7th March 2024

International Woman’s Day Interview 2024: Jessica Alexander

By TFRG Team

Jessica’s career journey began in 1979 as a graduate trainee at Cabinet Maker magazine, where she worked her way up to Features and Deputy Editor over eight years. Following this, she transitioned to freelance PR consultancy for the National Bed Federation in 1987, marking the beginning of her longstanding affiliation with the organisation.

Throughout her tenure, Jessica played a pivotal role in establishing initiatives such as National Bed Month in 1990 and the Sleep Council a few years later, aimed at promoting the industry and advocating for its interests. Subsequently, she expanded her professional portfolio by founding her own PR agency, which experienced significant growth despite economic challenges. In 2006, Jessica assumed the role of Executive Director at the National Bed Federation, overseeing transformative changes such as the implementation of a comprehensive code of practice for members and spearheading sustainability efforts within the industry.

Jessica recently transitioned to the position of Director of Special Projects within the Bed Federation, providing support to the new Executive Director, and overseeing key initiatives such as the Register of Approved Mattress Recyclers. She also remains actively engaged with affiliated organisations like the British Furniture Confederation and the Furniture Makers’ Company.

Could you share with us about your role at the National Bed Federation and your involvement with other organisations in the furniture industry?

My primary focus has been with the Bed Federation, but I’ve also been a part of the Furniture Makers’ Company and Charity for over 20 years. Within this role, I sit on various committees, including the climate change committee, which covers a broad spectrum of the industry. This includes sectors like manufacturing, events, commercial insurance, and more. Additionally, I serve as the sustainability lead for the British Furniture Confederation, which primarily focuses on lobbying the government and political engagement.

Your tenure with the Bed Federation has seen significant developments, such as the establishment of National Bed Month and the formation of the Sleep Council. Could you elaborate on these milestones?

Certainly. We initiated National Bed Month in 1990, aimed at promoting the industry. This initiative eventually led to the creation of the Sleep Council, which focused on promoting the benefits of sleep and raised funds through a small levy from manufacturers.

While the funding model evolved over the years, the Sleep Council’s work continued, eventually merging with The Sleep Charity in 2020. Throughout this period, I also oversaw the development of a sustainability strategy and initiatives such as the Register of Approved Mattress Recyclers (RAMR).

You recently transitioned from Executive Director to Director of Special Projects at the Bed Federation. Could you tell us about this new role?

I stepped down from the Executive Director role to provide support to the new director and oversee special projects and affiliations. This includes managing the Register of Approved Mattress Recyclers and working with the British Furniture Confederation on political engagement. It’s a transition that allows me to utilise my expertise while offering flexibility in my workload.

Throughout your career, have you faced any significant challenges, especially in what may be perceived a male-dominated sector?

While the furniture manufacturing sector has historically been male-dominated, I’ve never felt that my gender held me back. I’ve encountered supportive colleagues and mentors, both male and female, who have encouraged me to excel in my role.

Gender diversity is gradually improving, but it’s more about individuals’ personalities and skills rather than their gender.

Have you ever been guided by a mentor or received invaluable career advice from someone?

I’ve been fortunate to have several supportive figures throughout my career who provided invaluable guidance. While I wouldn’t pinpoint one singular mentor, there have been individuals who played significant roles in my professional journey.

Early on, George White, one of my editors at Cabinet Maker, encouraged me to develop my skills and pursue greater responsibilities. Then there was John Hancock, instrumental in establishing the Sleep Council, whose passion and belief served as a great example to me.

I’m also grateful for the support from various presidents within the Bed Federation, particularly my first president, Peter Keen, who not only entrusted me with important responsibilities but also got me involved with the Furniture Makers’ Company.

Furthermore, I must mention my business partner, Jan Turner, with whom I collaborated for 25 years. Her exceptional journalistic and PR skills, along with her creativity, were instrumental in our achievements.

Throughout my journey, I’ve realized the importance of teamwork and surrounding oneself with motivated individuals who not only excel in their roles but also bring a sense of joy and passion to the workplace. Collaboration, enthusiasm, and a shared sense of purpose have been key factors in my career progression.

What advice would you give to individuals starting in the furniture industry today?

I would encourage them to own their space, be proactive in suggesting ideas, and approach challenges with solutions. Taking initiative and demonstrating problem-solving skills earn respect and opportunities for growth within any industry.

I always found that finding a sector or job you have a real passion for is key. 

Finally, what’s next for you in your career journey?

I am enjoying transitioning into a semi-retirement phase, stepping down after 45 years in the industry. Currently, I’m serving as the NBF Special Projects Director and lending support to our new Executive Director plus collaborating with the Furniture Makers’ Company, British Furniture Confederation and the MRA. Moreover, I’m keeping a close eye on government sustainability policies within the sector.

Essentially, I’m relishing this shift in my career focus, aiming for greater flexibility while staying involved in meaningful projects.

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