With Martin G. Moore

Episode #157

From Kitchen Table To Global Icon: Samantha Wills Interview

Samantha Wills is an Australian designer, entrepreneur, and author, who achieved global prominence with her eponymous jewelry range.

From humble beginnings, Samantha’s designs took the fashion industry by storm, with a host of global celebrities being photographed wearing her distinctive pieces.

Her new book, Of Gold and Dust, chronicles Samantha’s journey with her jewelry business, and gives us a no-holds-barred account of both the business and personal challenges she faced over the years.

Samantha’s story is utterly fascinating, and has some salient lessons for us all, whether you’re an entrepreneur aspiring to the level of success that Samantha has achieved, or an old corporate dog like me!

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Episode #157 From Kitchen Table To Global Icon: Samantha Wills Interview

On the podcast this week, I interviewed Samantha Wills, an Australian designer, entrepreneur and author who achieved global prominence with her eponymous jewellery range.

Starting the business from her kitchen table in the seaside town of Port Macquarie, a few hundred miles north of Sydney, the popularity of Samantha’s designs took the fashion industry by storm with a host of global celebrities being photographed, wearing her distinctive pieces.

Her new book, Of Gold and Dust, chronicles Samantha’s journey with her jewellery business and gives us a no-holds-barred account of both the business and personal challenges that she faced over those years. Samantha wound up the business in early 2019 to move on to other pursuits. Her story is absolutely fascinating and it has lessons for us all, whether you’re an entrepreneur aspiring to the level of success that Samantha has achieved, or you’re an old corporate dog like me

Marty: Samantha Wills, it is fantastic to be able to welcome you to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. Thank you so much for your time.

Samantha: It’s a treat to be here. Thank you for having me.

Marty: No worries. Now I’ve got to tell you your book recently released, Of Gold and Dust, it’s not the sort of book that I would typically pick up as I browse through a Barnes & Noble, right. It wouldn’t catch my eye as being something that I absolutely needed to read.

But when I read this, the book is brilliant. It’s beautifully written. I think I said to you before the interview started, it’s elegantly written and I took so much out of it. So thank you so much for that. And congratulations.

How have you been feeling about it since it’s been released?

Samantha: Oh, thank you for your kind words, truly as a first-time writer, you know, you just put it out there and really hope for the best. I was really calm by the time that it got released, it was meant to be released in March, 2020. And of course the world changed and my publisher wanted to tour the book, so we pushed it back to March, 2021. So it kind of gave me another year to really sit with the information that I was handing over. So, yeah, I’m really proud of the body of work and excited that she’s out in the world.

Marty: How did you feel about it over that over the 12 months? Because there is quite a gap between delivering a manuscript and then having it published, which I’m feeling at the moment.

Did you still feel as good about it the day it was released as the day you finished the final word on the manuscript and how has that changed if at all, since you had it out in the world and people started to actually critically comment?

Samantha: Yeah, I think I feel much more calm by the final handover date or the day that it was released, more so than the first manuscript handover, because I just like that extra time to sit with it. I think that I was handing over a lot of vulnerable information because, you know, it’s a businessman memoir, but it does touch on the personal element as well. And just the immediacy and I’m a very slow reader.

So when people are, you know, the day it was released and then 24 hours later, someone’s like, “Oh, I read it in 24 hours”, I’m like, oh my God, did I not put enough words in it? It was just such a lovely compliment. So, it’s very much, people were like, “Oh, and here’s my story” and that real connection, I think, which is the complete purpose of storytelling is that, is that connection. So, no, I felt very calm and it felt like very much the right thing to do.

Marty: Yeah. Fantastic. So once again, congratulations. It’s just a beautiful book. Now, let’s talk about your past and I want to pull out some of the stories in the book because they are compelling.

You were brought up in Port Macquarie. And for those of you who don’t know, our listeners in over 70 countries, Port Macquarie is about 400 kilometres north of Sydney. It’s a beautiful little seaside town. I wanted to call it sleepy, but that might be a little bit derogatory, but it is a beautiful little place. It’s a beautiful part of the world.

And you grew up there as, as a daughter of small business owners. Now, how did that affect how you actually went into the Samantha Wills jewellery business, particularly as you started to grow? Because I just get this concept of small business owners, bootstrapping everything, and sitting up at the kitchen table at 11 o’clock at night, doing their accounts and so forth. But you managed to transcend that to build basically a global empire, which you ran out of New York.

