Having had decades of experience in the bricks-and-mortar retail world, Erica Berchtold disrupted her career two years ago by forging a path into the ecommerce world as CEO of THE ICONIC. It’s been a tremendous experience for me and everything that I wanted it to be," she says.
"It’s a young, energetic and enthusiastic business. They have this inherent belief that it’s all about the people like our customers, partners or team. I love being part of a business that has a real purpose."
This purpose trickles into the company’s sustainability strategy and charity partnerships to positively impact society and the environment. It uses 100 per cent recycled delivery satchels and was one of the first businesses globally to allow customers to shop via the sustainability credentials that resonate most with them.
"I think we’re already the most forward-thinking retail business in Australia," Erica boasts. "We have this continuous learning mantra that helps us forge ahead. When I think about our unified goal to redefine online retail, we will get there by constantly challenging ourselves and holding each other’s hand as we embark on new initiatives.
"I presumed that joining THE ICONIC was going to make me a better businessperson. What I didn’t factor in is that it would make me a better person. I’m surrounded by so many like-minded people, living and breathing our purpose, which is a wonderful thing to be around."
Creating a strong corporate culture is no easy feat; according to Erica, it requires setting the ambition, measuring it and leading by example. "We collaborate and challenge each other to be bolder and braver," she explains.
"We use pulse surveys every month. I’ve worked in businesses before that have only ever done an engagement survey, at the most, every 12 months. It gives us feedback that shows us whether we’re doing better. And I must set a good example for the culture that flows down to all of the leaders here in our business. Erica describes herself as a "pretty down-toearth and approachable" leader.
People need to accept that diversity and inclusion is crucial to proper decision-making.
She’s intentional about using her voice and role to drive positive change, and she encourages feedback from others by being authentic, open and honest with them. "I’ve always tried to play to my strengths," she says. "I have no desire to sit down with a bunch of clones of myself. It’s about balancing yourself with different people."
The C-suite dream
Research and strategy development not-for-profit Catalyst reported earlier this year that women currently hold 4.6 per cent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. Like many other women, Erica never dreamed of becoming a CEO, which, upon reflection, she feels is a shame.
"I wouldn’t want other women to have that lack of a dream," she says. "If I could do something to help make the C-suite a more tangible dream, I’d be thrilled." Earlier in her career, she felt the need to conceal aspects of her private life, but when she took the role of CEO at THE ICONIC, she was five months pregnant.
"I think that’s a testament to the progress being made in general, and also to the organisation and people that I work for here," she beams. She believes that women often suffer from an ‘I’m not ready yet’ syndrome, where they’re hesitant to throw their hat in the ring.
"I never thought that I could ever be a CEO, but I have some innate confidence to back myself and give it a go," she explains. "I encourage others to do the same. Even if you think you aren’t ready or qualified, just the experience of applying for the job might be useful, even if you don’t get it. It’s all an experience that leads to something."
When it comes to gender equality, Erica is certain it must be something that the entire business and team members believe in and make a long-term commitment to. "I think organisations need to walk the talk, and barriers are dissolved over time through collective action and personal responsibility from the top down," she says.
"Women need to feel confident and supported in putting themselves forward for roles, particularly leadership positions." THE ICONIC is proudly working towards being a truly diverse company, with its workforce at more than 67 per cent women and six of the nine executives being women.
"People need to accept that diversity and inclusion is crucial to proper decision-making. Diversity comes in all forms, and the riches of conversation in decisions result from true diversity," Erica says.
Progress in action
THE ICONIC’s goal is to be the best retailer in Australia and New Zealand and bring to life the most seamless and inspiring customer experience possible.
While the list of the company’s achievements over the past year is impressive – from launching an online outlet to developing new capabilities for suppliers such as consignment and 100 per cent recycled delivery satchels – one of the things Erica is most proud of is receiving formal endorsement for its first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), with specific targets it will work towards in the years ahead. Reconciliation Australia launched the RAP program in 2006 to provide a framework for organisations to work towards reconciliation.
RAPs might focus on promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s employment, sourcing from Indigenous-owned businesses or working with a charity or not-for-profit.
"I’ve never had to be so intimately involved in something like that before, and I’m all the better for having had that exposure and for having seen our business go through that process," she says.
"It’s not an easy process to go through to get that formal endorsement but to receive that has been tremendous." The company also recently launched its ‘2020 Annual Progress Report’ (with the inaugural Report launched in 2019) around its sustainability and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
"We did so much last year, all while trying to navigate this business through the pandemic’s uncharted territories," Erica reflects. "Keeping everyone confident, secure, healthy and safe was a challenge, but we sailed through it."
Leading THE ICONIC’s team is something Erica is undoubtedly proud of. And it’s clear that, though she never foresaw leading a business as the CEO, she’s doing it with integrity and authenticity.
"I’m proud of that little old Erica from downtown North Epping," she says. "When I was back at my old high school, Cheltenham Girls’ High, I never in a million years thought I’d be sitting here in Pitt Street in Sydney running a business like this. But someone said to me last week, ‘You seem very comfortable in your own skin.’ And that’s the nicest compliment that anyone could give me.
"I don’t need to be the best. I don’t have to be the smartest. But I am comfortable in my own skin, whatever that’s worth, and that’s worth a hell of a lot to me."
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