The Big Interview: Gabrielle McNamara of Leonard Dews

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A nine-years-and-counting career in the jewellery industry was the last thing on Gabrielle McNamara’s mind as a teenager. Her working life started just after her 16th birthday when she secured at job at Co-op. Rumour has it that she once fell asleep during a shift there and, during that time, she had her heart set on being a criminal lawyer in years to come.

“For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a criminal lawyer. I went to university to study law for four years and did my integrated LPC at the same time. After graduating, I started working at Banks Lyon as a part-time job and then just went from there. Rodney Banks Lyon wanted to bring the marketing in-house and so I started to do that, then I completed my CIM in marketing. I was working full-time at that point.

“I started to consider something else when I knew my interest in the jewellery industry was more than just marketing. I loved working for Banks Lyon but knew it was a family business and that they would have its second generation joining soon.”

When deciding to move on from Banks Lyon, Gabrielle asked around and was contacted by Michael Hyman, the owner of Leonard Dews. The two met soon after, “I met Michael at The Grand Hotel in Lytham St Annes for a four hour interview! We had a chat, then lunch, and then Barry joined us. Michael is a real presence, and such a nice chap. I instantly knew I wanted to work for him.”

Management and leadership is in Gabrielle’s makeup; holding testimony to that is her Leader Award from Lancashire Business View’s Sub36 and her recent shortlisting in the same category this year. Also holding testimony to her prowess with people is her previous role as Vice President of the Law Society at Northumbria University, “I was in my final year and was Social Secretary the year before! It was more about comradery. Law school students had a bit of a reputation so this was about changing that. We had a lot of fun.”

“The last couple of years have been turbulent, but I finally feel things are settling down.”

Like nightmares about being trouserless in the school hall, being late for work on your first day is something which should be left within night terrors. This – sort of – happened on Gabrielle’s first day working at Leonard Dews, but she quickly managed to redeem herself.

“Everyone thought I was late. I had been told to get there for 9 am – I still have the email confirming that – but everyone had started at 8:30 am. Not a good start. I was looking around and getting used to the shop floor and ended up selling a TAG Heuer on finance. I remember upselling from a Gucci to a chap who had been left some money. Welcome to the shop, busy body!”

Even with such a successful period as General Manager at Leonard Dews, Gabrielle’s career hasn’t been without its hairy times, not least when she was given only 12 hours’ notice to leave for Leonard Dews’ sister shop, Wilkins, on the Isle of Man, “It was the 10th October. I had to text Jenna [Gabrielle’s colleague] and tell her I couldn’t drive her to work for a while! At first, I only went for a couple of days but had to book an early morning flight at about 10.30 at night for the next day.

“I was single at the time and didn’t have the cat so I could do it. Now I would be in panic mode as I would need someone to look after my kitten! Matthew can look after himself.”

Leonard Dews is well-known for being a Patek Philippe retailer and for having one of the largest Patek showrooms in the UK. And, with so many stunning Patek Philippe models, it’s no surprise that Gabrielle finds it challenging to choose a favourite, “I find it really tricky to pick one. The one I would love to wear is the 5711/1A-010 with the blue dial but I know that will probably never happen due to its popularity.

“This is technically a gentlemans’ watch but I love a bigger watch and this is so slim that it’s elegant enough for a lady. In terms of favourite, I would say the 5172G in terms of aesthetics – the blue is incredible. But the 5212A Weekly Calendar is a really cool piece… This could change daily.”

Leonard Dews has a strong relationship with Patek Philippe, an accolade for any independent fine jewellery and watch retailer, but the business is known for not standing still in time of success or otherwise, so big changes are still on the very-near horizon.

The business has recently decided on starting from scratch with a new website, and is expanding its space into next door to create the biggest bridal and fine jewellery showroom in the North West, almost doubling its current retail space with a new 850 sq ft area.

Gabrielle describes Leonard Dews’ company culture as ‘changing’ saying that, “The last couple of years have been turbulent! But I finally feel things are settling down. The culture is something that will be at the forefront of our plans going forward; I am committed to creating a working environment that people thrive in, where everyone is celebrated for their own individual talents and attributes.”

Gabrielle nods to her dad for teaching her to be inquisitive about business, “I am definitely very lucky. I managed to land myself in one of the most incredible industries going. My dad taught me to understand all aspects of your business. I am naturally nosy and listen to everything – that’s how I learn. It did get me into trouble as it probably comes across as interfering, but I just like to always have an answer/solution.

“I started with a mentor six months ago and since then I feel completely different.”