What was the difference in doing that as opposed to what your parents did and what lessons were useful and what lessons did you find constrained you, if any? See, do you like the way I asked about six questions there, Samantha?

Samantha: I did! I’m taking notes here. No, it’s a really great question. My parents have always had their own small businesses and, you know, I grew up in a very blue collar upbringing.

In the nineties, in high school, in the nineties and you know, this makes me sound like I’m about a thousand years old, but it was a time before the internet. At my small liberal school in Port Macquarie, I didn’t know that you could be a creative director. I didn’t know that being a jewellery designer was a career path. I just knew what I kind of saw and what I saw was very blue collar, hardworking, incredibly humble people.

I definitely saw the hustle of my parents, small business and, very much like you said, the bootstrap of doing the accounting at 11 o’clock at night.

I barely finished high school when I did all creative subjects. I didn’t even get a UAI to go to university or college, and then I started hand-making jewellery. My mom had put me into a beading class when I was about 11 years old.

I really learned the basis of jewellery all the way back then. When I was about 20, was making it as a hobby and then my friends would kind of come over and like, “Oh, can I buy these?” I was like, “Oh, they’re not really for sale, but sure”. They were like, “Hey, would you bring all this over to my house? I’ll invite some friends over.” And then, you know, this was almost like party plan. I remember Avon and Nutrimetics that kind of party planning concept, that kind of formed organically for me with jewellery.

So it wasn’t something that I ever set out to be like, “Oh, I’m going to go into my own business.” It was more happenstance.

I think that it all started to come together and I followed that creative passion, got myself in the first three years, very much a solopreneur.

When I say literal blood, sweat, and tears, I say that in the most physical sense: my hands would bleed from making jewellery, 20 hours a day, and I ended up getting myself into $80,000 worth of debt because, as a 21 year old at that time, I knew how to build a brand, but I did not know how to run a business. So I kind of came to the end of that line of that solopreneur journey

And then, I met my business partner that I would go on to have an 11 year partnership with. He was very much the commercial, structural element, and I was very much the brand creative.

Marty: We’ll get to Jeff because I’ve got a bunch of questions about him and, what an incredible partnership to form. And you pursued him in a way that I found intriguing, and he resisted all attempts for you to get him to join the brand, but eventually did. And it was a very, very successful.

But I just want to get back to that $80,000 worth of debt. I’m looking at it going, “How do you rack up $80,000 worth of debt when you have such little infrastructure, such low overheads?” All you’re really getting is materials for the jewellery, and of course, I think you were working at Surf Dive and Ski for much of that. You were actually working a part-time retail job so that you could afford to do what you were doing. Where did that $80,000 come from?

Samantha: It’s a great question, Martin! What was I doing? Where did that debt come from? But, I think at 21, so I started at 21 and I was selling down at Bondi Beach markets, which at the time was a big launch pad for Australian designers. I was working at Surf Dive and Ski.

My week looked liked, my 9am-5pm at Surf Dive and Ski, then making jewellery at night until 3:00 AM. Then, every Sunday morning, you had to go line up to get your spot at the markets. But I was also doing the jewellery parties every other night.

I think it was just this inexperience of just hand to mouth. So it’s like, “Okay, I had a great week at the markets!”, and at that time that might’ve been a $800 to $1,000 a week and like, all right, I just need to replace that jewellery.

So at that time, I didn’t know how to source things off shore. I didn’t know how to say, “All right, the local bead shop at Newtown, I’ll go out there and start to buy things in bigger bulk there.”

I think just that inexperience of forward planning, I think it was very much reactionary to what was available right now. I didn’t have any bank loans – it was all across five credit cards. Not only was the structure of how I was doing it, it was just a very naive way to exist.

Marty: Yes. You can only pay 4374% interest rate for so long before you get the hang of that. Right?

Samantha: Exactly! So, I think to your question before, when you asked me “How did that impact my thinking?” I think growing up in the community that I did was very much a traditional thought process on spending money.

To me, spending money was a case of “the more money that I can make, the better the business is.”, rather than putting a stop on it and being like, hang on, I need to put an infrastructure in place.

