Hermione Underwood: ‘Advocating for each other as women is crucial’

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  • Hermione Underwood was announced today as the UK CEO of leading wellness brand, JSHealth Vitamins.

    So, if you didn’t know her name already, you’re definitely about to. Prepare to be inspired.

    Our Women Who Win interview series celebrates strong and inspirational female trailblazers, shaping the future for us all, and Hermione Underwood and her hard work and determination is that in a nutshell.

    Jenny Proudfoot sat down with Hermione to find out about her exciting new position, the best advice she’s ever received and what we could all achieve if we supported each other.

    Congratulations on your new role! Tell us about it…

    You could say I’ve done things ‘backwards’ having been an entrepreneur for over 10 years and now taking on a full time role!! Until recently I was running my own jewellery brand, digital PR agency and personal lifestyle brand but when JSHealth Vitamins offered me the role of UK CEO, I couldn’t say no. I knew it was a risk but I also believed in the magic of the business, having seen it first hand consulting for them for many months prior. I have a chemistry with the global team, and the founders, which is unparalleled. The work ethic and positive energy in this company is extraordinary and I wanted to be part of it in a more involved, full time capacity. Further to that, I’d tried and experienced the products benefits for myself. Before even agreeing to consult to the brand, I took the Hair + Energy vitamins and was astounded by the results. I had always had quite fine, thin hair and my hair transformed within a few short months. I was certain that with a good product and an extraordinary team, we could really take the companies success in Australia and build on it internationally. In leading the teams European expansion, I want to continue to share the JSHealth ethos of self love and finding the healthy, balanced lifestyle that works for you, as an individual. We don’t believe in fad or extreme diets, we genuinely believe in taking care of yourself inside and out, limiting restrictions and tackling specific issues with formulations that really work.

    What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

    Looking back, the bravest thing I’ve ever done was to move to London from my cushy Sydney bubble! I have always taken quite big risks and gone against the grain, trusting my gut and not listening when my parents or friends tell me I’m crazy! I genuinely believe the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward but also know first hand the challenges that come with such choices. It will be tough at times but it will be worth it long term, if you can hold on for long enough to see.

    What has been your biggest challenge?

    My biggest challenge to date would probably have to be living overseas whilst my Mum was undergoing chemo. I was also going through a painful break up at the time and felt lost in London, suddenly without a ‘home’. Even when my Mum was at her sickest point, she told me to get back on that plane and keep fighting for my future! My parents mantra is to give your children roots and to give them wings. They have always encouraged me to dust myself off, get back up and keep going, no matter what hurdle I am facing. Their attitude gave me the strength to keep showing up and to keep working, even at times when life was quite tough. I never could have foreseen that the work over those months and years would eventually bring me to such a happy place in my life, and to such an unexpected and amazing opportunity in this role with JSHealth.

    What is the best advice you’ve received?

    I live by the words my Grandad used to say – ‘the harder I worked, the luckier I became’. My parents lead by example and instilled an amazing work ethic in me and my siblings. From a very young age, I’ve always worked extremely hard at whatever is in front of me. Whilst you often can’t see it at the time, hard work does pay huge dividends long term.

    Have you ever felt discriminated against as a female boss?

    One of the most defining features of JSHealth as a company is the way they advocate for women. My seniors were very transparent about the fact that they wanted a female CEO to run the European expansion. I know I am supported and that my voice is heard, in every decision. Of course I have experienced discrimination with certain partners and suppliers, who it seems are at times quite quick to assume I am junior because I am female but I just continue to show up and do the work. I brush it off personally whilst recognising that there is still so much work to be done and progress to be made for women in the workforce. I hope that young women can see Jess’ success in building this huge, global company and even my own story being an entrepreneur in my 20s and appointed UK CEO in my early 30s, and know that there are opportunities for them, too, if they do the work and believe in themselves.

    What is your typical working day?

    I start the day very early and finish it quite late! I speak with our global CEO, Dean, morning and night and with the Australian time difference currently, that usually means calls at 7AM and 9PM. Luckily we get along famously and it rarely feels like work. We share a hustle and an enthusiasm for this business like no other. Once we’ve spoken in the morning on high level strategic decisions, I jump on my morning call with my UK team. As we’re in lockdown, we’re all working from home but we speak constantly throughout the day on zoom, WhatsApp, email and calls. I trust my team immensely and let them work autonomously within a supportive team environment. No two days are the same for me in the sense that I am usually working on anything from logistics to finance to HR. What I’m loving most about this new role is learning, and being out of my own depth at times, having to put up my hand and say I don’t know!

    How can you achieve the right work/ personal life balance?

    This is an area I’m very much still working on! Historically I haven’t been very good at it but the JSHealth ethos is all about balance so the global team are all very respectful of each others weekends etc. I am consciously trying to switch off when I can and be more present. I started meditating last year and I write and cook a lot with really helps me unwind after a long day

    How can we all ask for more?

    It’s a well researched fact that women are less likely to advocate for promotions and pay rises compared to their male counterparts in business. You can be the change. It’s important to be fair but certain and to really trust in your own self worth. I let the results do the talking and know my worth when I have these conversations. Consider timing, your real value add, be confident and willing to negotiate.

    What is your superpower?

    Employing amazing women. I could not have a better team! They each go above and beyond, living and breathing their roles and yet have boundaries for their own personal lives, which I believe to be so important. A passionate, disciplined and considerate team is the key to success and we have that and so much more.

    How do you celebrate success?

    Champagne! It’s so easy to overlook the wins in the constant pursuit of perfection, or the next target, but I have been really trying to practice gratitude and to celebrate even the smallest wins, in each and every day… otherwise it all just blurs into one long to do list!

    What will you never compromise on in business?

    Integrity. I am quite formal in my practice, even though it makes my team laugh that I always sign off ‘kind regards’. I’m very old school and I won’t change that! I like being professional. I also trust my gut and let my voice be heard which is critical to my professional happiness. I encourage the same of my team and we collectively make decisions daily.

    What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?

    I have been known to stay in relationships and work partnerships for longer than I should because I believe in their potential rather than their reality. Learning to set boundaries and knowing when to stop giving too much to others who may be inclined to take advantage is critical to success. It’s still a work in progress for me but finally learning to practice this in my early 30s has made space for much healthier, happier relationships, both personally and professionally.

    What is your mantra?

    Do today what tomorrow will thank you for. However annoying that task is, it’s not as annoying as seeing it on your to do list again tomorrow!!

    What has been your proudest moment?

    This job! To be working with people who share my drive and work ethic, within in a company that is doing good, is rewarding in a way I never expected work could be. To see our community transformations and to know that we are making a difference to the way people feel about themselves is the icing on the cake.

    What would you want to change for women?

    I’m not in this phase of life yet but I see first hand the challenges for my circle of successful, hardworking, female friends who are navigating new motherhood at the exact moment their careers are really taking off! I hope in future we can find balance for those managing the pressures of career and family.

    What could we all achieve if we supported each other?

    What couldn’t we achieve!? Advocating for each other is crucial. I really try to connect people and share my network wherever I can. I am always thinking about who would be great to meet or how two people might be able to help each other. It takes two minutes to do an introduction and it can literally create magic!!

    Huge congratulations to Hermione. We can’t wait to watch her thrive.

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