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Meet the team: CEO, Jill Ross talks to us about leadership tips and balancing your priorities

Author: Linzi McGuire

Recently we’ve been spending some time with members of our team from around the business to get to know them a bit better and help share their stories. This time we interviewed our CEO, Jill Ross. Read on to discover her career journey so far, her advice for other women and leaders in business, what drives her and how she maintains a balanced lifestyle.

Meet Jill Ross, our CEO

Before Jill joined the professional workforce, she studied French and Politics at Edinburgh University. Her passion for languages and desire for a rest before full-time employment, led her to a year of travel and casual work before joining Unilever’s Future Leader Graduate scheme in 1997.

She remained with Unilever for the next 21 years, working her way through many management and leadership positions in the UK and beyond. She also took on a role on the board of trustees for the IGD during this time, before deciding to take the next step of her career and join us at McCurrach as our new CEO in 2018.

Read her story below:

Can you tell us about your career journey to date?

Unilever’s Future Leaders programme was a fabulous opportunity that allowed me to experience a variety of different roles in relatively quick succession. I soon decided that Sales or “Customer Management” as it was called, was the function for me, due to the fast-paced, people-focused nature of the work.  

I started as an Account Manager, and over the years worked my way up to more senior positions in the Sales function. In 2011, I joined the Board of Unilever UK & Ireland, initially as Managing Director of Unilever Ireland for 3 years, and then as VP Customer Development UK. It was an amazing privilege to become the Vice President of the function that I’d joined as a graduate almost 20 years previously. I then moved on to a Global VP role in Unilever which broadened my experience beyond the UK & Ireland, before deciding to start the next chapter of my career at McCurrach. 

So, what attracted you to make the move to McCurrach then?

I had always known of McCurrach as we worked together to deliver outstanding in-store execution for the Unilever brands in both UK and Ireland. However, the McCurrach business has changed a lot over the years and I was impressed by their growth and diversification into a number of sectors and services, all focused on a simple proposition - helping brands and retailers sell more. 

There are three things that drive me professionally, and this role satisfied them all: collaboration to deliver better results and positive change; helping people thrive, and driving transformational change. McCurrach are a huge people employer with over 1200 colleagues so there’s a fabulous opportunity to work with a lot of talented people and listen to their opinions and expertise when deciding on the next phase of evolution for the business; after all we’re in this together. I’m excited to lead this next phase of innovation, and transformational change for McCurrach, and look forward to bringing all our people and partners on that journey with us. It’s a challenge I’m relishing.

What do you think has been your biggest challenge to date and how did you overcome it?

Our decision to relocate to Ireland so that I could take the next step in my career wasn’t an easy one. We’re a dual career family, and my husband Graham also had a demanding job based in the UK, so the decision to move to Dublin meant that he had to travel and be away from the family Monday-Friday.

As well as being personally challenging for the family, it was also professionally challenging for me to establish myself in a new country. The language didn’t change but there were some cultural differences to adjust to.

I think it’s important to take risks and operate outside your comfort zone, as long as you’re making the decision for the right reasons, have weighed up the pro and cons, and continually reappraise your situation to check it’s working for you. My career has to be sustainable not only for my life but the lives of my family.

I learned a lot about myself during this time, through the peaks and troughs, as it’s never all rosy 100% of the time. Overall, it was a fabulous experience, brilliant for my career development and I learned a lot about myself during this time too.

Do you have any advice for women in business or people in leadership positions?

Firstly, having clarity of purpose helps me maintain a balanced life. If you know what’s important to you in life, it acts as a compass, helping to guide the choices, decisions and compromises you make. For me, it’s about my whole life, not just about my career.

Secondly, believe in yourself and be prepared to take calculated risks at the right moments in your life. As leaders, we should also be prepared to take calculated risks on talent. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to take on a bigger challenge at key moments in my career – whether taking on my first Board level role in 2011 or my first CEO role in 2018.

Thirdly, never lose sight of the fact that you have choices. Sometimes I sense that women get stuck or feel stuck. You always have choices. My life has been a constant reassessment of choices and priorities… is this still working for us as a family? Am I still learning and developing in this role, in this company? Have the confidence to make an adjustment if something isn’t working out or helping you be true to your purpose.

Fourth, I would also advise not to underestimate the power of networking. I spent 10 years thinking that if I just worked hard that a promotion would come along, and of course that’s not always the case. Line managers, colleagues, mentors and sponsors can all support your development; don’t try to go it alone. Be confident and put yourself out there in an authentic way as you can!

Five, accept that things won’t always go to plan, but don’t succumb to guilt. The constant juggling of being a parent and having a career is tough. Sometimes the communication breaks down, the M25 fails you, or you simply forget to be in the right place at the right time (yes, I have forgotten to collect my own children from school!). But with hindsight, I see that my children have grown into confident, well adjusted, independent young adults.

Mother's day card

 

ABOVE: Mother's day card from daughter Zoë after Jill accidentally forgot to pick up the kids from school 

On a personal level, it’s my experience that a strong social network is also really important for support, balance and mental sanity - whether that’s someone you can rely on to watch the kids when travel doesn’t go as planned, or having a good group of friends to go on a bike ride or have a non-work related conversations with.

Finally, I think that particularly for people in leadership or high-pressured roles, making sure that you take care of yourself is really important. For me, mental and physical well-being is crucial. Also, having hobbies and interests outside of work to keep me grounded and ensure I can have a calm and clear mind when I go home. Sometimes beating out frustrations on the pavement with a short run are just want I need after a heavy day; it brings me back to reality. It’s important to keep my priorities in perspective - the world won’t end because of one bad decision.

 

At McCurrach, we are working towards a #BalanceForBetter workforce, and we're already paving the way towards a more diverse company. In fact we have a 50:50 male/female split across our senior leadership teams which we're incredibly proud of.  

Working at McCurrach

Find out more about what to expect from working life at McCurrach.