Q&A: Jenny Tomley of John Lewis, Watford

PUBLISHED: 16:04 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:13 20 February 2013

Jenny Tomley, managing director of John Lewis Watford since 2004, takes time out to tell Louise McEvoy about heroes in the community, why Watford is a great place to live, and having her own chat show

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm 47. I went to school in Devon, though was born in Shropshire. My partner is Cy, an artist - it's very nice to spend personal time with someone whose focus is so different from mine or most of the people I usually meet. I decided at an early age I didn't want children and have stayed with that decision.

What does your role as managing director of John Lewis Watford involve?
It's a really interesting and challenging role that requires me to lead our team in delivering the company vision whilst ensuring we're maintaining the right balance between the three key elements of the JL business - that's partners (staff), customers and profit.

What motivates you?
Knowing I am successfully managing the whole balance of our business so customers are having a great shopping experience, partners enjoy working here, and we're making enough money to maintain that. I also enjoy the fact the company gives me a lot of room to work in the way I think best.

You have travelled extensively throughout the country, carving your career. What makes Watford the first place you've called home?
It's difficult to pin down exactly what it is. My team at work is absolutely great to work with, and the longer I've stayed the more rewarding it becomes. It's also the sense of community in Watford, the fact people are very welcoming and receptive to ideas, and the number of people who really care about the town. Then add the amount of green space, great shopping, a good theatre, easy access to just about anywhere, and some nice places to live. Perhaps it's not surprising I find Watford is a place where I want to stay.

What inspired you to get involved in Watford for You - an initiative which aims to improve the wellbeing of people who live or work in the town?
Firstly, the surprising difference between the sometimes negative perception of Watford and the vastly more positive reality - we couldn't let that disparity continue. Secondly, the enthusiastic response I got from the local business community and Watford Borough Council's willingness to support.

As part of the Watford Heroes project, which recognises people who have made a positive impact in the town, can you give examples of what outstanding work individuals have achieved in the community?
There are lots of individuals achieving a great deal for the town. Dr Abdel-Ghaney Saleh, who for many years has run a weekly Arabic school, focuses on building interfaith understanding, and Roger Gagan works tirelessly at the Chamber of Commerce to bring together one of the most co-operative business communities I have met.

What are your hobbies?
Reading, running, gardening, art history, theatre, travel, and I'm vaguely toying with writing some poetry.

If you could only achieve one more thing in your life, what would it be and why?
I wouldn't mind having my own chat show, and I'd only interview really interesting people from all walks of life rather than just the latest celebrities - can someone arrange that?

Tell the reader something about yourself that may be surprising.
I'm an enthusiastic buyer and seller of paintings - I have to sell some so that I can keep buying other ones!

What is your favourite part of Hertfordshire and why?
Well obviously Watford, but I also like the antique centres at Sawbridgeworth, the Ashridge estate and some of the quirky little shops in Berkhamsted.

Describe Hertfordshire in one sentence.
It's a tree, because it's green and brown - we have the green of beautiful countryside and the brown of interesting towns and picturesque villages.

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