And then secondly, I saw a lot of things as cost rather than an investment. So rather than being like, “Hey, maybe I should get a bookkeeper because I’m 21 years old, and I have no idea how to run a P&L.” And I saw that as an expense rather than looking at it as an investment.

Marty: So when we talk about the origins of the business, which were basically party plans, as you said you could have actually probably set up a very successful multi-level marketing structure and done quite well out of it.

But you had this diversion between that part of the business in terms of a channel and the wholesale channels where you were putting your jewellery into retailers, and then eventually I believe you split the brands off. So they were in separate brands and managed separately.

When you look back on that particular piece, those decisions about brand and channel for marketing, I imagine Jeff had probably a fair hand in that. Do you feel as though you made the right moves then? Are there things you would’ve done differently when you made those decisions about pricing and channels to market?

Samantha: Yeah. When I had the jewellery parties, retailers were like, “Hey, you can’t be selling jewellery at parties”, because obviously you could sell it cheaper in that platform versus into wholesale and retail channels. So that was even, pre Jeff.

I think the reason that I closed down the jewellery party plan one, because for me it was about branding. It was about building this brand.

From the start, the brand was first and foremost, my one true love. It wasn’t about how do I turn this jewellery over to make the most money in the shortest amount of time, which if that was the case, I probably would have naturally leaned towards the party plan. But for me it was nurturing the brand health of the Samantha Wills brand. And to do that, I had to part ways with the party plan business.

There were definitely times throughout the course of the following, say, 11 years where I would say to Jeff, very opportunistically, “Why don’t we do a diffusion line for, you know, X, Y, and Z, or, you know, a big retailer might’ve come to us that we weren’t able to stock because the price point maybe wasn’t right”.

And it was him actually to his credit that was like, “You need to honor your main brand.” That, is that the heart and soul of what we do, if anything else outside of that is not done with that same integrity, then there’s not a lot of longevity in it.

So definitely all diffusions came back to how are we protecting the Samantha Wills brand by making this decision.

Marty: Yes, yes. I understand that. That’s excellent. And, let’s come back to Jeff for a minute.

Jeff Bainbridge, your business partner in Samantha Wills jewellery, you pursued him for a period of time and you were connected to him through other means, but he kept saying “no”, and you kept pursuing him.

What made you really convinced that he was THE guy? There are dozens and dozens, hundreds of experts in building brands and businesses and so forth, but you pursued him to the exclusion of all others as your business partner. Why? What made you so sure?

Samantha: I’d gotten to the end of the line. The $80,000 debt, the credit cards stopped swiping and the banks were like, “You’re not getting any more!”, and rightly so.

Then, especially in solopreneur mode, you’ll tell anyone what you need to. I think so often, we quieten down what we need because we don’t want people to think we’re in a rough spot or that we’re a failure for any means.

But at that point I’m like, “If anyone knows anyone that they can introduce me to, that is looking to get involved in a fashion business?”.

So I actually got introduced to a gentleman who I met with, and he was a CEO of a pharmaceutical company and he had daughters my age and he was like, “Yeah, I can help you out.”

He wanted to buy in to clear the debts, but essentially wanted 51% of the company in exchange for that

I was about 25 at this time, and I was holding onto such a lifeline: I just need to get out of debt. That was as far as my field of vision went: it wasn’t any further than that.

Then serendipitously, I met Jeff through an old contact from Surf Dive and Ski. Jeff, at that time, had many different businesses, but he had a surf jewellery business. Just before I was about to exchange the contracts with the gentleman previously, I had met Jeff and I explained to him what was going on, and I said, “But don’t worry, I’ve got, someone that’s interested to invest.”

He looked at me and said, “Well, what do they want for their investment?” And I said, “Well, he only wants 51% of the company!” And excuse my language. And he looked at me and he said, “If you sign that contract it will be the f$%#^!g dumbest thing you’ll ever do!”

This was kind of like a ‘Come to Jesus’ moment. My field of vision then was “Oh, okay, I see the impact of what this actually means.”

So I took a contract role designing for Jeff’s surf jewellery company. I would see him every Friday, I’d fly up and I’d work in their offices and with their design team while still running the Samantha Wills business. The more I got to know Jeff, the more that I just, well, I knew instantly he’s just such a brilliant, brilliant business mind.

I think in this instance, he also had an understanding of jewellery, which I think is a really rare find, to find in someone: they had full production, supply chain, they had logistics–everything within that business that he knew intimately was essentially what I was needing as well.

