Most of my recent memories have described my publishing adventures but much of my working life was spent in the rarefied world of luxury retailing, especially with the House of Asprey where I was the Chief Executive Officer. And it was Asprey’s, The Queen’s jewellers, who were to buy the historic Edinburgh-based jeweller, silversmith and clockmaker, Hamilton & Inches, founded in 1866 and a holder of the Royal Warrant.
Acquiring a company is one thing, but finding the right person to manage it is a much harder proposition. Whenever such an appointment had to be made, I agonized over the choice, and sometimes got it wrong. People change with authority and a greater measure of responsibility; they are often overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Although experience is a very important consideration, I have always considered it much over-valued. Energy, creativity, discipline, hard work and a sharp observant eye matter a great deal more. Along with that, the knack of enthusing people and opening their eyes to greater perspectives is equally important. Finding all these qualities in one person is seldom easy. It often involves a calculated gamble, but it is one that occasionally comes off.
This was the course I took with Julia Ogilvy, aged twenty-seven, who was running the publicity side of Garrard. She was highly disciplined, dedicated to her work and always early at her desk. We often met in the lift in the morning when everyone else was still en route to the office. Since I am a stickler for time-keeping I was naturally impressed. When her husband James moved to Fife in Scotland, Julia found it hard to keep commuting to London and asked me whether we could find her an assignment in Scotland that would make her life more practical and less exhausting travel-wise. With the acquisition of Hamilton & Inches, the opportunity arose for Julia to play an important role. Indeed, my secret ambition was loftier than people expected. I dared contemplate putting her in charge of the whole operation despite her youth.
When her appointment was announced the Scotsman profiled Julia with the opening statement, ‘Deep within the hallowed halls of Edinburgh’s finest jewellers and silversmiths insurgent forces are at work.’
The woman prepared to ruffle such fastidiously arranged feathers is Julia Ogilvy. Three weeks ago she became the first outsider to manage the eponymous family firm . . .
Although she does not take over till 1 August, Mrs Ogilvy, twenty-seven, who is married to Princess Alexandra’s son James, is spilling over with ideas to modernize, promote and package the firm. Marketing is Mrs Ogilvy’s forte. Her post at Garrard, which she held for five years, encompassed every aspect of promoting the business. It also allowed her to indulge her love for jewellery.
Julia proved to be more than equal to the challenge. Her first priority, without any prompting from me, was to gain the confidence and respect of the staff and convince them that some of the old ways needed updating to meet the fierce competition in the marketplace. She achieved both these goals in a short time and it was plain to see that the atmosphere at Hamilton & Inches was reflecting a fresh approach and a more focused objective. The displays in the shop improved and an inspired style of management based on consultation and the full cooperation of staff was introduced. The showrooms took on a grand appearance with the hallmark of elegance stamped in every corner. A revitalized energy began to sweep through the entire premises, and Julia was like a beacon of light illuminating her domain with her ineffable charm. She became my jewel in Scotland, for I could see she was far exceeding the most optimistic expectations I had of her. Julia has made Scotland her home since then and is now very keenly involved in regional affairs devoting her time to cultural and charitable activities and is highly regarded for her dedication and love of Scotland. And here are her memories:
Rising to the Challenge
Naim definitely loves women. I can’t believe any of his female friends would say otherwise on the whole. From the point of view of a woman, however, he does take some getting used to. I remember, from my first visit to his famous office high above Soho with its dark walls and tiger-skin rugs, the feeling of being on some kind of filmset in an X-rated movie. On the other hand, the aspect that struck me immediately was his boyish enthusiasm for everything, augmented by the speed at which he spoke, his arms waving in the air. It was clear he had a short attention span and didn’t suffer fools gladly. That suited me fine. Hearing good news made him happy and he always liked it if you agreed with his ideas, however outlandish they might seem. If you were lucky, he might forget about them later. It soon became obvious that life around Naim was always going to be entertaining, and often hilarious, and that when it came to women you didn’t need to have any worries about being politically correct. He is an incredibly tactile and warm-hearted man and was often in need of a hug to cheer him along.
My days of working as PR manager at Garrard are a period I remember with great affection. Generally we coincided in the lift at around 7.30 a.m. It seemed to make sense to get on with the day as soon as possible if, like me, you had a husband working in the City and functioned better early on. (Even now it quite irritates me if I can’t reach people in their office at 8 a.m.) Naim was obviously impressed by my timekeeping, though it never occurred to me that this might be a key reason for later promotion. I only knew it was a great chance to catch up with him and get some fast decisions. On other occasions I would be summoned to his spacious office at Regent Street (somewhat toned down in comparison with his Soho space) to discuss some new project. An even rarer piece of luck was to be invited to one of his fabulous lunches. It was always stimulating and fun to catch up on any gossip. You could rely on Naim to know what was going on. He always had gorgeous girls working for him, though it was a mistake for anyone to assume that he just liked women pretty. I certainly never met one in the entourage who wasn’t brainy as well. He loved the challenge.
Among several hilarious memories I have of those times was the occasion when Naim bought one of his assistants a set of very sexy lingerie and immediately insisted she must try it on to show him. Unfortunately she forgot that the corridor from the ladies’ loo to his office was monitored by security cameras. It took the security guards a long time to get over that one. I was fortunate enough to receive the occasional present, such as one of the tiny silver hearts he gave to all his visitors, but thankfully I don’t think he would have dared to try me on the lingerie. He was always a little more circumspect where I was concerned, perhaps because I gave an impression of being fearsomely organized and bossy. It was still strangely flattering to be asked to sign a photo of me for his office: a rather sultry shot taken for Harpers & Queen by a smooth Italian photographer.
Soon after this I came to a major turning point in my life – a time in which Naim played a very significant role. My husband and I had rather rashly fallen in love with a house in Scotland and I had begun commuting from Fife to London every week. Just as I was summoning up the courage to tell Naim I would have to leave him (he hated anyone leaving) to work in Scotland, he announced that Asprey was buying the well-known, traditional but by now near-bankrupt Edinburgh jewellers, Hamilton & Inches. His first thought was that I could work there and run the marketing side, but before long he’d decided I would make the perfect managing director. He was not at all put off by the fact that I was only twenty-seven and was restricted to a background in marketing. He had the agreement of my immediate boss, Richard Jarvis, but I knew he would have huge trouble in persuading the Asprey board, let alone me! The idea amazed me, and, overwhelmed by the prospect, I soon refused him. This was clearly not part of his plan. He introduced a diversionary tactic by saying I had to be a director and he needed me to come to the lawyer’s office in St James’s to countersign the acquisition papers for Hamilton & Inches. I arrived to find a room full of people and a set of papers with ‘Managing Director’ beside my name! Fortunately, with the support of my family, I had come round to the idea and was ready to go. The decision led to some of the best years of my working life.
Naim had known I could rise to the challenge, and he was right. I became convinced, too, that a woman was right for the role. Good ‘people skills’ were essential in those early days to remotivate the team, and ultimately marketing was probably the most relevant skill I could have had. Naim remained constantly in the background, encouraging me and so obviously proud of my achievements. Some years later, after Naim had left the Asprey group, I had the chance to lead a management buyout and had his full support all the way. Today I lead a different life, having left that period behind to found a charity, Project Scotland, providing full-time volunteering opportunities to young Scots, transforming their lives and those of their communities. I am proud to sit on the board of Lloyds TSB Scotland, to be a trustee of Columba 1400 and an Alpha leader. I can still look back on those earlier days and say that much of what I do now has only come about because of the faith, confidence and pride Naim had in me. I owe him a lot.