Sarah Miles is one of the top executives for Amazon’s Fashion Europe.
Having worked for Diageo, Reuters and Gemini, Sarah brought decades of experience in global business and leadership when she joined Amazon in 2014.
As a leader in branded consumer goods and online retail, she is focused on leading international teams towards growth through her expertise in management, digital strategy, innovation and marketing.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role.
I’m a forty-something mother of three with 25 years experience in consumer product and strategic marketing.
In 2014 I was lucky enough to join Amazon, and I joined the fashion team in 2017. As a long-standing Amazon customer and also a fashion lover (I was one of those children who ringed outfits they wanted in catalogues) I was super excited by the opportunity.
I was one of the founding members of Amazon Fashion’s private brands team which has launched a number of successful brands in categories including womens, mens, kids and intimates.
A big part of my job is to bring marketing and business development closer together, so I’m often talking to brands.
During my career I have lived in Africa, Asia and Europe. I always wanted to work across multiple markets. I’m hard-wired as a pan-European and I love working with our dedicated teams in places like Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I don’t think I planned my career, but I have always been given my absolute best, especially when faced with a challenge.
Throughout my career I have tried to be ‘choiceful’ – I targeted companies and practiced new skills to get me there. I talk to lots of people and love networking, so I was able to research Amazon and was well-prepared to come here and to learn new skills.
Amazon had huge appeal for me as it presented an opportunity to change history. When Amazon enters a new sector or a new market, it wants to make it work better. We are customer-obsessed and that reflects my own mentality. I also love working alongside highly capable, passionate people.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
I think my biggest challenge has been to find the right work-life balance. It’s important to put time aside for yourself, your friends and family.
Over the years, certain roles have stretched me – especially when learning a new skill or sector. I put pressure on myself to do things well and add value. It’s natural to criticise yourself and that should be considered a positive trait if you want to pick up new skills quickly.
Those challenges should motivate you – they’re exciting and stimulating!
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I’m always proud when working within or leading a team that collaborates brilliantly to deliver a fantastic product or customer experience.
Launching Amazon’s private fashion brands – like Iris & Lilly and find – is my proudest achievement in recent years. We really believe they are better products at a competitive price, and I’m excited about the future for Amazon’s private brands.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
We’re all formed by our childhood experiences. I was lucky to have three brothers and my parents were academics. We played a lot of sport – it was a competitive but fun childhood with lots going on. We had time to explore the great outdoors.
Having a relatively big family means I love people – working alongside them, helping them and learning from them.
My philosophy is to work hard and be nice to people. It’s as simple as that!
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I’m a huge believer in mentoring. It’s a two-way process that everybody benefits from if you get it right. I have certainly benefited from a few different mentors over my career – sometimes they give you tough advice and hold a mirror up to yourself.
As somebody who is lucky enough to have benefited from mentoring, I always carve out time to help colleagues, friends and team members. And they are always able to teach me something in return.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
Great question – I think there are two important aspects.
Firstly, flexibility is vital – allowing employees to work while tending to their other needs like parenthood. Amazon is brilliant at this. For example, I often work from home one day a week, which gives me extra time with my kids.
Secondly, we need leaders who truly understand and believe in the value of diversity. There are many examples proving that diversity is good for business. Role models – both male and female – are key, particularly those who embrace change and understand that it’s better for the collective if they tackle their own unconscious biases. Acknowledging those biases which we all hold is the first step to overcoming them.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint!’
Early in my career I was in a hurry to climb the ladder. With age, I realise that a lot of skills development comes in the third or fourth year of a job – or even when you take a sideways step in your career. I realise now that the more nuanced aspects of my skillset have come from unexpected places or at odd times. Sometimes new skills and qualities come from a place you didn’t even know existed, so it’s important to be open.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
There’s still so much to do with Amazon Fashion across Europe – so many opportunities to provide a broader product range at competitive prices, a better on-site experience and to build an even stronger team.
Whatever happens, I’ll always be myself – and I want to help others to be their best self. You can’t do that on your own. Challenging yourself and getting outside your comfort zone is a great way to build confidence and skills. Never feel lonely when trying to improve – there will always be somebody who can help.