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Feature Friday: Jacqui Withnell

This week we’re joined by the vastly experienced Jacqui Withnell MSc, current Principal at FF&E specialists WeSpace – supplying to sectors including; hotel and leisure, financial, legal, accountancy, retail, schools, universities and more…

WOD: Thanks for joining us, Jacqui. Let’s start at the beginning – tell us about your background.

JW: “I’m a Yorkshire Lass and proud of it! I was brought up in Leeds; we didn’t have much only lots of love and I remember being very happy. I was one of 4 children and my Mum; a single parent worked all hours; it was hard but Mum was adamant that we would get a good education and move onto better things. I was only interested in the subjects of Art, English Language and English Literature at school (unlike my siblings who are super clever); everything else seemed boring! I only gained an interest in the sciences in later life when having a real interest in health and wellbeing; I went on to study and qualify in Nutrition & weight management and Pilates which I teach on a pro bono basis. 

After studying Textile Design at Leeds College of Art, my first job was designing bespoke carpets for a company which was based on the West coast of Scotland. That’s where I first started meeting real customers and loved the whole sales process (albeit I didn’t realise it was selling at the time); all I was doing was talking about my designs with real passion and excitement and customers loved that. 

It was several years later whilst working in sales with a manufacturer that produced wallcoverings and upholstery fabrics that I was introduced to a D&B furniture dealer via one of my projects. I resisted their offer to join them on several occasions but in the end succumbed to the call of ‘all things’ commercial interiors.”

WOD: What about your current role? Talk us through it…

JW: “I own and run an FF&E company called WeSpace which I started over 5 years ago. I didn’t want to work for another large company that just wanted to keep the machines turning; I wanted to spend time with people; be involved at every touch point and help clients with their workspace challenges!

I could see that the 3rd space was growing rapidly with the introduction of more soft spaces where people came together to collaborate and innovate. I also wanted to get involved in the leisure and hospitality sectors which had already been crossing over into the commercial office arena. 

As well as working ‘ON’ the business, I’m responsible for the day-to-day sales and order intake; my talented colleagues do all the other hard stuff!”

WOD: We’re all experiencing change in our working day. How do yours look at the moment?

JW: “Covid has given me more sleep hours which I’m grateful for! I’ve swapped my 5.30am starts for 7.00am unless I’m travelling to a furniture install. I live in the North Yorkshire National Park which doesn’t have great Broadband! As it was safe to do so, I went back to our Thirsk office quite early on in lockdown; I found the lack of technology more frustrating than C-19 initially especially as we still had projects to deliver!

I’m in attendance at every client installation as I want to make sure the client is happy with what we are doing for them. As part of our quality check, I clean and vacuum all the furniture knowing it can be signed off in confidence. I’m usually a passenger so the Transporter becomes my office and I spend the travelling time working on my laptop with my trusted dongle! 

If I’m in the office, my day consists of marketing, reading articles, research, speaking to clients, the team and partners. We take the dogs with us so always make time to have a lunch break and walk which I never seemed to get chance to do before! I always try to be back in time to run my class in the village hall before settling down for dinner (or tea as we call it in Yorkshire)! 

I’m also a Trustee for a fantastic Charity so there’s always plenty of actions to complete as well as several Zoom meetings throughout the month.”

WOD: What advice would you give for anyone wanting to succeed in a role similar to your own?

JW: “My Mum was a great role model for me. She was very intelligent but missed out on an education leaving her to work in lower paid, uninspiring roles within the NHS for over 30 years – something she didn’t want for her children.

She was quite tough but had great EQ which I learned from her and she constantly told us to ‘follow our dreams’.

My working life journey hasn’t always been easy or comfortable and thankfully; it’s not over yet. I’ve still got more to learn and more to give. On raising my head above the parapet, it’s been shot at on many occasions, I’m the one that usually says “but the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes” and people (and many company’s) don’t like that.

My advice to younger women is to get yourself a bigger hammer to smash the glass ceiling that still exists – if they want to break through that is!

Be strong and courageous and know that although you can’t be liked by everyone; you can be respected. Be remembered for something that you DID do and not for something you didn’t do as long as it’s the RIGHT and PROPER thing to do. As once written ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’!”

Read the full Feature Friday interview with Jacqui Withnell by joining WOD Digital today.