An Interview With: Jacqui Gale MBE and Helen Clinton of Portmeirion Group

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Source: Jacqui Gale MBE



Source: Helen Clinton

Ahead of being awarded a prestigious MBE, Jacqui Gale, Chief Commercial Officer and Helen Clinton, National Account Manager of the Portmeirion Group spoke with BrandAlley about the experiences and breakthroughs that have shaped their careers to date. Here’s what they had to say about their brand, their work and life passions and their career progression.

Talk us through your morning routine, what are your go-to products?  


I shower, do my makeup, have a coffee, start work, go to bed and then repeat. In the summer, I run before work, but running is limited now as the weather isn’t great. My key beauty product is my eyelash curler.


I get up at 6’oclock every day. I’ve got two dogs, so it’s really all about them. I do their breakfast then I’ll have a few minutes to do my hair and makeup. So, for me, decent products that are long-lasting, quick, and easy to use are essential. I walk the dogs at 7’oclock, then from there, it’s work time.

Can you give us an overview of your career story, how did you get to where you are today? 


I had ambition to create my own business. I studied chemistry to figure out how to create my own cosmetics. Then I needed to learn how to sell them and then create my own company.

I’ve now had over 40 years of experience. I started at Estee Lauder, joining the management programme and worked with them for almost 10 years. I then worked at Revlon.

I decided to try something different and launched one of Pretty Polly’s biggest lingerie lines. It was a great success, but it was also one of my toughest moments as I was made redundant while pregnant at Pretty Polly.

I went back to work in a global role for Lulu Guinness six weeks after having my daughter, having a baby is one of the toughest jobs I have done. Three years later I had my son and we decided to move “home” to Scotland, and I joined The Russell Corporation. One of the biggest changes in my career was when Fruit of the Loom bought Russell Europe. It was a $1.5 billion deal, and I was responsible for the commercial combining of the group. I finished that and moved on.

I started SG with a partner in Germany who was one of my former customers. We did £8 million in its first year. It was also part of the Falk & Ross group which I became the CEO of. I then moved to Germany.

After travelling to and from Germany it was time to get closer to home, so I joined Crabtree in London, but later moved to Arran, home in Scotland again. It was then finally time to do something for myself. We sold the SG business and I started JG international, allowing me in to stay in Scotland, with my family.

The Wax Lyrical opportunity came along and being such a fantastic company, it was an opportunity too good to miss. Owned by Portmeirion Group, my role was to reposition the brand and grow internationally. We rebranded and repositioned ready for 2020 but the pandemic started, and the NHS needed us. Within 10 days the entire factory began creating hand sanitiser.

I was also made the Chief Commercial Officer for the Portmeirion Group. 2020 was such a strange year for many, I was proud to receive an MBE, Business Person of the Year, Mentor of the Year and a distinction for my MBA. None of this would have been possible without the great leadership of my boss Mike Raybould and the incredible team that work with me.


My dad owned a large jewellery factory that supplied to many major retailers. I had quite a different upbringing, my dad would bring extra work home and ask if we would like to earn extra pocket money. I was keen to do it, I would sit there for hours after school labelling bags.

Taking on that extra work gave me the ability to walk into stores and be able to afford to buy things for myself. That’s what gave me the mindset to get into business as quickly as possible as I recognised that I had to work hard for what I wanted.

At 15 years old, I decided I wanted to run an online jewellery shop, and I actually set up what would be an Etsy shop today. I showed my dad popular fashion jewellery, and he went to visit wholesalers and came back with great options for my range. I sold all the stock – and it was fantastic!

At the end of college, I got accepted into university, but I didn’t go. I felt like I was learning more by doing things rather than by sitting in a lecture. So, I took a risk. I stayed in my job for a couple of years and worked my way up. I then got another job and worked my way up again. I worked to the highest level I possibly could go in my last job.

I then decided to change direction and I’ve now been working at Portmerion Group for three years. I’m also doing a business-to-business sales degree. I can use this degree in the workplace, creating work-based projects that are beneficial for me to learn from.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a successful woman in business? 


When I first started in business, there definitely wasn’t equal opportunity in the workplace. Whereas now, it doesn’t matter who you are, male or female, you’re just a person to do the job.


You couldn’t get a job at a few businesses that I’ve worked at unless you were a certain size or had a certain hair colour. You were fired if you went above that size. Another challenge is everything is becoming more competitive as technology advances and it’s about finding a new solution for the consumer and staying relevant.

(Jacqui) Congratulations on your MBE, what other moments have been standout in your illustrious career? 