“I have found it challenging; my job has changed drastically over the last six years and I have had to adapt, not only my skills, but my relationships. I have had times when I thought I couldn’t do it and I have cried a lot of tears! But I think, as long as you are passionate about what you do, and care about the people you work with, you can’t go wrong. I am not saying that gets you everywhere – you will always come up against barriers but my mum taught me to always be kind and treat people fairly. That’s the only way you can make this role work.

“It has involved early mornings and late nights. Working from home when you know everyone else is chilling out, but when you’re invested in something, it becomes so much more than work and making the extra effort isn’t an issue. I am not saying it’s easy! You do lose sleep thinking about figures, and people, and the retail climate. I am very lucky to have had the upbringing and the education I have had and know that has stood me in good stead for everything I have achieved. But yes, it has been hard work!

“I started with a mentor six months ago and since then I feel completely different. It’s great to chat through things with someone who has specific skills that I need, but not necessarily industry knowledge or personal interests in the business. I would champion it to anyone. It’s amazing for building confidence. Realising that yes, you are making the right decisions and you are handling things the right way is invaluable.”

We had to ask Gabrielle who her style icon is: “Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel – not my name sake. But Chanel is a perfect example of a brand dedicated to creating its own image and its own path, without the need to conform to trends and fashions. Or, Lorna Luxe on Instagram! [She’s] one of the only ‘influencers’ I follow but I just love her.”

You may be surprised to hear that Gabrielle’s fascination with jewellery wasn’t always present. In fact, it was only when she started working for Banks Lyon that her love developed. “Before I started with Banks Lyon I hadn’t actually stepped into a jeweller like it! Especially not one with such fine watch brands.

“I think from very early on my perceptions changed. It’s such a fascinating product –diamonds, gemstones, and watches. The work that goes into even the ‘simplest’ quartz and mechanical movements is incredible.

“When I moved to Leonard Dews and started working with Patek Philippe, it was a lot to get my head around. The fact that you couldn’t just walk into a store and walk out with the watch you wanted baffled me! However, having worked with them for six years now I understand completely!”

Another career change isn’t on Gabrielle’s radar. In fact, she says that law is no longer an option for her. “I could never go back to law now. I get so much variety from my role, and I work with such amazing products and people that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

While going from law to jewellery was a leap in the right direction from Gabrielle, it’s no easy feat to change career plans. So, when we asked her what advice she would give someone who is considering a career change, she didn’t hold back.

“When it came to making that decision to leave law behind it was terrifying, not least because my parents had put so much into me and my education, but because law was all I had been training for! I knew that I would have to put a lot of work in my own time to essentially re-train. My degree is something I will never regret, it has come in handy in so many ways over the years and I know it will continue to do so.

“I would always say follow your passions. You are at work for a long time, and for most of the hours in the day, so doing something you enjoy and are passionate about is so important. I knew that, although the law interested me, it wasn’t something I saw myself doing long term. I was frustrated because I love to be able to do things well and I did find it challenging, so the thought of struggling through my career filled me with dread!”

Whether you work in accounting or pathology, you always run the risk that your passion may become a chore. For Gabrielle, working at Leonard Dews has only given her more respect for the industry: “Working in the trade gives you a better understanding and appreciation of jewellery. Jewellery is so easy to love! Be it costume jewellery or fine jewellery.

“People tell me that they find it difficult to buy me jewellery –fashion or fine – but that’s silly; jewellery is a reflection of what you feel about something or someone – the price is irrelevant.

“Jewellery has so many different connotations. It can make an outfit or it can symbolise your love for someone. A diamond at any size is beautiful – they are fascinating. The fact that they are a natural phenomenon just shows how incredible nature can be!”

A good sleep sets Gabrielle up for a good day at work, she claims that she can be ‘grumpy’ if she’s had a ‘rotten’ sleep. She starts her working day at 8.30 am, while most of us are just leaving the house. “At university, I used to work well into the night and now I would much prefer that than working in the morning. The one thing that made my heart sink about moving to Leonard Dews was the 8:30 am start – I had always started at 9 am.”

But it’s not just the early starts that can affect Gabrielle’s sleep from time to time. With so many items in her remit, sometimes work does keep her up at night ‘for good and bad reasons’.

“I have experienced such a rollercoaster of events over the past nearly 9 years in the trade and some things have really played on my mind. I am naturally a worrier and do suffer with stress and anxiety but I can overthink things and work things up in my mind when they don’t necessarily warrant it. Most of the time I am worrying about figures and people!”

“One of my biggest flaws is my inability to function in the morning! I will get to where I need to be but I won’t have had time to eat, have a cup of coffee, or do anything without rushing!

