Peter Williams, the founder and CEO of Jack Wills

On 19th March 2013 pupils at both KEHS and KES were fortunate enough to attend a talk from Peter Williams, the founder and CEO of Jack Wills the university outfitters in the boys Big School. Describing how he went from being a pupil himself at KES to being the majority shareholder of the huge business (52% to be exact), Williams led us through the story of his life, from his time at King Edwards to the current success of his massive clothing chain.

Leaving KES in 1992, Williams was both the rugby and school captain, and the youngest of three brothers. He studied Economics, Maths, Geography and General Studies at A-level, and had an offer from Cambridge to do Geography if he achieved the required grades. He recalls going into school to collect his results that would determine his future, and before he had even opened his envelope, one of the chief masters told him that he was the first school captain not to be going to an Oxbridge university. Instead, he took a gap year and travelled to America where he joined a school in Connecticut, he swiftly realised that this was not something he wanted to do, to finish school, and then return was not his idea of progressing with his life. Attending the school in Connecticut for one term, Williams then ‘hoboed’ around America trying to do something with his gap year. The next year he attended University College London where he studied Economics. At the age of 22, after university, he acquired a job in a strategy consulting firm, which he described as brilliant; travelling the world, meeting all kinds of interesting people, telling people who to run their businesses! But three months into the job, he quit, realising that he didn’t want to work for someone else, he wanted to be in control of his own life.

In attempts to save some money, Williams worked for various big branded companies; One-to-one, Virgin, Orange, Nike, a copper-company and a glass-company. Working for these major brands, Williams soon developed his keen interest in how brands work, realising that he wanted to create his own premium brand. Coming down to two possible business ventures, the decision between ready meals or clothing retail. Jack Wills was created in 1999. Inspired by Ralph Lauren, an American preppy attire, Williams wanted to create a true British preppy fashion line; something that Ralph Lauren could never be- truly British. In terms of creating his specific style, Williams highlighted the ages between 18-21, ones ‘gorgeous’ years, a time of naivety, freedom, sheer arrogance of youth, he wanted to bottle these specific attributes and recreate them through fashion.

Initially opening a shop in Salcombe, Williams was funded through money inherited from a Great Aunt and savings himself and a friend had built up, totalling £40000. In their first year, they turned over £56000, not nearly as much as they had hoped. Their second year saw a turnover of £59000, again not a sufficient amount of profit that was made. In their third year they decided it was all or nothing, if they didn’t make a significant turnover, then they would scrap the idea. They opened a second store and decided to sell clothes online, their third year turnover was £259000. Williams is positive that the business did so well due to gaining consumer loyalty and viral marketing; he is strongly against the use of advertising for his brand.

Williams felt that his next ultimate test was to succeed in America. Today, Jack Wills has stores in America, Hong Kong (as of 18 months ago), the Middle East and Russia. With a big belief in the Chinese work ethic, Williams stated that Hong Kong was the best place to do business as the people there are so efficient and dedicated to their jobs.

We were very fortunate to have Mr.Williams speak to us, informing us that if you put your mind to something, you can be successful, and that money isn’t everything, you must make sure that there are other attractions to running your own business rather than merely the money you may potentially earn.

 

BY JULIETTE MEADS U6TH

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