After all that aside, at the end of the day, I also just really liked him as a person. I liked our connection. I liked his energy. And I think when you’re making that decision or bringing someone into your business, there’s also a personal element that you have to admire them, and have respect for them as well.

So, as you mentioned, I asked him 14 times. He was like, “Absolutely not! Your business looks like the type of business where the accounting is run out of a shoe box.” And I was like, “That’s exactly what it is.”

On the 15th time I asked him, I was like “What about now?” And he’s like, “Oh my God. I will think about it.”

I think he said that just to buy some time to get me off his back. And I was like, “I’ll take that as a yes”, and I transferred over 30% equity to him. I didn’t want a cent from him. I just wanted his business mind in my company.

Within six months he had turned the debt around and we did not have a loss-making year in the 11 years that we were in business together. It was a brilliant commercial creative partnership!

Marty: What a great story, Samantha. I’ve got to say just from what I’ve read, Jeff sounds like a guy who would be a No Bullsh!t Leader. He’s pretty direct, isn’t he?!

Samantha: I don’t think I’ve ever met someone more direct. His LinkedIn profile is just a picture that says “get sh!t done”. That’s it, so that sums him up pretty well.

Marty: That’s fantastic. Let me just shift gears a little.

I want to talk about how you see yourself as your identity, because you’re many things, right? Now you’re an author, a published author going great guns there, a creative person, clearly, a business woman, and a leader.

How do you see yourself, and how would you describe yourself if I ran into you at a party and said, “Hey, Samantha, what do you do? Who are you?”

Samantha: That is a big question actually, because as someone, as I said before, who ever so modestly names every brand after herself, I think over the 15 years of that jewellery journey, the brand was Samantha Wills.

When I got to the end of that 15 years, I was like, “Well, who am I without Samantha Wills jewellery?”

Throughout that time, I even lost the name, Samantha, as myself. People would call me SW because the brand got that name. So there’s definitely some type of identity–I’m not gonna say identity crisis–but an identity dance that you have to do in that instance.

I think now I would say, Samantha Wills, creative director and writer, I think would be my titles at this point. But I think first and foremost, I’m a creative at heart, whether that’s creative directing campaigns, whether that’s writing… Every touch point that I do is based around a creative element.

Marty: Right. Okay. And you clearly do that very well.

So, how did you actually grow a business to the size it was with the number of people you had working for you? You were over in New York city, most of your team was in Sydney, and you’ve got to manage all of that.

Did you have someone who was absolutely critical onshore in Australia who was running the logistics and the operations of that business that you relied upon incredibly heavily to get all that stuff done, while you were being creative and actually making the markets over in the US?

Samantha: Yes, absolutely. And obviously, as I just explained with Jeff, he very much put that structure around me to allow me to be the best creative that I could be, because my value to a business and specifically to that business was, to be the creative lifeblood–it was the new ideas, the designs, the branding, the storytelling.

What we were able to do, probably I’m going to say eight years into the Samantha Wills journey was really bring in people that were experts in the industry.

So our funnels were, we’d have a Head of Logistics and then we’d have a Head of Sales. And we had a General Manager that sat in the business. We really hired experts of industry through each pillar. Every silo of our business was run by great people.

That was first and foremost, a huge help in that. With me being based in New York, we had a brilliant General Manager that would manage our people and processes here in Australia.

I am the first to say, I think I’m a good leader, but I know I’m not a good manager.

My strength is very much in that top level, setting the vision, inspiring the team, people, people, people, but when it comes to process and structure, I’m so bad at that. I’m the first to admit that. So it was almost like me not being in the day-to-day running of the business, allowed the business to run better from a logistics and structure perspective,

Marty: A great insight, Samantha. And I love the fact that you actually know what you’re good at and what you’re not because the failing that most leaders make is they just simply don’t understand what they’re not good at.

Being able to build that infrastructure around you, as you said, that Jeff helped you with, must’ve been critical in making the brand go the way did.

I do want to focus on one particular story that just intrigued me. When you were in New York and you decided you wanted to shift the Samantha Wills brand to take it more upmarket and to get into those tier one stores in the US.

The way you tell the story, it sounds almost like you look back on it and think it was a really dumb idea. But as I look at it through the strategy lens, I go, “That’s actually not a bad idea. It’s actually pretty good strategy.”

