By Gabriella Griffith Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Kim Winser: 'I was rejected from the M&S board for being female'

The ex-chief executive of both Pringle and Aquascutum talked about her rise to the top at MT's Inspiring Women's Conference.

It takes a pretty determined person to persevere in the face of continued rejection and Kim Winser, former chief executive of both Pringle and Aquascutum, ex-director of M&S womenswear group and founder of Winser London, has proven herself to be thus, revealing she was rejected three times in her early attempts to become an M&S director before finally making it to the board.

Speaking at MT's Inspiring Women's Conference, the one woman fashion powerhouse spoke of the challenges she faced while making her way up through the ranks of M&S.

'There were no females on the board at M&S when I started and no females in commercial, which was the route to the board,' explained Winser.

'I was rejected three times just because I was female but I was keen to get into the commercial side. I bumped into the deputy chairman one day on the way home, who asked how my day had been. I replied, "it would have been better if I was male." I told him I was willing to work my balls off, but I didn't have any so I was being held back. I got offered a place on the board the next day.’

Winser went on to describe her experiences of taking the helm at both Aquascutum and Pringle – especially the tricky cultural differences while working for Japanese-owned Aquascutum.

'The owners couldn't believe a female had been appointed as chief executive. It threw their hierarchies of who would enter a room first and who spoke before who.'

Winser now runs her own fashion label, Winser London has been running for eight months and is growing faster than the fashion doyen imagined it would, 'it's four times bigger than expected,' she beamed.

Winser made it perfectly clear having children has not held her back.

'I have brought my son up on my own, having been alone since pregnancy and he's a fabulous young lad,' she explained.

'I have always protected everything to do with his school etc – leaving meetings early to get to his performances, after he's gone to bed – I can get back to work.'

When it came to advice for budding female leaders, Winser, unsurprisingly had plenty to say but her most lingering sentiments were to always be yourself.

'My mother told me when I was head girl at school, 'whatever you do, just be yourself," and I have never forgotten those words of wisdom...Don't find your confidence in trying to be like others.'

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