Ditch the ladder and climb the career jungle gym instead:

Sarah Rotheram leads British-French luxury perfume house, House Of Creed. Here, she shares her career journey, work hacks, and tips for switching off.  Inside Retail: Tell me about your career journey. How did you get into the industry, what are some of the different roles you’ve held along the way? Sarah Rotheram: Where do I start? I’ve enjoyed a 20-plus year career so far leading a number of European niche luxury brands in the beauty and fashion space, including Penhaligons, L’Artis

Artisan Parfumeur, Aspinal of London, Miller Harris, Molton Brown and now of course the House of Creed.

I’ve always prided myself and my teams on striking a balance between creativity, service and driving bottom-line results. 

I graduated as a fashion textile designer and worked in this field in my early career, then joined Molton Brown when it was still a relatively small business, and it completely changed my direction of travel. I fell in love with the industry.

IR: What are some of your career highlights so far?

SR: Launching Creed into China with the background of a global pandemic and within 12 months establishing 18 flagship doors plus a full e-commerce proposition has most definitely been a highlight for both me and my team. 

Doing business and building relationships and friendships in Asia has been a big part of my whole career and life. I see things differently when I’m there and bring back the insights to the business to help accelerate our growth and innovation plans.

Being a CEO at the age of 32 was another of my career highlights. Given I never set out a plan to be in the perfume industry it was a huge personal achievement for me.

IR: What advice would you give to someone who wants to move up the corporate

ladder?

SR: My biggest advice would be to think the exact opposite of a ladder. My career has looked more like what I call a jungle gym, I’ve jumped and progressed across many different disciplines soaking up as much as possible in the process. 

From sales, to marketing, operations, e-commerce, digital marketing, merchandising, finance, supply chain and innovation. 

In fact, as CEO, I have done pretty much every role that exists in our global organisation and it means I can help and advance the business whilst supporting our teams around the world in their functions.

IR: Do you have any “work hacks” for getting things done?

SR: My team knows there is no such thing as a typical day for me! Getting my sleeves rolled up with product innovation, touching and feeling some of our exquisite natural raw ingredients and latest innovation sustainable packaging proposals is always one of the most fun and fulfilling features of my week. 

Our world is perfume, so I can often be found in our own in-house lab in Fontainebleau near Paris with our R&D team inventing, as well as visiting the first harvest of the Rose de Mai in Grasse. 

Selling is in my blood, I can’t help myself and will often be found on the shop floor selling Creed along with my colleagues in the likes of Neiman Marcus, Harrods or David Jones in various different countries. 

I love talking to our customers, it fills me with energy. It is the only way that we can constantly elevate and improve our experience. 

In my role at Creed, we are present in around 80 countries, so much of my time is spent supporting my teams on the ground around the world and listening and sharing global insights. 

A lot of my time is dedicated to supporting and coaching my team. Our achievements and learnings are always a true shared experience.

My only real ‘hack’ is I book ‘thinking hours’ in my diary. This is time reserved without interruptions or meetings. 

It might take the form of me researching, going to a gallery, walking the V&A museum in West London, or just being out in the market feeling other brands. 

Without this, you develop tunnel-vision on your own brand and miss the cultural influences around you. 

IR: What’s your approach to work-life balance?

SR: As a woman I also have to recognise the challenge of balancing the many versions of me. Mother, wife, daughter, CEO.

Can you have it all? My answer to that is yes, but you have to come to terms with what that means. I have had to carve out a different relationship to the normal expectations of motherhood.

I had to recognise that that challenge was really about my desires and expectation of being a mother and what I expected motherhood to be, rather than my son’s needs. 

You just make the times that you can attend sports days and school plays count, and then make sure that the time you do spend together is uninterrupted. 

I am quite good at switching off when I am not travelling at the weekend. In the early years of motherhood, I struggled with my own expectations and often felt guilty for not always being there. 

As your kids grow up, you understand it’s fine and in fact you set a great role model to your children

I am incredibly lucky that I can combine work and life in a fulfilling way. I often have perfumers to my home, or I tie in an overseas trip with a holiday. Take my family off to pick lavender or process a flower harvest. I think if you love what you do it never really feels like work.

IR: Do you have any hobbies that help you switch off and stay balanced?

SR: Am an avid reader, I can easily get lost in a book. Exercise is important and you actively need to book time in the diary to make time for yourself. I also walk, often 20 kilometres of a weekend. Being in the fields and amongst the fresh air revitalises the soul and is a complete antidote to my fast-paced working schedule.