“Creating an environment where people can be the best versions of themselves is the most important thing to me.”
When Premium member Colleen Callander started working part-time at Just Jeans as a teenager, little did she know she’d go on to become CEO at two of the most iconic brands in the Australian fashion industry. Here’s her story.
Growing up I was surrounded by business talk at the dinner table.
My parents had many businesses in Geelong ranging from restaurants, to hotels to property development. I definitely believe that being surrounded by this kind of environment throughout my childhood helped shape me to be the businesswomen that I am today. I was very fortunate to get my business acumen from my father and my nurturing and caring qualities from my mother. A combination that I think has set me in good stead right throughout my career.
Like many teenagers my career aspirations changed regularly.
But one thing that always stuck in my mind was my parents saying to me to ‘love what you do, be passionate and work hard’. Fashion retailing was something I really just fell into and I wasn’t planning on it being my career choice, but once I was in it, I didn’t want to leave.
Naomi Milgrom AO and Executive Chair and CEO of the Sussan Group has been an incredible mentor to me since joining the business in 1999.
I remember clearly the day she asked me to take over as CEO of Sussan and I said to her I wasn’t sure I was ready for such a big step. She looked at me and said….”I believe in you and I’m here to support you”. I never looked back and here I am 17 years on and have been CEO across Sussan and Sportsgirl for over 9 years. I would describe her as an incredible coach who raises the bar high, encourages and nurtures. I have been very fortunate to have such a close working relationship and her guidance over all of these years.
The thing I love about my job is that it is so diverse.
As CEO I have a touch point to every part of the business. One day I can be signing off product ranges with the buying teams, the next working on store designs and store growth strategies. I take my role as brand protector of one of Australia’s most Iconic fashion brands very seriously and so the execution of everything we do from stores, to campaign imagery to the culture I create inside my business is very important to me. My overarching role is to ensure that we have a profitable and sustainable business for the future.
The most important thing to me as a CEO is the PEOPLE!
Creating an environment where people can be the best versions of themselves is the most important thing to me. Where people strive to do their best, where people work for the greater goal, and where people want to be a part of a winning team. I create an environment that allows people to contribute, challenge, be challenged and be creative. Investing in people is key. When times are tough most businesses stop investing.
I believe the success of the Sportsgirl business is that we have continued to invest in our brand and in our people.
I make sure that our vision is something I live and breathe everyday and every single person in the organisation understands it and feels part of it. Everyone wants to be connected to the bigger picture, everyone wants to be part of something bigger than just their department. The culture at Sportsgirl is one that allows people to shine.
It is extremely important to me and to the business to give back to the community, and not just for the sake of ticking a corporate box.
We regularly go out to all of our team members and ask them what’s important and what charity organisation would they like to partner with and the Butterfly Foundation continues to be on the top of their list. Only last week we finished our National Winter 2017 Fashion Launch/Conference, which every manager around Australia attends and the Butterfly Foundation is also a part of. Our store managers heard first hand from an incredible young lady who has been a direct recipient at Butterfly house and that if it was not for the financial support and strong partnership that Sportsgirl has with the Butterfly foundation that her treatment and recovery would not have been possible. There was not a dry eye in the room and it makes all of the hard work we do worthwhile when you hear a story like that.
Colleen has been the CEO of Sportsgirl since 2013, after six years as CEO of womenswear brand Sussan.
Connect with Colleen here.