We will be celebrating 15 years at redheadPR in June and I wanted to celebrate by explaining my journey. It might even help you! I presented this at a recent event and it was received very well. Like so many things in life, a business takes passion, patience, planning, respect and – ultimately – love, and everyone knows, I love business and entrepreneurialism and in a way, ‘love being in love’.
What drove me
Looking back at my own journey, ‘love’ is what inspired me. From the junior school age, I lived with my parents in a residential home for the elderly in Wiltshire and so the concept of ‘business’ and customers were all around me from the start of my life. My mother started it from a start-up.
I was surrounded by love, care, incontinence, schizophrenia, dementia and sometimes death – it was complicated and lovely all at the same time.
It was incredibly, rewarding and humbling. I got to hear the most vivid memories first hand from extraordinary people. I saw them improve, develop and grow. Many came to us in awful conditions of neglect and illness.
So, in a way, my journey – my aspirations – were built upon seeing people at the end stage of life and my mother’s work with them. And, whilst that may sound sad – it gave stark reality check and inspiration from my first mentor – My Mother.
I understood only too well that to retire well and enjoy those generous last years of life, we have to work hard and plan ahead. Something we need to help the current and future generations to understand.
Now, having said all that, I didn’t go through school as a goody two-shoes.
I was restless and disruptive at school – I had energy, ideas and a mouth to articulate them. And, I did. So, whilst I was academically good, I was obviously bound to fail.
I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t concentrate. Nowadays I would have been told I was suffering from an illness. I knew I would have to try and do something different and extraordinary. In fact, my motto was – ‘I wanted and extraordinary life’
I was into everything not knowing where I was going and what I was doing.
Making things and selling them, mountaineering, classical guitar, pottery it goes on and on. And I did all this, all at the same time.
My one major objective was to be in London.
My two other adolescent goals were to make lots of money and retire early – just like all of those glamourous, flaming red haired sirens from the golden age. I saw no reason why my future riches wouldn’t lead to me being on the front page of Vogue.
I failed at school and college and went off to study management the Old Regent Circus Swindon College which was part of Wiltshire Management college. I did this for six years while I worked. A teacher contacted me recently and said I had made him very very proud.
I soaked up everything.
If I was taught about an entrepreneur then I wanted to be one, if technology was on the syllabus then I wanted to be in it. That was how I felt and to be honest, it’s still how I feel.
But as I grew, I knew that I wanted a future of success, financial independence and meaning. Nearly everything I did was geared towards achieving that and I set my own objectives.
What I did to make it happen
As a young adult, I had the energy and attitude to live life at a hundred miles an hour. Some people called me manic and an enigma.
I did everything I could to open my eyes to the grown-up world around me. And I never lost sight of my end-game. I put myself daily out of my comfort zone. I don’t know why. Adrenaline?
Some Saturdays I drove from Swindon to Harvey Nicholls in my 950 Fiesta. Just to see the latest fashions and trends – I was there to see the launch of Mac make-up.
Then I went to work with at the Royal Military College of Science – mainly because I knew it would be a good grounding. There is a protocol in the military and organisational structure is driven by the leadership theorist John Adair, which makes the military a very good learning organisation.
I then deliberately went to work for a huge utilities because I wanted the experience of post privatisation, regulation and a commodity - water.
They had a mainframe computer and we didn’t use computers like that where I currently worked so I needed to get involved in one or else I would be left behind.
But in many ways, it took my career – and my life - to a new level. I ran its community stakeholder communications programme for a £2 billion investment programme.
Stakeholder communications and relations at the most sophisticated level at the age of 21. I was involved in some of the largest public consultations ever.
Then studying The Body Shop at College, I knew I wanted to work for Anita Roddick. Anita was extraordinary – talented, passionate, real, authentic. I may never be as successful as her, but I recognised the drive and the ‘real-ness’. She was a communications expert. Originally a human rights activist and English teacher.
