Suzanne Scozzi is the CEO at Suzanne Grae, an iconic Australian retailer with over 190 stores across Australia. Suzanne Grae is part of the Sussan Group owned by Naomi Milgrom, along with the Sussan and Sportsgirl brands. Originally joining Suzanne Grae as a Buying Manager, Suzanne became immersed in the brand and worked across multiple departments, and progressed to CEO of Suzanne Grae in 2013. With a love for fashion, strong entrepreneurial skills and super high energy levels, Suzanne has embraced the challenge of Australia’s retail industry and is passionate about her role as the CEO of Suzanne Grae.
Can you tell us about your career progression into your current role?
My career was kick-started when I moved from an extremely competitive retail industry in London to a far smaller fashion environment in Sydney 30 years ago - I was highly sought after simply because I was from London, never mind that I had very little experience. I used this to my advantage and my career took off.
After 2 years in Australia, I landed a Buying Manager role at Suzanne Grae Corporation - a role that would have normally taken at least 6 to 8 years to reach in London. From there, I became GM of Buying and Marketing and later progressed to become CEO, which was 7 years ago.
What one factor has helped you the most throughout your career?
It would have to be my passion for fashion! If I didn’t love the industry I was involved in, I don’t think it would have been so easy to incorporate both family and professional commitments into my life.
I have been incredibly lucky to have been able to work in an industry that I love and to be involved in such a creative working environment. From a very young age I have loved to make things and sell them; there is nothing more satisfying to me than having a best seller!
How do you balance long hours with your personal life successfully?
This is always a challenge for anyone in a high-level role but it is especially challenging for women with school-aged children. When your husband has an equally demanding role and travels twice as much, the complexity is even greater (I had children very late in life and was determined to be a very involved mother and enjoy every minute of them growing up). There were times when the kids were small and my husband would meet me at the airport as I land and hand over the kids and the car keys before jumping on a plane himself.
I like to think I am organised, well-planned and have high energy levels. However, there have been many occasions when I have taken kids to birthday parties etc. on the wrong days. There is so much going on in my life that it’s probably no surprise I sometimes make mistakes.
In my current role, I have taken on additional responsibilities which have added another layer of complexity. Luckily, I have an amazing EA who manages to keep me on track. I would not be able to manage my current responsibilities without her, so having a great executive support is an absolute necessity.
I always try to leave the office at a reasonable hour to be able to have dinner with the family and try to contain any after-hours work until after the children are in bed (now they are older and have their own school work to do). Luckily for me (and the kids) my husband is the cook in our house. It certainly gets easier as they get older and become less reliant on you.
Do you have any advice for working moms on how to progress and succeed?
Time for me is the most precious commodity. You have to be prepared to be very efficient with your time so you can juggle everything, including time for yourself. For me, my priorities are my family and my work. I like to keep fit and this aspect of my life has always been important to me and is where I make time for myself. I get up at 5am to make lunches for my kids to take to school and then head off to the gym at least 3 times a week. I enjoy this time immensely, along with morning walks with my dog, a glass of wine on Friday and a bit of retail therapy on the weekend.
I am also lucky in that fashion for me is a personal love, as well as the industry I am involved in, thus keeping abreast of what is happening both locally and overseas is a pleasure as well as a necessity.
Do you think that your gender has ever hindered you or blocked any personal progression?
Not at all. I have been fortunate to have worked for a leader, Naomi Milgrom who promotes a workplace culture that supports women in leadership roles, with all 3 CEOs of her brands (Sportsgirl, Sussan and Suzanne Grae) being women. We have all been mentored into our roles by Naomi and supported throughout our careers with Sussan Group.
What are some of the obstacles you foresee for future generations of women, and is there anything we can do about them?
I believe that re-launching a successful career after an extended break due to responsibilities as a full-time caregiver for children or aging parents may be challenging for future generations of women. Through my own experience and with how I have supported women in my workplace, my advice to future women would be to rebuild confidence, re-establish a network, dust off old skills and develop new ones. In saying this, women returning to the workplace will also need to ensure they catch up on new technology.
I have worked with many female leaders who have been successful in their roles and have taken a break from the industry and returned to be successful by utilising these key principles. There are definitely ways that future generations of women can make this work, as have I, and a supportive work culture is essential to being successful in both areas of life.