Jacqueline Gould, the former chief executive of Ann Summers, who played a role in the sexual emancipation of both British women and the British high street, has died aged 62.
Gould became CEO of the lingerie and sex toy chain in 1987 and became one of the UK’s most prominent female entrepreneurs in the 1990s, transforming the brand into a multimillion pound retail empire. She died after a seven-year battle with breast cancer, her family announced Friday.
In 1981 Gould joined Ann Summers, part of his father David Gould’s business empire. David, who was also co-chairman of football team West Ham United, died in January.
His daughter took the company, which at the time had four backstreet shops, and turned it into the first major sex products chain in the UK with high street stores.
“It was a very male-oriented profession at the time,” she told the Financial Times in 2005. “The staff were men, the customers were men . . . I think only 10 percent of the customers were women.”
Gold was noted for using a direct sales model based on Tupperware parties, where products were sold to small groups of women inside their homes to attract a wider range of customers and move the sector away from its traditionally seedy image.
“When I took my ideas to the board they didn’t believe it would work,” she said. “At that time it was an all-male board. One of them said: ‘This won’t work. Women are not even interested in sex.’ “
The success of her approach meant she became the country’s most prominent female executive, overseeing the company’s international expansion in Ireland and Spain, as well as their online strategy, before becoming executive chair. She was made a CBE in 2015.
“She was a trailblazer, a visionary and the most incredible woman in life,” her family said, adding that she “bravely battled stage 4 breast cancer for 7 years and was a total warrior throughout her cancer journey”.
The Gould family fortune – Jacqueline, David and her second daughter Vanessa, who is now CEO of Ann Summers – was estimated to be worth £470mn by the Sunday Times Rich List in 2019, making her one of the richest women in the country.
However Ann Summers has struggled in recent years against agile online operators like LoveHoney. Its most recent results showed annual sales of £164mn in the year to March 2021, compared with £93mn for Ann Summers in the year to 26 June 2022.
In December 2020, Ann Summers began a bankruptcy proceeding, known as a company voluntary agreement, to avoid the Covid restrictions by closing its stores.
It has 81 stores in the UK and three in Ireland, totaling 140 stores in 2005, according to its most recent filing.