How to become a digital guru: eBay's Jo-Ann Hicks

28 Feb 2013

Jo-Ann Hicks has a mandate to "inspire, excite and engage customers" as the Australian head of retail experience at eBay. It's a job that combines two industries – fashion and digital – aligned with her passions and interests.

So how did the commerce/arts graduate position her career to sit on the cutting edge of digital innovation and design?

It started in high school in the 1990s, although back then Hicks didn't fully appreciate just what the web was about to offer the world.

"I remember being the geek in high school who used the Internet – via dial-up of course – to find the transcript to the movie Dr Strangelove for our year 12 English class, which was a breakthrough because nobody could understand the movie," she says.

More than 15 years later digital is still evolving, and Hicks believes there are plenty of opportunities for women to carve out a brilliant career in the sector, no matter where they currently sit. "This is a great time to build a career in digital as demand for employees with strong experience and knowledge in digital will only increase," she says.

Finding your niche

Hicks didn't jump into digital immediately, but rather saw an opportunity to develop her management skills as a senior associate with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) after university.

After completing an online strategy for a major Australian corporation with BCG, she says she realised the true potential of the web for business. "I remember being excited about the opportunities and possibilities. It felt entrepreneurial, game-changing, fast-paced and fast-growing. I knew I wanted to be part of it."

She spent a couple of years in corporate development and strategy at recruitment website Seek before landing her first job at eBay through her BGC network: a former colleague needed to find a maternity leave cover and Hicks became the head of the new business division. Recently appointed to the head of retail experience role, having previously served as the head of fashion, she says an average day can involve anything from stakeholder management and communications, to ensuring teams are aligned, projects are on track and talking with international counterparts.

Learning and development: Keeping up-to-date

Hicks says her digital career continues to grow as she keeps pace with the dynamic nature of the industry. "I try to stay flexible and open-minded. I've realised that change and reinvention is part and parcel of the online world."

As such, she always allocates part of her day to "thinking time and space" – an essential session for strategy development, and for considering the big picture.

But just as important for a digital career is sourcing time for learning and development.

"Learning in general – an MBA, training course and seminars – keeps me engaged and motivated because I'm driven by learning and achieving. Each person needs to understand what "achievement" looks like for them and then find ways to fulfill that need so they stay engaged." Hicks completed an MBA at Melbourne Business School in 2010.

Finding time for learning is easy when you're in a career you're passionate about and an industry you're interested in. Hicks says she's always reading about the latest ecommerce trends or attending seminars on the topic. "Or course I also do a lot of 'research' such as frequently shopping on multiple sites to compare customer experiences."

Engaging with customers is just as important. "We now operate in a customer-led world enabled by technology," says Hicks. "By truly understanding customer needs and how customers are behaving, we can gain great insights into trends and opportunities."

Career limits

Is there a limit to a career in digital? Hicks doesn't think so. The digital space is still emerging and full of potential. She says with online retail estimated to account for just 5 to 10% of total retail, there's plenty of room to grow.

"Every day new business models emerge. The industry is entrepreneurial and nimble with low barriers to entry," she says.

Jo-Ann Hicks is speaking at the Inaugural Global Luxury Forum, starting Monday the 18 March 2013.

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