Inspirational Woman: Jo Davies | Managing Director, VIM Group

Jo DaviesJo Davies is Managing Director of VIM Group, a world-leading brand implementation and brand management specialist.

An organisation’s brand is its most valuable intangible asset – in fact it can represent up to 18 per cent of its total market value on average. But many businesses still underestimate or misunderstand the value of their brand and its ability to drive business growth.

With VIM Group, Jo helps some of the biggest organisations in the world – including Deutsche Telekom, Deloitte, ING and IKEA – to implement rebrand programmes and save millions through better structure, control and efficiency of their brand organisation.

Having led the London office since 2014, Jo has overseen continued growth in the international and domestic market. She also acts as a mentor for younger generations, sharing a business philosophy of hard graft, perseverance and good humour.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role.

I come from a military family: both my mother and father were in the Royal Air Force.  During my childhood we moved to Germany, which meant I was able to live and be educated in different cultures. Those experiences shaped me for the better, and by the time we moved back to the Midlands I was way ahead of my peers in school.

We had a tough, outdoorsy mentality. We didn’t fear change. It was an exciting childhood but also disciplined. As an aircraft engineer, my father was precise, practical and measured – and that meant I spent a lot of time around machinery and aircraft. In that kind of lifestyle, you have freedom to explore within clearly defined boundaries. That sense of accountability and curiosity has definitely informed my career today.

At 17 I was more motivated by hands-on practical work than academia, so I left school to build a career in retail and branding. I began on a Sainsbury’s shop floor and quickly rose through the ranks – in fact I held a management position by 19, responsible for a £500k turnover and 30 staff. I went on to a role as Project Display Manager for more than a hundred stores, which led to a series of roles with both branding product suppliers and strategic branding agencies.

My top priority right now is to get VIM Group recognised as a world-leader in brand management and brand implementation. We practice the idea that brand and business strategy should be a reciprocal relationship, using specialist knowledge to help organisations deliver business growth through better brand execution. We’re proud to list huge global names like Airbus, BMW and Merck as clients.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

The short answer is no! I couldn’t necessarily have planned the way my career has panned out. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The long answer is that I originally wanted to be a forensic scientist as I have a logical, inquisitive mind. I was always ambitious. I knew that I wanted my voice to be heard, I was results driven and I wanted to maximise all of the positive traits I had developed as a child.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? 

I’m going to pick on my gender! In my early career, I was a young woman working in the retail construction sector alongside groups of older men who had their own area of expertise and their own way of doing things. Working in that kind of environment, you realise how deep unconscious bias goes.

I had to demonstrate my skills and expertise to get my message across. Being factual and logical was really useful. I was also a grafter and a problem solver, so I delivered everything that I promised. I had to work twice as hard to be considered an equal.

I always find humour goes a long way – being personable and respectful costs nothing. I would back that up with finding a common ground, whether it was somebody’s background, the football scores, comedy or popular culture. All of that knowledge and intuition plays a key part in relationship building.

But I didn’t have to fake it – I’m a big Leicester City fan, I’m fascinated by the world around me, I love stand-up comedy, live music and the creative arts. When you question ideas and push boundaries, your integrity shines through.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Considering my age at the time, managing an entire Sainsbury’s department at 19 felt huge. I was responsible for profit and loss, stock, ordering, standards and staff management. I had the keys to the store and the safe – I felt ten feet tall!

Later on, moving from the vendor world to branding agencies was a vital pivot in my career. I had to prove that I had the knowledge and capability to excel in an entirely new environment.

I also survived a few redundancies over the years – always out of my control unfortunately. Anybody who has experienced a redundancy will understand that you have to crack on and you will come out the other side as a better professional.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I’m fearless – it’s an in-built personality trait from an adventurous up-bringing and a strong family. The military is a community which reflects the family unit, where you are taught to work collectively in order to achieve.

You have to be respectful of everybody but also tough individually. And you have to love change, rather than fear it. Being practical, logical and amenable has been vital for my career.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Over the years I’ve done speed mentoring, informal mentoring and more formal setups where I’ve been matched with a mentee. I provide mentoring through an organisation called Generation Success – but the challenge is always carving out enough time!

I often question the lack of male role models for women. I’ve worked with some incredible senior men who have a brilliant, forward-thinking perspective. In business, diversity of thought is a key driver for innovation – so surely we should all be more open to a perspective that may differ from our own?

I do understand the barriers that exist for women in that sense. Besides the basic lack of availability and access to positive male role models, it may be that we fear judgement, the power dynamics or a lack of respect. But I have worked with some incredibly supportive men who have helped my career. I wish there was more understanding on both sides about the power of mentoring between men and women. The adage about ‘pale, male and stale’ is not always true.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Parity is a complicated subject and it’s deeply individual. Personally, I have great spatial awareness, I understand construction, I’m great at reading maps and technical drawings. A lot of men can’t do those things!

I have seen massive changes over the years, but it will take a few more generations to achieve parity. We know that millennials are changing things and they will vote with their feet if a business fails to balance purpose with profit.

But we aren’t doing enough to accelerate that change. Education is vital and attitudes to diversity, inclusion and innovation need to be more prominent on the agenda as they will have long-term benefits for our society. Our education system can be too prescriptive at times and we cannot do it on the cheap.  It also needs to start at home and in our general upbringing to create a holistic approach to gender parity.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I’ve always been detailed-oriented and that has helped my career. But I would advise myself to understand how those details build the bigger picture. As a senior professional, when you’re managing from a higher level, the detail is less important. You need to learn how to have an overview of the details without get lost in it. That’s a really important transition as your career progresses, but it’s rarely discussed.

For somebody just setting out, the details are so important. Don’t be sloppy in your communication. Check and double check your work, cut out the mistakes and get a colleague to check it. Some people will never forgive a sloppy mistake.

I also think it’s important to understand the money, even if that’s not part of your job. Understand what is good for business, what sells, how to sell and how to make money.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Well at home I need to fix my washing machine and re-fit the bathroom!

But at work I’m on a mission to build our London base and our international offering by pushing a message about the unique work we do at VIM Group. I’m delighted to be driving profitable growth while creating a good learning environment where my team can grow and eventually become mentors themselves.

As my career progresses, I want to do more mentoring and I want to create a stronger point of view for myself – to be more ‘present’ so I’m better prepared to give back.

For example, I want people to be able to connect with me, so they benefit from my experience. I get a kick out of mentoring. Whether it’s direct contact or speaking to the media, translating that experience into a positive message is great for anybody’s sense of purpose – and the world of branding is all about purpose.

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