And so, I worked with her and her team.
She was - and always will be – my second inspiration.
After working with Anita, it had to be a super brand that I worked with – Yellow Pages – again deliberate at 27.
And I helped it move through its greatest period of change as it moved towards the ‘Yell’ brand. I took control of a £3.5 million budget.
Those jobs equipped me with the balls to realise that I was more than capable. And, that I could succeed and make an impact.
By jumping in at the deep end with big jobs like that, I quickly cut my teeth – I recognised that I was on the right track.
But the biggest things I had to deal with are the barriers.
The things that delayed me, made me cry and feel lonely, that led to depression and – at times – despair. The things we all deal with.
By the turn of the Millennium I was about to launch my own business in the centre of London. I was divorced. I was utterly focused on the long-term and not living for now: money in the bank, investing for retirement.
I had no children, my social life outside work was non-existent, I rarely went on holidays. I didn’t even buy lovely things for the house so that I could enjoy being at home. It was business – and nothing else.
My life was – on the surface – glamourous (which was what I always wanted) – swish London parties, events, launches, working with the great and the good. Money, cars, houses. But was I happy?
The business grew, but like so many single career-driven women in London, I was lonely.
And then – the 2008 global crash.
I honestly never thought I would come back from that. I nearly lost everything - including my motivation. After years of working for the business rather than for me, I ended up suffering a devastating defeat when that recession happened. I thought for a long time it was my fault. But I hung on by the skin of my teeth and found the strength to get through it.
I nearly lost all my property, I lost relationships, employees, savings. That’s extremely difficult to deal with and I was doing it on my own.
That’s when I came back to Swindon.
But, what saved me was me.
The things that make you succeed during the good times are the same things that help you survive during the bad times.
I cut back, downsized and cut my cloth accordingly. But more than anything I just knew I had to get out of bed in the morning and make it happen.
Because the alternative was defeat.
I managed my own expectations. And perhaps the greatest thing about that awful recession was the way it made me take stock.
I leant on my faith and that continues to sustain me. I also have two amazing daughter now.
But, that burning desire for success did not and will not leave me. I built my business again here in Swindon.
I have rebuilt my life by listening to myself. And I am now back at the top of my game, better than ever before. I have a great company, a home full of love and two wonderful children. I have regained what I lost – but this time it’s real.
My top tips
If I were able to travel back in time to that flame-headed eight-year-old, who sat drinking tea with old people, and give her some advice, I would say this:
Be relentless – it always pays off. The day you can’t get up – fight it. Just get up – because trust me it will feel different in an hour or so.
Read, read, read listening and watch. I read everything - and it gives me inspiration. It gives me ideas. Never stop reading.
Build a support team – you will not be able to do what you want without great friends, partners, suppliers, wives, husbands, dog walkers, cleaners, brothers and sisters, your children.
Writing and maths – if you can’t do them learn. Learn what you need to. Maths is quickly forgotten – so even when you leave school, try to ditch the calculator at work and use your head.
Do 100% then add on another 100% - at that will make you successful – there’s the x10 theory: something and then 10 times more.
Pray. You may or may not believe…and some people call it mediation or affirmation. But take the time, to be calm. To say thank you. To be at ease. To reflect.
Be an ethically good business person – you can sleep well every night if you do the RIGHT thing.
Chaos, embrace it – being out of control is OK. It’s normal and it WILL happen, especially when you are really successful – just sail through it as if you are surfing a wave.
Always be fit and healthy – It’s worth it.
Focus – don’t get distracted, do not come up with too many ideas – whatever route you take you will get there.
If you do all of that – and never forget about loving those around you – then like a hard-earned marriage – you will end up being a very happy.
As my business turns 15 years old, with the benefit of age and pain and reflection – I know that I what I set out to achieve I have. I have all the things I dreamt of.
Not, as it happens, to be on the front page of Vogue…but to grow old comfortably and surrounded of course surround by love.