I had a call from the NHS, around March 2020 saying, “can you make some hand sanitiser we have none?”.

So within about two days we came up with the formulation, our biggest challenge was getting bottles and pumps. Keeping our teams safe was top of the list as no one at that time knew what COVID could do, just that it was dangerous.

We already had a licence for alcohol, but we needed a different licence, it really was one challenge after the other.

We couldn’t get transport as no one was working so we delivered the bottles in our cars to the hospitals. 3 million bottles were created in three months for the NHS and frontline services. We worked 24 hours a day!

During COVID-19, networks were like a lifeline, and we used all the contacts through networks including LinkedIn, Facebook and more, as our goal was to make sure all who did not have sanitiser that needed it had it so they could feel safer in going to work. We then started to supply to retailers.

The Director of Nursing came to the factory to thank everyone; it was just lovely and very humbling. I was awarded the MBE for services to the NHS, however I do see it as a team award as I could not have done it without them.

Now we have a full range of hand sanitiser products with a special ingredient that doesn’t dry your hands out. We’re also doing fragranced no-rinse hand cleanser.

I think it’s frustrating knowing we can supply the entire NHS with hand sanitiser, but most go to China for it.

However, we are seeing a movement, particularly from the younger generation in the ‘British made’. It’s very important to me, hence why the Portmeirion Group and Wax Lyrical are both manufactured in the UK.

Now that the new year is in full swing, what’s the one tableware essential you always look to when hosting? 


I love to use pasta bowls whenever I’m serving a meal. We always get compliments on ours because they look so unique and are of supreme quality.


This is where the generational gap comes in because mine is a gravy boat. We’ve got this beautiful spin on it. The Botanic Garden’s 50th Anniversary is this year, so we’ve got a wonderful stacking set that looks like a vase but it’s a 20-piece set. You can sit it on the side, and you don’t have to worry about it being in a cupboard.

What’s the best part about what you do?  


For me, it’s mentoring people and helping them to progress. Especially when they have talent – it gives me great satisfaction. I was awarded Mentor of the Year, so it was recognition that you really can do this as sometimes, as females, we doubt ourselves.


A lot of my time is spent travelling to see people, so I get to see different parts of the country in my job. Not many people can say that they get to see the whole of the UK as part of their work. I’ve been behind the scenes on TV sets and all types of settings.

…And the most difficult? 


Probably when you have to let people go. Mentoring isn’t always about how you progress; sometimes it’s about telling people what they don’t want to hear. The hardest part of business is letting someone go.


That’s a two-way thing as it’s upsetting for you and it’s upsetting for them at the same time.


I’d like to think that we recruit brilliantly, and no one would ever leave but sometimes it’s not the right fit and their next step is to find success elsewhere. I would much rather face things straight away but that can be tough. I think it comes with a little experience, it’s not something I ever want to learn to do but it’s something you must do in the most respectful way.


The most difficult thing for me is having a work/ life balance. It can be quite stressful but by balancing everything, it’s also very rewarding too.

What are the pieces we’d always find in your handbag? 


Hand sanitiser, my phone, some electronic device and then lipstick or mascara.


Once you put your laptop, chargers, car keys, and face mask in your handbag, you don’t have much room for anything else!

What is the one piece of advice you wish you’d been told when first starting out? 


There’s usually a simple solution. Keep focused, stay focused, and keep it simple.


Have sheer determination, a positive attitude, and a willingness to learn. Stay relevant by constantly learning and absorb as much information as possible.


Someone taught me a long time ago that you never become the teacher until you become the pupil again, and I think that’s great advice. So don’t ever think that you know everything…

If you pared back your wardrobe to just a couple of products, what would be the number one item?  


I’ve got an all-in-one jumpsuit, but it’s completely stretchy. It’s practically a professional onesie!


Mine would be a cardigan jacket as they’re comfy and you can put them over anything. They can be casual or formal.

What’s your secret indulgence? 


I would say cake and chocolate, but that’s no secret. So, I’d say the TV show Selling Sunset.


I like to take my mind off things by watching the TV show Below Deck. It’s a secret as many people wouldn’t know that I watch that.


Why not shop some of our favourite Portmeirion pieces here:

Portmeirion Exotic Botanic Garden Low Bowl: Was £67. Now, £33.50.

Portmeirion Inspired Ranges Glass Kingsley: Was £30. Now, £18.

Portmeirion Botanic Garden Harmony Stone Cup & Saucer: Was £21. Now, £12.60.


Words: As told to Lucy Oben-Pepra