The first thing you notice about Jane Wight is that for all her slightness (she’s only 5’; 5’ 4” in heels) she has a tremendous amount of energy. And not superfluous energy, either: this is focused, purposeful, directed moxie that undoubtedly has a lot to do with the fact that at just 35 years old, she is the first woman in BOSS’ 26-year history to snag the post of Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
It wasn’t always like this for the little engine that could. Back in primary and secondary school, she was rather…well…average when it came to achievement. The class clown, a lot of ‘Cs’ were dealt her way by teachers who saw her potential, if only she would apply herself. But Jane couldn’t quite figure out how to do that just yet. She was playful; easily distracted. On one occasion, she actually skipped out of math class to follow a ladybug that had briefly alighted on her hand. Her teacher was not amused. “She was basically telling me not to be curious,” Jane says. “Trying to take the inquisitiveness out of a person is never the right way to go.”
Undeterred, Jane continued to be interested in pretty much everything. She loved people most of all and thought a good career choice might be Hotel and Food Administration – until she realised it would mean working nights and weekends. “I wasn’t put off by the prospect of working hard,” she says. “I just wanted to have a life too.” She soon switched her major to Human Resources (HR), which managed to perfectly meld human connection with psychology – but she still wasn’t getting top marks at university. It was only after asking a friend who would routinely get ‘As’ to share her secret, that Jane developed a study strategy. “She taught me how to study,” Jane recalls, “and everything changed for me in that moment. I realised I could be and do more than I thought I could, because I had the power to apply myself.”
She would go on to graduate from the University of Guelph, but her connection with BOSS and SCRIP-J, the two companies owned by the Campbell family, started more than a decade before. Her mother Sharon had worked as Bobby Campbell’s executive secretary since Jane was 11 years old. Jane’s first real job, at 16, was interning at SCRIP-J. “I always liked those two companies,” she explains. “It felt like family to me.” But as with most families, the kids often go off and do other things – and Jane was no different.
“After graduation, I realised that no company really wanted to hire an inexperienced person in a substantial HR role. So after nine interviews, eight rejections and one offer to be an admin assistant, at 23 I started my own consultancy business and enrolled in a Masters programme at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business.” Working with entrepreneurs and seeing them toil away at their dreams, falling and getting back up, succeeding, then worrying about next steps, had a profound impact on Jane. “Their decisions would ultimately affect not only their lives, but those of their families and their employees,” she says. “It’s not easy. Business is complex and dynamic – and it was through their experiences I began to love the role in the hot seat.”
In 2015, Kevin Martin, then CEO of BOSS, gave her the opportunity to start warming up that seat when he asked her to come on board as the company’s HR manager. She resisted, and with good reason. She was, after all, considering committing full time to her consultancy firm which, up until that point, had been something she did in addition to her corporate day job. But Kevin was convincing, and fought to get her a package that would make turning her back on entrepreneurship worthwhile. “When I really thought about it,” Jane confesses, “I figured, ‘Maybe it’s fate!’ After all, my first job was at BOSS’ sister company. It was as if things were coming round full circle and it felt like this is what I should be doing.”
As Executive Manager of Human Resources, Jane was asked to help strategise the company’s succession planning. Bobby, the company’s co-founder, was having some health challenges and wanted to groom someone else to start taking the lead. When, in July 2017, Kevin announced that he and his family had made the decision to return to the United Kingdom, the hot seat was wide open.
Jane had been preparing well for the opportunity whenever it should arise. She was so passionate about the company that she had learned about every aspect of the business – sales, finance, purchasing, warehousing, you name it – but in true HR style, Jane ensured that the position was advertised within the company first. BOSS has a policy of promoting its own wherever possible, and she felt that everyone who might be interested in the job should have a shot. “The CEO position wasn’t a given,” she says, “And rightly so. I had to prove my worth like any other candidate.”
As an HR professional, Jane believed that she already embodied many of the qualities of a solid CEO: “Curious, competent HR managers are poised to be future leaders; they have the skills sets to understand human behaviour at all levels, to be fair in their decision making, listen intently, be data driven and results oriented. Who better to lead a company to success than the person who knows what drives and engages another human being in a way that inspires change and action?”
With Jane, though, it’s more than that. She’s down to earth. Her approachability immediately makes people feel comfortable. A natural cheerleader, she’s adept at motivating staff. “I’m genuinely interested in finding out what their concerns, fears, hopes and dreams are,” she says. "Generally, people who aren’t genuine or humble aren’t well liked; when you’re humble, you can learn a lot and earn people’s respect.”