“I always have two coffees [in the morning]. It used to be more like five but I managed to wean myself off so much about 18 months ago. I always turn the radio on as soon as I get up. Music always helps me get out of bed.

“It’s also a bit of a standing joke between my friends and family, but I cannot get up, get changed or leave the house without a shower and washing my hair! I have to wash it every day, sometimes twice a day. I know it’s bad for your hair but that is something that will never change!”

“You have to be prepared to stay late, come in early, never expect anyone to do anything that you wouldn’t be prepared to do.”

“I remember walking into my first buying meeting and being so shocked at the lack of women in the room. I sat in a discussion group that day with one other woman and ten men, talking about jewellery, and all I could think was that it was madness that we were so underrepresented!

“I was scared to have an input as I was so new to the group but finding that I couldn’t stay quiet… typical! I was lucky as I remember one gent saying to me: “I have no idea who you are, sorry, but you’re good!” That made my day.

“The jewellery industry is male-dominated and you will see that at events, but women are making their marks. Family jewellers are seeing women coming into their own and it is amazing to watch. It can be difficult though!

“There is still a very small percentage of people who view women with a strong voice as pushy, bossy, and power-hungry, whilst their male counterparts are ambitious, determined and successful! It is hard at times, but I wonder whether women, myself included, put pressure on ourselves to ‘measure up’ when perhaps we don’t need to.

“I have found myself up against this over the years but as long as you stay true to your own values I find their voices quieten. I am naturally inquisitive and so, from the first day, I was interested in everything – not just my own job!

“That can sometimes be tricky as it can be seen, or interpreted, as interfering, but I have grown up watching how my Dad worked, that no job was too small for him even when he was a director. You have to be prepared to stay late, come in early, never expect anyone to do anything that you wouldn’t be prepared to do also. I was very lucky that Michael took a chance on me. I don’t think being a woman made any difference here.

With a plethora of high-prices items in-stock at Leonard Dews at any one time, and Gabrielle has described what happens if something goes wrong with a watch or piece of jewellery which, in many cases, cost more than a house deposit: “Cry first, panic later.

Gabrielle with Michael Hyman

“In all seriousness, I am so lucky to have a team that are passionate about what they do and with that comes an exceptionally high level of respect for the pieces we stock.

“Accidents do happen and everyone has had one. I always encourage an open door policy for staff to be able to own up when something does go wrong. Having that means there is no worry when accidents do happen.

“Losing jewellery or watches is not an option and regular stock takes ensure that this never becomes an issue.”

Gabrielle’s attitude towards people is one of the many reasons she’s an esteemed manager, but she says herself that the role isn’t without its struggles. “One of the most difficult things when becoming a manger, in any capacity, are your relationships with your staff. It certainly was for me. It took a long time, and some tricky moments, to work out how that relationship was to work, but it is a continuous process and I will always be working on it.

“Each person is an individual, with their own story and life, and so I like to treat them as such. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and so, by recognising individuality, I think it encourages a much stronger team. The most important thing to remember is that everyone has a voice. I hope that I can ensure that they feel comfortable using it and in turn are heard.

To deal with the stresses and strains of her job, Gabrielle practices yoga and has been doing so for over two years; she praises it for ‘settling’ her ‘mind’. She’s claimed that maintaining a healthy balance between work and home is challenging, but she does manage to find time for herself and those closest to her.

“I don’t work in the office at the weekend, however, I don’t stop thinking about work and can be found working through the weekend in one way or another. I do rota myself in to cover weekends when needed. I have a good team of staff that don’t work weekends and believe that it should be fairly distributed when weekend work is required.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in work, something I have been guilty of doing on many occasions, so taking the time to focus on something completely different is so important. It is hard to switch off completely and I think when you’re passionate about something you never really do.

“My partner is a lecturer and his job is as demanding as mine, so it’s good to sit down and eat dinner together and just change the subject. I have also started to leave my work phone at home when I go out on my days off – that’s a big step.

“I am so lucky to have such a wonderful group of friends and as they’re spread across the country, getting away to see them is a great way to maintain the balance. You have to have interests outside of work. Something as simple as yoga or reading can really help take your mind off things, and for me, helps me rationalise and work through the day’s events.”

This is a sentiment that many of us can learn from, but perhaps Gabrielle’s most poignant advice was this, “Take care of your friendships. With strong friends and family relationships nothing can be too terrible. At the end of high school my group of girlfriends were scattered far and wide, but they still remain the most important confidants in my life. Along with the girls I have met through Leonard Dews, I have a solid group of friends that will always support and champion each other regardless. They’re invaluable to me.”

See some of the work we’ve created for Leonard Dews here.

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