Anne Hurley has a highly diverse background ranging from her early beginnings in law to over 20 years’ experience in the telecomms industry. Her eclectic professional background has put her in good stead to run her online business James&Co, a women’s vegan outerwear retailer. Anne is also a leader at the forefront of policy development of Australia’s NBN and a passionate supporter of the broadband future as the key enabler to all that the digital opportunities present.
NORA caught up with Anne to find out more….
From law to telecomms to retail – it seems you’ve done it all! Talk us through your decision to become an online retailer and how you’ve found that journey.
There is actually a path to it which is clearer looking back. I started as a lawyer specialising in competition law. I moved to Hong Kong where I went to work for the Hong Kong Telecommunications Authority as in-house counsel at the time they were privatising telecommunications. When I returned to Sydney I continued on the telecommunications path and went to work for American Express as their Asia Pacific telecommunications policy leader (Am Ex ran its own private network at the time). Whilst there I moved from law/regulation to leading the Asia Pacific team who designed/operated the network and the business IT apps. It was great. From there I went on to be CEO of Australia's telco industry association Communications Appliance and was very involved in the policy and early implementation of the National Broadband Network mark 1 and the vision of the future digital economy. In 2011 my life took a dramatic personal turn when I lost my husband in May and 5 months later my 24 year old son James died. I needed to do something different in my professional life, and made the decision to move on from talking about the digital economy to being a part of it. And hopefully being able to show leadership in what the digital economy could deliver. From there the James&Co online business began. A sad start but I love all the learning and networks coming from it.
What are the greatest challenges or limitations of keeping ethics front and centre of your brand?
We are a vegan outerwear brand - women's coats and jackets tailored in vegan/faux leather, vegan/faux suede and faux fur. We don't have a real challenge as brand in keeping ethics front and center. We are Peta-approved Vegan which gives us great cred. And from our research we have only found one other brand that does only the vegan options. Most other leading brands that advertise their faux leather jackets as 'vegan leather' also have real leather in their ranges. A challenge comes from consumers who consider that offering the faux option is advertising the look of leather - particularly so with faux fur. They would not support wearing anything that even looks like animal skin. We take the view that the alternative is better than nothing and sends a strong message. We are very much watching developments in making leather alternatives from pineapples and mushrooms. They are not soft or fine enough for jackets yet, but when they are we will be onto them.
We also believe in an ethical supply chain. So our products are manufactured in Pakistan under a Supplier Code of Conduct. I have visited there and ensured the workers are accorded all legal and human rights - they are all lovely! And there is no tannery attached to the factory. Anyone who has ever seen a tannery would never ever wear leather again I'm sure! And our unsold stock we donate to Good 360.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self entering the workforce?
I think I've been very fortunate in using legal qualifications to get into the industries which lead us into the future and in being passionate about wanting to be part of that future. Legal qualifications provide a very sound basis for assessing circumstances and making decisions and I have loved being able to seize an opportunity to draw on them. So it's not really about being prepared to back myself for change. The advice I would give myself is to be way more vocal about promoting and advancing women. When I graduated from Law School, the split between male and female graduates was close to 50%. So we really thought that we were the generation to drive equality for women. Needless to say, it hasn't turned out that way. The industries in particular that I got into in telecommunications and broadband are thoroughly male-dominated. I was a bit of an activist but I think I've let the side down in not becoming more of an Emmeline Pankhurst!
Who (person or business) is doing something in the retail space that you admire?
This may seem a strange answer, but I have to say I really admire Amazon. We sell and fulfil through Amazon in the US and being inside it and watching their growth into so many retail sectors, the support they provide the sellers, the opportunities they define for sellers to grow business, the opportunities for employment in regional areas with the latest technology. Last figure I saw was they account for something like 60% of e-commerce in the USA, and the challenge to the traditional retailers is very real. Walmart has tried to emulate the Amazon model, but is struggling to gain the traction. I am interested to see how they start here in the Australian environment later this year. I also see that they will provide a model for how the best broadband connectivity can lead to employment and growth in e-commerce outside the city metro areas.
You’re very involved in Australia's broadband rollout – can you give us an update?
Thank you for asking! Having been so involved in the visionary start of the NBN - 93% of premises in Australia to get the latest Fibre To The Premises Technology and 7% satellite, I was dismayed to see how it was actually being rolled out under the changed model of the Coalition Government from 2013. I won't go into all the technicalities, but media, social media, regulators, are inundated with complaints and stories about woeful speeds and service. So I joined Internet Australia which is an advocacy body - the Australian chapter of the global Internet Society which was established by the Internet founders - and am currently the Chair. We constantly call for a non-political review and support for stopping the rollout which is based on yesterday's copper technology and increasing the fibre access. The NYT published an article a couple of weeks ago giving global coverage to what it described as Australia's broadband 'bungle'. It is not just about the broadband network per se - it is about what that enables for Australia's digital future. We keep advocating but so far haven't managed to get the decision-makers to show vision!
Anne is also one of the mentors on NORA's Talent Network. Click here to find out more.