Ann Summers tycoon Jacqueline Gold dies

Jacqueline Gold, the former long-serving chief executive of Ann Summers who played a role in the sexual liberation of both British women and the British high street, has died at 62.

Gold became CEO of the lingerie and sex toy chain in 1987 and transformed the brand into a multimillion-pound retail empire, becoming one of the most prominent female entrepreneurs in the UK in the 1990s. She died after a seven-year battle with breast cancer, her family announced on Friday.

Gold joined Ann Summers, which was part of her father David Gold’s business empire, in 1981. David, who was also co-chairman of football team West Ham United, died in January.

His daughter took the company, which at the time consisted of four backstreet shops, and turned it into the first major chain of sex products in the UK with high street stores.

“It was a very male-oriented business then,” she told the Financial Times in 2005, recalling her early years in the business. “The workforce were men, the customers were men . . . I think only about 10 per cent 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 within 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 have confidence that it would work,” she said. “It was an all-male board at the time. One of them said: ‘This isn’t going to work. Women aren’t even interested in sex.’”

The success of her approach meant she became one of the country’s most famous female executives, overseeing the company’s international expansion to Ireland and Spain as well as its online strategy before becoming executive chair. She was made a CBE in 2015.

“In life she was a trailblazer, a visionary, and the most incredible woman,” her family said, adding that she had “courageously battled stage 4 breast cancer for 7 years and was an absolute warrior throughout her cancer journey”.

The fortune of the Gold family — Jacqueline, David, and his other daughter Vanessa, now the Ann Summers CEO — was estimated to be worth £470mn by the Sunday Times rich list in 2019, making her one of the wealthiest women in the country.

However, Ann Summers has struggled in recent years against nimbler online operators such as 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 June 26 2022.

In December 2020 Ann Summers launched an insolvency process, known as a company voluntary agreement, in order to lower rents as the company reeled from Covid restrictions keeping its stores shut.

It has 81 stores in the UK and three in Ireland, according to its most recent filings, down from a total of 140 stores in 2005.

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