Women in Business Q&A: Annie Jackson, Vice President of Merchandising and Planning, Credo

Women in Business Q&A: Annie Jackson, Vice President of Merchandising and Planning, Credo
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Annie Jackson is a merchant and marketer with more than 20 years of experience and a track record for driving successful specialty retail businesses across multiple brands and channels.

Prior to Credo, Jackson was Director of Product Marketing for Benefit Cosmetics where she was responsible for the product development team, as well as brand strategy analysis for new product launches in new markets.

Jackson's career began at Estée Lauder where she was responsible for implementing the inventory planning division. She advanced quickly in the company in marketing and merchandising before being recruited to join the founding merchant team that started Sephora in the US & Japan.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I started in the beauty business at 19 working for Estee Lauder at a regional office in San Francisco. Unprepared for the workforce is an understatement...I had to borrow a pair of black pumps from my mom for the interview. I'm pretty sure no 19 year old wants to wear anything of their mothers, but I got the call for the interview and had to be there in exactly one hour. The extent of the position was to basically run errands and retrieve lunch for people and coordinate visits from the Lauders and their senior execs. I literally started at the bottom and was given, what I still consider today, the opportunity of a lifetime back then.

I gradually worked my way up within Estee Lauder. I was in marketing in NY when a recruiter called me and wanted to discuss a concept called Sephora. After meeting the Sephora team and understanding the concept, it seemed too intriguing to pass up. No one had ever heard of Sephora (or could really pronounce it) and a single store had not yet to open. My friends and family thought I was crazy...jumping ship from such a prestigious company to a total unknown. I was, in fact, terrified - I have always had a fierce desire to support myself, and be financially independent. So a move made me pretty fearful. Sephora was not only one of the best experiences of my life, but it made me 100% empathize with people that start a position and feel a ton of ambition, but might not yet have the work experience yet to get where they want to be right away. So, if I have any opportunity to lead that certain type of person who is up for anything, and ready to roll up their sleeves to accomplish things - that is something I love. Guiding people to work hard, to remind them to feel grateful for the opportunity they have been given and to be patient is something that is really rewarding, because I have absolutely been there.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Credo Beauty?
I have been in beauty a long time, but I took a departure for a few years and owned my own retail store. I thought I had worked hard in the past...how wrong I was. Working retail, and owning a retail store is humbling, physically exhausting and incredibly fun. So, for me, Credo is this very fortuitous coming together of all of these experiences. One aspect of Credo that I was not prepared for was how personal this journey would become. I have dedicated much of my career to working for conventional beauty brands, not understanding the impact that the chemicals in many of these brands' products have on human health and our environment. Credo is creating a place for women to find clean beauty brands that have beautiful formulas and packaging, work effectively and have incredibly unique ingredient combinations. But more importantly, they are all absent of all harmful ingredients, like petroleum derived chemicals, or formaldehyde or phthalates to name a few. And the people behind these brands are inspired, creative people that come from different backgrounds that were moved to create these incredible brands. Typically, it is a culmination of their heritage, life experience, or, for many, a health crisis that has affected them in some way to create a brand they trust and feel good using. Because they are true artisans - they have such an individual approach to quality, style and originality that the end result is something that you know is totally personal. Because shopping for beauty is intimate and emotional, I feel like the authentic person who created each of these products is really woven into what you see on the shelf. It has made this experience really very impactful on my own life.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Credo Beauty?
It has truly been all incredibly good. I love a good challenge, and figuring out ways to get things done. I work for and with someone I have admired and trusted and known a very long time, and our team is made up of people that I consider close friends. Credo is my other family. I think our challenge right now is that we are a small team with big ideas and we need to constantly figure out how best to use our resources. It never ceases to amaze me how much you really can accomplish with very few people. It reminds me of when we rolled out Sephora in the U.S. No one knew what it was, and as we presented the idea to brands for the first time, many of the bigger brands at that time told us this "would never work". It's fun to think about now, but it was certainly challenging while it was happening. Now, the tables are turned. Today, we have found this incredible surge of clean and beautiful brands excited to find a place that totally supports their vision and positioning. Credo has developed a real community and camaraderie...we are all in this together. It feels really good.

What advice can you offer to women who want to work in your industry?
Network like crazy and don't be afraid to reach out and talk to people. Don't be intimidated by position or someone's title. Social media and networking makes this so much easier now. You can really do your homework finding out about people and businesses and if they are open to meeting with you, they will respond. We have a lot of people that email us out of the blue and just want to ask a few questions and understand the market and opportunities better. I always admire that because it takes a lot of guts and passion to do that.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It is easy to set up shop really wherever I go, and our team is really supportive of each other. Honestly, I feel like it is such a luxury to be able to get work done anywhere I am at any time. It's also easy for me to close my laptop when everyone is home and spend time together as a family. If I need to, I can get work done after they go to bed. I feel very lucky that my family has been very supportive of me throughout my career. Not to mention, they are huge fans of Credo - so they are really behind this in a big way.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
When my kids were little, I struggled a lot with feeling guilty for being away from home. As a merchant, I traveled quite a bit and felt like I was letting them down and putting too much pressure on my family to pick up the slack. I see now that my kids are proud of me, and I hope they are learning from me that they should follow their hearts in what they choose to do in their life so it won't be "work" per se, but feeling fulfilled in doing something they love. If that happens, it will make me incredibly happy.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It has made a huge difference, and I feel so lucky to have met so many of the people I have and to have learned from them. Shashi Batra is our founder, and I have known him since those very early days at Sephora. I started working for him in 1998 as a merchant and have learned a tremendous amount from him and gained a great friend in the process. We have experienced a lot together, and building this business together means so much more because of that. We understand each other really well. The fact that Credo is truly evolving into the vision he had for it at its inception makes me really proud of him and our team. I will never take for granted the opportunity I was given to have someone come into my life and take an interest, and really make an impact on how my career evolved is tremendous. I welcome the opportunity to pay it forward any chance I get, but it takes a certain kind of person that is open to feedback and really wants to learn and is willing to do anything. It's not that everyone has to be scrappy to succeed, it just shows that they understand the bigger picture that they are a contributor that is part of a team all striving toward the same holistic vision. So don't get hung up on doing tasks that are not in your "job description".

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
In beauty, I have worked with a lot of incredibly successful and inspiring women. But I have always hugely admired Estee Lauder for what she created. She literally got out there and did it herself, and was fearless. She heard "no" countless times and forged ahead. She single-handedly created a business that provided countless opportunities for women that changed the landscape of beauty and what it is today. I was able to meet her once during my time at Estee Lauder, and was completely star struck. I'm sure if she were to do it all again today she would make her products more conscientiously and sustainably.

Outside of beauty, I have always been impressed with Mary Barra, CEO of GM. I know most people root for the one that has worked their way to top - and I am no different. But what an incredibly challenging first few years she had, on top of what was already a very daunting position. Not only has she navigated GM out of what could have been a complete implosion, she has brought them to the top. She also takes time to speak out for the need of more women in leadership roles, particularly in heavily male-dominated fields. As a mom to a teenage girl, I really admire her and am thankful that because of people like her the future for girls everywhere is overflowing with opportunities.

What do you want Credo to accomplish in the next year?
Credo is truly on a mission. And our mission is pretty simple, but very important. We want to be able to inform people in such a way that awakens their conscientious side. So the year ahead for Credo is to continue to make progress on that front. We will be able to evaluate this not only with the traction we gain, but also measure qualitatively with the response we get in our stores, on our social and on our website.

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