like you and across other fields so you can broaden your perspectives on the industry as a whole and enhance your overall skill set.

Is there anything you’d recommend to complement mentoring?

I’ve always believed in the power of great relationships and a strong network. So I’d definitely encourage young people to develop and nurture their friendships, both in and out of their industry. I’m fortunate to remain close to many people I’ve met over the years. I have many friends in the fashion business that I’m able to call on for a favour or advice. I continue to be so proud of the people that I’ve worked with who have gone on to achieve great things in their careers. We always find time to keep in contact. Mentoring gives you the chance to change someone else’s world, so what can be better than that.

Where do you see your future taking you?

For now I’m enjoying working within the Charity Sector, I’m mentoring and coaching some amazing  people and learning about this fascinating industry. I’m also working with a charity who help disadvantaged women get back into work which is humbling and so rewarding.I want to continue to do more so open to anything where i can add value and make a difference 

What advice would you give for someone starting out in their luxury career?

Always stay open-minded. Have confidence in yourself: a positive self-image assures strength, ability and value. Hindsight is so valuable, and I would never ask my team to do something that I have not done myself. Life is a journey and you will make many mistakes, but you will always learn from them. Make lots of friends and surround yourself with people who inspire you, understand you and make you feel good about yourself.

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