Seven Miles CEO Jenny Willits’ act of kindness

Seven Miles CEO Jenny Willits proves how passion for people and a vision for growth are helping champion a prominent Australian roaster with leadership and courage.
Jenny Willits

Jenny Willits is comfortable working on big marketing campaigns for iconic brands with huge budgets. She recalls working on an award-winning TV commercial for Lion Nathan’s Boag’s Draught, “From the Pure Water of Tasmania”, at Publicis Mojo. She’s worked on a global print campaign for Ericsson telecommunications with a budget in excess of £1 million ($1.7 million) and a two-week shoot in South Africa, and the list of high-end brands rolls on: Nescafé, Kahlúa, Ballantine’s whisky, Kellogg’s, and Foxtel.

“I absolutely loved working in advertising and marketing. It was a great career with many highlights,” Jenny says. “When I first started back in 2000, it was very much the good old days with big budgets and big brands.”

They were the days when the majority of advertising was focused on television, print, and billboard campaigns. Gradually, that evolved into digital communication and an era where brands have to think smarter and broader about their marketing choices.

“Everything is converging. There are many more ways to talk to consumers but the challenge remains how to get customer eyeballs on your brand in a meaningful, relevant, and impactful way,” Jenny says.

She notes international coffee brands that have done that well and share a leading marketing position including Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Lavazza, and Blue Bottle. Jenny believes the bigger brands have the capacity to attract new users and grow loyalty through the size of their brand presence and advertising. 

“Everyone remembers the big ad for Carlton Draught beer, even if they don’t drink it,” she says.

Jenny grew up in the United Kingdom, and as a young girl wanted to work as a waitress in a café. She laughs now when she sees her seven-year-old daughter wanting to do the same. She completed a Bachelor degree with honours in international relations at Keele University, and after studying, went to work in IT recruitment, a job she admits she was terrible at.

“The guy who ran the company said to me: ‘You’re a job person, not a career person.’ I thought, ‘right, I’ll show you.’ So, with a belief I could cut it in marketing, I took a job as a Team Secretary at iconic ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, and immediately knew that working with clients to build their brands through creative advertising was something I wanted to do,” she says.

Jenny quickly moved up the ranks, specialising in problem solving and people management. After three years at Saatchi’s, Jenny joined a large French ad agency called Publicis London, and took a transfer to its Sydney office in 2006. This opportunity gave Jenny a renewed energy following the death of her mother, and the chance to work in a city that was more sun- savvy than London.

Jenny Willits
Jenny Willits represented Australia and Seven Miles as a guest speaker at the Allegra World Coffee Portal CEO Forum in Los Angeles in November.

On arrival, Jenny immediately identified with well-known coffee brands such as Campos and Toby’s Estate thanks to their consistent marketing. Back in London during the early 2000s, she only associated coffee with Starbucks, Caffè Nero, Pret A Manger, and other similar chains. Jenny considers herself a stereotypical British tea drinker but grew to love a large grande latte every morning. 

“That was what coffee was to me then, and still is to some degree in the UK now,” she says.

In Australia, Jenny found there were instantly more opportunities to enjoy great coffee. She was surprised at the country’s brunch culture which she calls a “revelation”, and how serious the coffee culture was with discerning drinkers who didn’t just care for the ritual of holding a cup, but making sure that what was inside it was delicious.

Jenny couldn’t say the same about a work trip to the United States in 2012, however, where she recalls drinking “conference style coffee” that was so bad she stopped drinking coffee for five years.

After 11 years of working in several high-profile Sydney advertising agencies, a LinkedIn conversation with a leading recruitment agency changed her career path. A prominent coffee roaster was looking for a CEO and Jenny instantly knew it was an opportunity she’d like to be part of. The only niggle at the back of her mind was a tarnished coffee memory.

“I was honest in the interview. I said I used to really enjoy coffee but I had removed it from my life after a bad experience,” Jenny says. “I felt I could do the job. I knew I could do it. I could add value to the company and get a lot from it as well. Andy [Simpkin, Seven Miles Owner] was clear the position was for a CEO to come in and define what the business could be – those opportunities don’t come around often. 

“It was a chance to put my mark on a company when it already has so much history – a chance to take the business forward, write the vision with fresh perspective, or ‘play with the train set’ as Andy would say.”

The pool of talent was shortlisted down to five people, then three, and one.

“I remember screaming with delight and telling my husband I got the job the night after the final meeting with the Seven Miles Board,” Jenny says. “I definitely wasn’t hired for coffee skills, but what I could bring in leadership and marketing.”

There is no shortage of coffee experts at Seven Miles. They include Andy with 20 years experience; Nick Chronis, Head of Sales; Julian Brittan, QA with 50 years of coffee experience; Sharon Jan, Sensory and Green Bean Specialist; Stephan Hawa, Head of Operations; and Dr Adam Carr, Head of the Coffee Science and Education Centre (CSEC).

“I’m learning from the best. I don’t need to do their jobs,” Jenny says. “That’s why they’re here. But I can learn from them and in turn, I can offer them empowerment, guidance, and support.”

Jenny says she felt an instant connection with Seven Miles and to Andy’s shared values about people. At the time Jenny started her new position, the company name had just transitioned from Belaroma to Seven Miles, and it needed perspective on how to bring it to life.

This article appears in full in the December edition of BeanScene.To read the story in FULL, subscribe now.

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