Priyanka Jethwa catches up with Landmark Wholesale’s first non-white female director.
Sharmmi Jeganmogan, managing director of London-based wholesaler Hi-Line Cash & Carry, recently became the first non-white female director in buying group Landmark Wholesale’s 45-year history.
She talks Better Wholesaling through her journey in the sector.
How did you get into wholesale?
My husband and I used to own a convenience store. We soon started to buy and sell rundown shops. In 2007, after my son started full-time education, I got a job at Barclays as a personal banker. However, when I saw there was an opportunity at Hi-Line, which was already an established wholesaler in Deptford, London, we decided to buy it. It was a small business at that time, with only a £4m turnover.
Where did your wholesale journey go from there?
Because we wanted to extend our buying power, we joined Landmark in 2011. In April of that year, we opened a branch in Croydon and relocated the Deptford depot to larger premises. Joining Landmark helped increase our turnover to nearly £20m by 2012 because we were now offering more competitive prices.
Unfortunately, it was then that we took a big hit, which led to the closing of our Deptford depot. Our turnover plunged to £11m. At this point, I knew I had to change strategies, concentrate on more than just turnover and dictate prices instead by looking at the wider marketplace to ensure our survival.
Alongside changing strategies and tactics, the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme that was introduced in April last year helped double our turnover and it now stands at £25m.
How did you come to join the board of directors at Landmark?
In 2016, I wanted to join because I was keen to have an active role in the decision-making process at a higher level. Martin Williams, Landmark’s managing director at the time, told me to attend a few meetings as a guest first and then apply the following year.
I ended up really liking what I saw and after noticing I was the only woman present, I thought, ‘Why not bring some colour to the board?’
I am always keen to learn more, so it was also the perfect opportunity to expand my knowledge.
Why do you think there are so few non-white female directors in wholesale?
In wholesale, it might be that men feel threatened when women take positions of authority, because even now, most wholesale boardrooms are male-dominated.
What happens when you are a woman is that you feel as though you are under 10 times more pressure to make sure you are delivering points that cannot be disputed or proven wrong. I was worried about being in the limelight and feared that people would look at me and think, ‘What does a woman know?’
Women essentially have to be extra-knowledgeable and certain about what we are saying. It can lead to self-confidence issues where women then feel intimidated and hesitant about taking a step forward. More specifically, coming into a business as a non-white female can amplify this feeling because there are so few of us in the boardroom.
It can be intimidating at times, but I am really proud to be the first non-white female director at Landmark and I hope to inspire other women in the sector to join boards.
What advice would you give to other women in wholesale?
To help overcome some of my own fears, I joined the Conservative Women’s Organisation, a workshop designed to help women with personal and business development. I would encourage others to join such groups.
But my advice for women in wholesale is that you cannot wait for someone to ask you – because no one will. If you want something, then you have go for it yourself. This is the only way you will advance.