Jane McNally On How She Thrives In The Workplace
The CEO of the iconic Australian luxury fashion label CAMILLA talks biscuits, balance and her favourite piece of business advice.
Jane McNally, CEO of CAMILLA
When Jane McNally was just 22, she stepped into her first leadership role; a position that would quickly change her perception of management and all she had learned until that point. “I had just completed a post-graduation management course, and I very quickly learnt to throw the management book away,” the CEO of CAMILLA explains with a laugh.


Leading a team of 12 regional managers, and dealing with an extensive business unit, the experience taught McNally “an enormous amount about leadership. I discovered that when you believe in your people, it’s far more likely that they will believe in you. Oh, and it’s so much better to be yourself from the start – people respect that.”


These learnings have stayed with McNally as she’s carved out an impressive and varied career as a well-respected leader in the fashion industry. Vivacious, empathic and honest, with a keen sense of humour, she’s forged bonds with colleagues that have lasted for decades: “I’m very fortunate that people I’ve sometimes worked before have joined me from company to company,” she admits.


For the best business, beauty, finance and fashion advice, sign up to The Suite – it’s the free and fortnightly magazine-style newsletter thousands of women love. 


It’s no wonder, really, when she talks about her style of leadership. “It’s important to be very fair and honest with people,” McNally continues. “I definitely don’t lash out if something is worrying me; I try to carry that worry rather than spread it through the team. I believe in team potential and set the bar quite high. I always try to provide stretch goals – I’ve had that done for me in the past, and it makes for a more rewarding career. I’m not a perfectionist, per se, but maybe a little competitive, in the sense of wanting to do one’s very best, of course.”


Above all, McNally understands the power of creating an environment where people come to work and actually have fun. Imagine that?! “A lot of people take themselves and their work far too seriously, and that in itself leads to unnecessary stress. I love what I do, and part of that is creating an environment where people feel relaxed, friendly and easy with one another. It’s so important to have fun at work and most people at CAMILLA would say there’s a lot of laughter around our office. As I always remind the team, we’re not saving lives, we’re making frocks.”


We asked McNally to finish our sentences on everything from her top productivity tip to her greatest strength. Here’s what she had to say…


My career began… with a packet of chocolate digestives. I spent two weeks in a food buying office as part of my post-grad diploma. Buying means picking out the product that customers will love the most, then negotiating the best price, of course! Turns out I had good tastebuds – I picked the winning biscuits, and became hooked on this career. There’s an element of educated gambling excitement. On course completion I landed a role in fashion accessories buying and never looked back.


I start each workday with… breakfast in bed – although I wish I could say ‘leaping into the ocean’! I quickly check for messages from family in the UK, and then work emails, before jumping into the shower at around 7am. Then more emails until the drive into work at around 9am when the Harbour Bridge traffic has dissipated. Maybe two to three days a week I will fit in an energising 8am Pilates class.


I end each day… with a late-ish work finish, then home for tea, with a waterside stroll, and sometimes more Pilates before a series binge watch or Kindle read. Best box set in the last five years? Succession. More recently, The White Lotus (which features some very glamorous characters wearing CAMILLA). Best reads are truly escapist fantasy universes. For example, I speed-read and loved the Game of Thrones saga many years before the TV version (which I also loved FYI). Friday and weekends get a little more livelier as the energy levels rise.


At work, I couldn’t function without… my truly amazing EA, Michelle. She is the happiest person I know and that smile always brings one to my own face! I’m extremely fortunate to work in a highly creative environment with a fabulous tribe of work colleagues.


My greatest strength is… probably a strong sense of humour. The fashion industry can get intense at times but with humour comes balance and calm.


My top productivity tip is… tackle the really important things first. Sounds obvious but it’s so easy to drown in a sea of stuff! I always subconsciously think ‘What difference will doing this make?’ Prioritise the great work; the rest will follow.


I would describe my leadership style as… collaborative and fair. Many bright heads make a much better whole.


I manage my stress by… reading, walking outdoors, and spending time with my wonderful, long-suffering, endlessly interesting husband.


A good day is… when the sun shines. The business solutions flow and a great bottle of wine flows even more freely with friends at the beach on a Friday night.


A good meeting is… meeting the superstar who will further elevate your team or provide the business solution for which you have been searching. Or, from my buying days, finding the supplier who can meet exceptional quality, and delivery standards at an amazing price.


A good service is… finding someone who really listens to what you are asking for and delivers it with something a little bit extra on top. I’m always impressed with service providers who remember not just your name, but details about your life and family. It’s personalisation, of course, and something which we always strive to achieve at CAMILLA, whether in person or online. It builds connection immediately.


The most rewarding part of my job is… building things bigger and better alongside my team. Whether that’s turning around an ailing business as I have done in previous roles, or accelerating a high-growth business like CAMILLA. I get very switched on by double-digit positives (Mrs Competitive – sad, I know!).


And the hardest part is… restructuring teams. Sometimes you have to make very hard decisions before you can build back struggling businesses. I have never been able to compartmentalise in that regard. Everyone has a great streak of brilliance, but sometimes a particular point in a business evolution requires change. Thankfully, I have had to make very few redundancies over a long career, but each one has stayed clear in the memory bank. A wise mentor once told me, though, that you always have to think of the greater whole. What will enable the biggest piece to survive and flourish?


My favourite piece of business advice is… choose a career you enjoy. A hackneyed phrase but time really flies when you’re having fun.




Like what you’ve just read? Carla Rockmore talks fashion memories and the secret to great style HERE.