When you think about stretching into a new market and with your ability to do that, you did it in other areas, Samantha Wills Bridal, for example, which went gangbusters.

So what went wrong there? I mean, you said you knew in your gut that it wasn’t going to work, but what, what do you think was the real thing that made that a failure?

Samatha: I think the thing that made it a failure was that it was so inauthentic to me, it was inauthentic to the brand and it was a decision led by ego, not by strategy.

Just to give context, I moved over to the states in 2010, because we were having such great momentum with celebrity placement: we had product on Sex and the City… America was kind of knocking on our door and it needed someone over there to drive the brand.

I made the move over there. I was 28 years old, it was the first time I lived out of Australia. I had a somewhat disposable income, and I just got stars in my eyes.

So we were a tier two brand. And when I say tier two, I’m a tier two shopper. And I differentiate a tier one shopper is someone that follows trends, and they’re very much whatever brand is on trend that season, that’s who they’re shopping with. Whereas the tier two shoppers are like, “That’s a brand I like. I’m loyal to that brand, come hell or high water”.

We had found our success in the sun as a tier two brand: we were very much known for our Bohemian aesthetic. It was a lot of turquoise, a lot of statement stones, a lot of burnished metals.

Then when I got over to America with the stars in my eyes, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, look at all these beautiful tier one stores, all these heritage brands!”

I remember standing in Barney’s, and our consumer would never shop at Barney’s. I didn’t shop at Barneys, but I’m doing market research in Barney’s, which is a high-end department store in New York and looking around and everything in those cabinets was beautiful, simple, polished metals. There were no statements stones in sight. It was very singular, layered.

It was every everything that we weren’t. And I remember standing at those counters and it was almost as if my ego was on one side of me and imposter syndrome stood on the other side of me. And the three of us just got into this super deep conversation: “If you’re a real designer, this is what real designers are doing.” Or, “You’re not even a real designer anyway. So why aren’t you doing this?” Just the most toxic of conversations.

So I went home and started designing the new collection and literally stripped out every color. Every piece of turquoise came out.

I was like, “We’re not even using word bohemian in our press releases. We’re doing fine, we’re doing minimal, we’re doing polished metals.”

I knew in my gut that it was the wrong thing because it wasn’t who we were. It should have been no surprise to anyone that the collection completely did not work. Not only did it not work, it also lost any point of relativity with our engaged core community.

Retailers we’d had such a great run in the lead up to it in Australia that they’re like, “All right, well if Samantha Wills is doing petite, polished metals, well, then we’ll order in bigger this season.” So they were left with this huge black eye in the form of excess stock. The worst of all was that my team had lost confidence in me because at that time I was a creative director who wasn’t doing authentic directing – it was completely ego based.

Essentially, the destruction that I had to sit in was the only savior was our loyal community. And what I had to do for the next 18 months was get into conversation with her, not speaking to her, but speak with her and really build that rapport back up again.

On the upside it allowed us to do was sit in the rubble of that and take forward what serves us from our origins of brand and then move the brand forward.

But I essentially had thrown the baby out with the bath water in the previous one. It was the biggest learning curve and it took a lot to bounce back from, but we got there in the end and I still say to this day, it’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my career.

Marty: Right, and it’s great that you can talk about it the way you have. Samantha.

I just want to talk about some of the parts in the book where you expose some of the incredible personal turmoil that you went through throughout this journey.

The thing for me as a leader, you mentioned that you lead very, very well in terms of your ability to create vision and to motivate people and to have them as part of your inner circle and to drive them that way. Did they see or know what was going on for you personally? And if so, how did it affect them?

Samatha: I don’t think at any given time they knew. I was based in New York, so I’d usually do six weeks in New York, 10 days in Sydney, pretty consistently.

I talk about this a lot and it relates to all business owners, but I think really women in business sometimes try to juggle everything, and there is this obviously human element to business.

When we go through these personal times of despair or trauma or heartbreak, and you’re running your own business, you can’t call in sick to the boss if you ARE the boss. So there’s this real layer that’s not spoken about a lot.

The story that I share in the book where I say in around 2015, I was in a partnership for three years. There were a lot of moving parts in my life. I was on a plane every other week, the business was going great.

