WOD: Tell us about your background from the beginning – where are you from? What education do you have? How did you become involved with the workspace sector?
JG: “I was born smack bang in the middle of the 80’s – in a Lancashire town. Mum and dad worked opposite shifts in a print mill. Ever since I can remember – I’ve loved anything arts or craft based… maybe this had something to do with the reams of offcuts my dad used to bring home for me to doodle and go crazy on? I grew up sticking treasures in my scrap books, selling my 2 pence drawings from our doorstep… and even leaving my personal Banksys (complete with signature) on our wallpaper – and passing it off as my toddler brother’s – much to my mum’s dismay!
My love of all things creative continued throughout school and college – gaining top qualifications in Art & Design, my interest had become a passion I had to pursue. I didn’t quite know what direction I would head in next. Long story short – I decided to study Architecture at the Manchester School of Architecture. I have to say – I struggled with getting my head round a new format of learning – but I got through and I went on to work as a Part 1 assistant at 2 very insightful Architects practices in Manchester – who I still keep in touch with to this day. In fact, I just happened to marry my first mentor’s brother!
After completing my year in practice – I achieved a lifelong dream and travelled the world with my best friend. It was 2009 – the possibility of returning to my job when I got back was unfortunately no longer possible. We’d hit recession, and Part 1 positions were scarce. I was lucky enough to land myself a role as a Designer for Opus 4 in Manchester where I was introduced to the world of workspace and interiors. In the beginning, I felt like I was heading away from what I’d studied but soon realised that actually, creating spaces where we spend most of our adult lives was so important. It was the difference between someone going through the motions every day, and someone showing up, being inspired and being part of a journey.
In 2012 I moved down south and ‘the northerner’ joined Hunts Office (again a slightly different role where now the focus was furniture).
3 months passed, and finally, my colleagues knew what a butty and a brew were – but to this day, no understanding of chips and gravy (can’t win ‘em all).”
WOD: Explain your current role to us…
JG: “I lead our in-house Design Team. When I started back in 2012, it didn’t take me long to see where we could add extra value a. A 2D feasibility plan just didn’t do the job for me. We were a traditional dealer selling furniture first. We were great at selecting pieces for quality and functionality – but I didn’t feel that was enough for the end user to really understand how this could transform their working life. That’s why I began to apply insights, my experience from creating workplaces, and learnings from studying architecture – and it worked. I was lucky enough to build my own team of talented and passionate people from design backgrounds, and introduce them to commercial furniture. Understanding furniture alongside their design knowledge has meant we can provide the client with the whole package. My main focus is to provide clients with inspirational, insightful and functional spaces that include well specified furniture to suit. Think of the furniture as a vehicle on their journey. We learn about where they want to go, and how they want to get there – then we build the best vehicle to help them on their journey. I also curate our showroom, selecting on trend pieces in settings that encourage people to break free from the norm. I promote new ways of working and am generally involved with anything ‘design’ for Hunts. As well as being the official team Christmas Elf.”
WOD: How does a typical working day in the life of Gemma look
JG: “Honestly – it varies. A lot! I have to remain agile and quick to react. But for the most – it involves innovating and improving the way we communicate with our clients. How we can inspire them, and how we can make it as easy as possible for them to make informed decisions. The way our team works is very open and collaborative. We all know what each other’s strengths and expertise are – and we make sure we make the best of them. Mentoring up and down, we discuss our thoughts and ideas, and we work together in order to distil them and put them in to a logical format. It’s meant our team has been able to go from strength to strength in a short amount of time.
Other days I can be found sharing insights with clients – helping them articulate what they need, redesigning our showroom or visiting our trusted partners and seeing pieces we specify at source (whether that be in Clerkenwell, Treviso or beyond)
I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of our clients over in the USA, helping me gain a better understanding of how they work and what their goals are. Visiting tech firms over on the East coast was a fantastic learning curve. When they open up in the UK they often come along with their office standards – which they carry throughout their global offices. Whilst that makes a lot of sense commercially, and also branding wise – it doesn’t always translate across different cultures. Different countries have different expectations, so as part of our service – we study their standards and propose alternatives that are tailored for their UK workforce, meaning they can achieve the very best from their people whilst maintaining their global agreements and company branding.”
WOD: Referring back to mentoring for a minute, what advice would you give to somebody wanting to succeed in a similar role to yours?
JG: “Lead by passion, grit and determination. Promote what you believe in, and don’t give up.
My biggest piece of advice is ‘don’t be afraid to ask questions’. If you still don’t understand – ask again! You cannot create a solution without gathering the information you need. The more information you have – the more likely you are to nail it. I see people too embarrassed to ask out of fear of looking incompetent. I think it’s quite the opposite.
Finally – and most importantly, look to your idols for inspiration, but avoid comparing yourself. You’re on your own journey, carve out your own role – you’re in charge.”