Women in Business Q&A: Samantha Wills

At only 21 years of age, Samantha Wills founded her own self-titled accessories (jewellery) company. An instant hit with media and customers alike, Wills quickly gained a high profile in the media spotlight as one of Australia’s most dynamic designers.

Having her jewellery featured in Sex and The City, thrust Wills onto the International stage, and she was shortly after declared a 'Break Out Star' by the New York Times.

Wills’ online voice is natural & down to earth, whilst her imagery and jet-setting lifestyle are glamorous. This unique mix of aspiration and approachability in her down to earth voice has become bankable property, with brands such as Mount Franklin & Nespresso engaging Samantha to not only front their campaigns as a spokesperson but also work across the projects creatively. In 2015, Wills was appointed as Creative Director & spokesperson for iconic Australian sparkling wine brand Yellowglen, and most recently, Telco giant Optus signed Samantha as the face of their national 'Believe Big' campaign, alongside Mark Wahlberg.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I don’t think I am a good people manager, but I do think I am a good leader. I choose to share my story transparently, with all the vulnerabilities. So often, a ‘success story’ is told as ‘overnight success’, but I prefer to share all the hurdles along the way, because I think this is more empowering to people – sharing the facts that it actually took me 12 years to be an overnight success.

As a leader, I always try to be the type of person I needed when I was younger. I remember starting my career 13 years ago and wanting to know more about ‘how’ the people I looked up to got to where they are, all I could find was the end result & the glamorous image.

I like to think that I lead by being relatable. I also hope that my communications & information sharing, shows people, specifically women, that there is value in knowing your value – and that this needs to be remembered especially when times get tough.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at SAMANTHA WILLS?

I started the SAMANTHA WILLS brand when I was 21 years old – so I haven’t really had any other ‘real jobs’ to speak of!

I think my parents always having small businesses gave me really valuable visibility into what the inner workings of small business are. They showed me the work ethic need to have a successful business, and that is definitely something that I attribute my tenure to, because there have been a million times I have wanted to throw it all in and go & work for someone else; but every time I have been close to throwing it in, I go back to my roots & dig a little deeper.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at SAMANTHA WILLS?

Highlights vary, from having our designs appear in SEX AND THE CITY, to being named Entrepreneur of the year by Cosmopolitan magazine, to being hailed a Break Out Star by the New York Times, but I think the most consistent highlight, is the incredible people who I am lucky enough to work on this brand & journey with. I think it is a huge sacrifice to work for a company who founder works not only actively in the business, but also is the namesake of the brand. By default, I get all the public praise, when the reality is, if it was just me, it would still be a dining table operation out of a small apartment in Sydney. The team that work on the brand are a group of truly incredible people, that treat each other, and our consumers with such respect & kindness, and that is a true highlight of my career.

I often get asked, now that you’ve ‘made it’, is it easier? The truth is, you always have challenges, just as you progress through your career, the problems just become ‘different’, because the more experienced you get, the more complex problems you encounter!

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

As an entrepreneur, I don’t believe there is ever a good time to start. You just have to do something. What I mean by that, is with momentum, comes momentum. You don’t want to be the person who continually talks about something you are always going to do, or worse, something you wish you had of done – do it. Make moves. No matter how small, or how insignificant you feel it might be, take action towards what you want to do. You might not be able to quit your ‘real’ job to throw 110% at your new venture, but it could be a few hours in the evening working on your dream project, it could be even as simple as registering your domain name & working on a brand deck that allows you to get everything down & work & re work through it, giving you perspective on it. Do something. Do anything. Stop talking about it and do it.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

To always be nice! It sounds so simple, and I wish I had something much more profound to deliver on this topic. But being nice to people, being a genuine & authentic person – especially in fashion – I have come realize is quite the rarity. I like to think of it as shocking people on the upside.

Your highest currency in your career is your personal brand. What people say about you when you are not around is your most telling reference. Using manners, sending thank you cards, keeping an ear out for opportunities for others in the industry. And just generally being a nice person – listening rather then waiting for you turn to talk. The market is saturated, there is no shortage of options – people want to work with nice, genuine people.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I failed miserably at this – and in my failing, I realized that I was going about it all wrong; trying to separate the two. What I did was fuse the two as close as possible. Having the luxury of being able to run your own diary is something that I really value as an entrepreneur. I have to travel a lot for work, so I try to add on a few days on to a work place to explore a new city. Doing international business, I am often up into the early hours of the morning talking with our Australian office, from NYC. So the next morning I might take a mid morning exercise class, and go meet a friend for lunch – because I may have missed a dinner with them due to the late night commitment.

Its about flexibility in not working 9 to 5 & building your life around this freedom, rather then trying to build a life around a 9 to 5.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

My business partner, Geoff Bainbridge, has been my mentor for nearly 10 years. He hates the term mentor, but he someone I feel incredibly lucky have in my orbit; both professionally & personally. If you can find one or a few close confidants, that is ideal – it gives you a sounding board – my suggestion in looking for a mentor, if finding someone you admire in life, not just in business. The advice you seek in business should be reflective of your values in life.

I also think mentors can be found in every person. Maybe not as in such a structure or formal way, but be an active listener, be present in every conversation. You can get small take aways, or point of views, or even just as powerful – understanding someone you DON’T want to be in business. All of this observation & reflection is almost like secondary mentoring.

What do you want to accomplish in the next year?

Earlier this year, I launched The Samantha Wills Foundation – a platform designed to empower women in business. I am currently undergoing a lot of study & research on how we respond & react to things, about the power of the mind, and how insular we get in personal crisis & fear, & our reactions to that. I am learning a lot about deeper intuition & spirituality also. Everything that I have learnt so far, has been incredibly helpful, & one day I would like to be able to use these learning’s & apply to common problems we face personally as women, and specifically the hurdles encountered by balancing personal lives with also running a business as entrepreneurs. I think everyone encounters the same problems at some point along the journey, and I want to be able to help people not only understand & identify these & not feel isolated in them, but most importantly to heal & move forward so they can live their potentials, I want this to be a new sector of The Samantha Wills Foundation.

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