It was almost like a Jenga tower where every piece was holding another piece up. And the piece of me that moved in that Jenga tower was finding out that my boyfriend was cheating on me. And at that time, my personal career was kind of diverging from just being known as a jewellery designer.

I was signing a lot of big public facing contracts, and I just went to bits. For the first few days after I found out I could barely put a sentence together. I could barely get out of bed. My friend would come over and, you know, get me out of bed long enough to change the sheets, and I’d crawl straight back into them. It was really a personally dark and heavy time.

I don’t think my team knew, I mean, I didn’t tell my team at the time. I think they might’ve noticed that I probably wasn’t as accessible in those days that followed. But I think that, when I finally confronted him about it, cause I knew that there was something in there that there was a truth that I needed to know to move forward.

I liken it when you’re a little kid, you jump in the pool and say, “I’m going to touch the deep end at the bottom.” So you take a deep breath and you dive down and like, “No, it’s too far, it’s too deep.” So you kind of come back up and you then take another big breath and then you dive down again.

It was almost like life was a pool of blackness where you’re just kind of hovering. If you can’t touch the bottom, you can’t move forward. And I knew for me that I had to touch the bottom.

I sat down in front of my partner and I said, “Hey, how long has this affair been going on?” And he looked at me and he said, “Well, which one?” And I said, “Well, how many have there been?” And he said, “At least eight.”

That bit of information was the information that I needed to hit rock bottom, to touch the very bottom, to be able to start to rebuild down there.

I share that story because I think it’s such an example of whatever trauma it is, whether it’s grief or heartbreak, but we do get plunged to the depth sometimes, and that was a very long way to answer your question.

I don’t think the team knew about it at the time, but when I felt I was ready enough to share it with them, I definitely didn’t go into so much detail at the time with them, but I did let them know that, “Hey, something’s happened in my personal life.” And they were incredibly supportive and I think that’s another element that I add to my leadership is that kind of transparency, not just professionally, but also personally, because they’re so intrinsically linked.

So, yeah, it’s something that they probably knew that the full extent of it when the book came out, but I think they would be able to think back to a time now, like, oh, that’s what was happening.

Marty: So are you a firm believer in “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or sometimes it just almost kills you?

Samatha: I think sometimes it almost kills you! I think at that time, I look back and even writing the book, I say I was doing literary teleportation and going back to 21 year old me, and sitting there with her while her hands were bleeding and then, you know, going to 33 year old me and she was there laying literally on the floor in such heartache. And all I wanted to do was open the blinds to let some light in when I was revisiting her.

But obviously, you know, we have to go through these things. For me, being in that darkness was firstly, shedding, what no longer served me because that relationship did not serve me, but what was coming up on my path, which I didn’t realize was to launch the Samantha Wills foundation, and for my entire career to that point, my entire belief and still to this day was around women’s empowerment.

It was about championing women in business. It was everything around how do we support women, women in business. And it was this whole women’s empowerment angle. But the core of empowerment is self worth.

My professional self worth was a 100%, but my personal self-worth was somewhere in the gutter. And I realized that what was coming up for me, I needed for those two elements of self worth to be in alignment.

When my boyfriend said, “At least eight,” my reply to him was “Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.” And that showed me where my personal self-worth was.

So my job in that darkness, not that I knew any of this at the time, but in hindsight, this is the takeaway for me, that I had to be in that darkness to shed what no longer served me and then bring on an element of resistance and learnings, and then ascend back up to the light and keep moving forward.

That alchemy for me was putting all of that energy into the Samantha Wills Foundation to help other women in business. So, I don’t say everything happens for a reason. I think everything happens for a purpose. It might not always be how we want it to play out. It usually isn’t. But there is something up ahead that we can’t really see at the time.

Marty: Yeah. That’s incredibly deep. Samantha, thank you for that. I’ve got to say, I read that little piece in your book probably three or four times, where you ask your boyfriend to take you back. I was expecting to see the words, “Make sure you sleep with one eye open, buddy from now on”, but instead it was… And that was, I mean, I found that amazing, and for someone so successful at the time to be able to have that level of disparity between your professional persona and your actual inner persona, which I guess a lot of us feel at one time or another.

Let me just move on to a question I’ve been just dying to ask you, because I reckon it’s taken me two or three weeks to get my head around this, to tell you the truth.

