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Elizabeth Lake Interview

Hugo Boss

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Elizabeth Lake trained as a chartered accountant with Coopers & Lybrand, then moved into industry 18 months after qualifying. During her career, she has worked for beauty retailer Superdrug, publishing groups Pearson, Thomson Reuters and the Guardian Media Group, high street giant Marks & Spencer and leather accessories maker Bill Amberg. She has been UK & Ireland Finance Director of luxury German fashion house HUGO BOSS since 2012.

Elizabeth Lake never had a particular goal of becoming an FD but she is analytical and has always enjoyed working with numbers. “It was something I came to along the way,” she says. “I thoroughly enjoy the commercial side of being in business. And I thought that by being an FD I would get the best of both worlds – finance and involvement in business strategy.”

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Although she has a broad range of financial experience, Elizabeth only came to the luxury goods sector fairly recently. She took a job with Bill Amberg as Finance Director in 2010 because she had children and wanted to work part-time. The business was small and struggling. “It really toughened me up and got me involved in the nuts and bolts of the business,” she says.

Once her children were older, Elizabeth wanted to work for a larger business again. So she moved to HUGO BOSS UK & Ireland as Finance Director in a full-time role. Of working part-time, she says: “You never just do four days a week. You’re always on your BlackBerry. The lines between home and work get blurred.” She continues: “I’m not someone who thinks it’s easy to have your career and kids. You have to make sacrifices on all fronts. It is a difficult juggling act.”

While many women go into finance, the numbers who make it to the top of the profession are still small. As a result of this, Elizabeth has started to think that quotas may be necessary to boost the proportion of women on company boards. “It’s hard for women to break in because there aren’t enough there already,” she says. “How do you get over the threshold?”

Perhaps surprisingly, property takes up a lot of Elizabeth’s time. “We’ve been expanding our retail business, looking for new properties, negotiating with landlords and managing the costs of fit-outs,” she explains. She also has responsibility for IT and payroll.

Elizabeth advises finance professionals who want to move into luxury retailing to gain some experience of the general retail sector first and be very interested in the product. “Luxury retailers are very proud of what they do,” she says. “Everyone in the business lives and breathes it.”
 

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