She subscribes to the concept of servant leadership. “I’m here to serve our employees so that they do better and the company does better,” she explains, adding that her years of corporate experience in the financial sector, as well as at other conglomerates, helped her understand the role of processes and procedures in building business success.
Just as important, Jane never let go of the ladybug-chaser inside her. Her natural curiosity and desire to learn have made her driven and future-focused, and given her the ability to think in macro-scale. “Good leaders should be confident and put themselves in new and different situations without feeling uncomfortable,” she says. “They need a certain degree of showmanship, because nobody necessarily wants to buy from people who can’t sell their products. In the business world, you have to be self-assured around both your customers and your employees, because if they think you can’t handle yourself, or that you’re overwhelmed, they’re not going to feel safe, secure, or well led. It’s not about everybody liking you, but they should at least be able to say, ‘My leader is fair.’”
This is a woman who will lead with intention. She is structured and conscious – and while she understands that being the first female CEO in the firm is a big deal, Jane is determined to not let gender be the issue. “Females are amazing humans and we really can do anything. We are fortunate to live in a time where women can be whoever we want to be and accomplish whatever we want to accomplish – the only thing holding us back is our own perceived constraints. But at the same time, I don’t see the world as having ‘female jobs’ or ‘male jobs’; it’s about the right person for the right job, at the right time.”
Jane certainly fits the bill. While the company is “in a good place”, there are still initiatives that she’s eager to get going – like improving internal communications – in an effort to have BOSS delight its customers even more. Jane believes that for any business to succeed in the long run, it must nurture quality relationships – external and internal.
She started an employee engagement committee earlier this year and they’ve already done lots of events – sports days, bus excursions across the country, superhero days, hat days – all in an effort to bring some fun into the mix! An avid footballer, Jane also got involved in the office football side. “The warehouse department especially was big into football, so we started doing ‘football matches' – events that we trained seriously for – we even got team jerseys! I really connected with everybody.” She was one of only two females in a four-team competition with ten players each, and insisted on not being treated differently as a woman. “That was until I got a few really hard tackles and had to rethink my position!” she laughs.
She sees a lot of parallels between football and business. “First off, both are team sports,” Jane says. “There’s a coach and everybody has their strength. The players who are constantly moving and have a great first touch will be up front, those with stamina in the middle, and defenders who anticipate the ball’s movement at the back. It’s all strategy. In football, I know my strengths and weaknesses – I play right wing. I’m not a good scorer because I do not have accuracy or power, so I know when to put another player ahead of me – and that’s how it is in business. Sometimes you’re not the smartest person in the room because you’re not close enough to whatever you’re dealing with, and you have to know when to sub someone in. The game of football is like life – and people should want to show up and play,” she says, with her bright eyes and big smile. “I know that not everybody’s in their dream job – and that’s okay – but I want to make it better so that people feel that they can go over and above the call of duty and more importantly, that they want to.”
And why wouldn’t they? Various surveys have shown BOSS to be the country’s preferred office solutions provider, with some of the firm’s professional connections going back 25+ years. Jane attributes this to a trifecta of nurturing relationships, quality brands like Faber Castell, Snopake and Knoll, and timely, unmatched customer service. And of course, expansion is also on her agenda. Wight’s previous corporate positions gave her tremendous experience in regional strategic planning, so she’s ready to take on the Caribbean!
Patience is not one of her strong suits; she’s also working on improving her active listening ability. When Jane talks to you, you immediately get that’s she’s deeply interested in what you have to say. You also know that her lightning-fast brain is probably thinking of a million new ideas – ideas that BOSS will no doubt benefit from – and she’s open to hearing what innovative notions other people are cooking up as well.
She loves millennials for that very reason. “They’re idealistic and hardworking and they want to march behind a cause. They’re fun and real and honest. They just need to be harnessed correctly, and businesses should give them both support and some harsh truths. Not everything is going to be perfect. Be authentic, work hard and understand that not everything will go your way.”
Jane’s authenticity is tangible: “You can work on yourself, but when you stray too far from the fabric of who you are, people can see that and it comes off as fake – and people who are not genuine are not trusted.” She’s all about self-discovery: “You have to ask questions. Self-awareness will get you very far in the business world, because nobody’s giving you a handout. So I journal, and I ask trusted colleagues for feedback. It’s hard sometimes to hear how you show up to people, but it helps to build my knowledge, reflect on it and then do it all over again. I feel truly blessed to be given such an opportunity to be part of the team at BOSS, and I know the ride is going to be an incredible one.”