And this is the fact that you closed Samantha Wills jewellery on 11th of January, I think it was, in 2019. You SO could have monetized that!

Every entrepreneur that I’ve ever spoken to, I say, “What’s your exit strategy?” Right at the start, what’s your exit strategy? And you’ve got this guru entrepreneur, businessman, Jeff Bainbridge with you yet you both came to the conclusion that the right thing to do was just to simply retire the brand and to move on and do something else when the valuation, sorry, I don’t want to give too many spoilers in here for the book, but Jeff’s conservative valuation of the business at the time was about $8 million I believe. Is that the case?

Samatha: I would have walked away with $8 million. And he would have walked away with 30%,

Probably about $12 million. Yeah.

So, I think, as I said before, it was never about the money for me. I think first and foremost, and even until January 11th, 2019, it was about brand. And it was about honoring that brand.

Naming your brand after yourself is obviously a very personal thing to do. I did look at other brands that had sold that had founder namesakes that were no longer involved. And to me, the brand demised when they weren’t in there.

I looked at, even though the brand is still going, Sass and Bide. Without Heidi and Sarah Jane in it, I dunno, it just, wasn’t something that sat with my heart at all.

My heart was not made up in a way where I could kind of hand it over and just see what someone else did with it. I definitely wanted to keep the Samantha Wills name for myself as well. I knew I had much more to give creatively. While the jewellery chapter in my life was closing, I knew I had a lot more to give and I didn’t know what that was at the time, but I knew I wanted to do it under the Samantha Wills brand. From that, I also inherited our database and our infrastructure. I inherited a lot of things from that brand.

I did a talk with American Express not long after we had announced the closure and a gentleman in the audience stood up. It was an older gentleman and he said, “I just don’t understand your logic behind it.” Because I spoke a lot about wanting to honour the legacy of the brand and its people and what we had stood for.

And he said, “I don’t understand your legacy. I don’t understand your logic. Sorry, but if you wanted to create a legacy, why wouldn’t you hand it onto someone else to continue it on?”

In that moment it hit me. I was like, firstly, there is no logic to what I’m doing. If we’re talking about the thinking filter in the mind and the feeling filter in the soul, that decision was made entirely from my intuition and my soul.

And it was, it felt like the right thing to do, and to this day, it still feels like the right thing to do. If I had to run it through my logic filter, there was no logic to do what we did. And I said to him, “The concept of legacy, we’re both right in that term. If you’re handing something over to continue the legacy as to closing something to honor the legacy. So, yeah, there is no logic. I’m sorry, I wish I had a better answer, but there is no logic to that decision. It was based purely off every fibre in my being felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Marty: Well, that’s the right answer. And particularly if you look back on it and have zero regrets, I mean, that’s the best test of any decision, isn’t it? So incredibly brave, and I remember the tiny little sentence you had early in the book where you spoke about working at, was it the Hog’s Breath Cafe? Like, Carnivores-R-Us, right? It is THE meat restaurant, even though you were a committed vegetarian.

And I thought, “Gee, Samantha, this is really interesting–personal values versus commercial sensibilities!” But obviously, you’ve proven that out in the biggest possible way.

Samatha: But not only was I a committed vegetarian, I was like, “if I can upsell them on more meat, I get an extra $20 in my pay packet.” So…

Marty: Totally. Yeah, needs must, right?! So, what’s next for you and how can people learn more about you and find you apart from going and buying Of Gold and Dust, which I recommend to everyone who’s listening.

Samatha: Thank you so much. So the book, Of Gold and Dust, is the story of that journey. I’m just in the final editing stages now of putting together more of the tactile elements of that journey. So we’re doing a Samantha Wills masterclass, which is actually a handing over of almost two decades of branding information and creative business. So that will be available from August and that’s at samanthawills.com. And then on Instagram, I’m just @samanthawills because, you know, I like to name everything Samantha Wills!

Marty: You do. Fantastic. Samantha, thank you so much for your time. You’ve been very generous with your time and your thoughts. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you on this podcast, and I just wish you all the best for whatever you do in the future, because I know that Samantha Wills jewellery is only the first step in what’s going to be an incredible dynasty for you over your life. So congratulations and good luck with everything else that you do

Samatha: Aw, thank you so much. And thank you for providing platforms like this, and the no bullsh!t element is so brilliant and so important for business owners and entrepreneurs. So thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.


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