In 2007, I was on the fast track for one of the UK’s largest banks and all was going swimmingly. I had experienced no glass ceiling, been promoted on ability rather than age, had worked around the world and was rewarded handsomely for my efforts. Eight years into building the perfect corporate career, I decided to leave and change my business identity from “top female talent” to “female entrepreneur”.
Despite what is always harped on when the words “women and business” are mentioned, I didn’t take the leap to start a family. Was it to create a work/life balance? Ha! Anyone who has ever run their own business will know – no chance! So why?
Well, I had come from a very fixed vision in my early twenties of, “I want to be the CEO of this company.” Anything was possible, I was given a long leash to grow, make mistakes and implement my ideas and revel in their success. However, as I became more and more senior, the leash became shorter and shorter. I could no longer make decisions based on personal judgement, but needed to deal with sign-off committees and PowerPoint decks.
Ideas couldn’t just be generated and implemented, as their impact was more far reaching and got bogged down in process. And mistakes… well, the ledge gets too narrow as you progress through a large corporate to make mistakes. So, I came to the conclusion in my late twenties that I still wanted to be a CEO… the difference was that I wanted to lead a company that I owned and had control over.
Along with the two greatest business partners (also both women) that you could ever wish for, I jumped from one of the largest corporates in the world to the helm of an SME business. My business partners had made equally large leaps before me and founded the business three years earlier. We had a shared vision: to become entrepreneurs who would become known for building a fantastic, profitable, fun, fast-growth company that took all the best bits from everywhere we had ever worked but none of the bits that frustrated us and clipped our wings. We also wanted to be proud. Proud of the business we had created, proud of the service we provided to our customers, proud of the people who came on the journey with us as employees and, most importantly, proud of ourselves and what we had achieved.
So, six years on from making the leap (five of which have been trading through the worst period of economic recession in living memory) I can say my vision is reality and I continue to love the challenge, excitement, freedom and pride that comes with running your own successful business.
Were there obstacles along the way? Absolutely. Some were mere pebbles in the path; such as that day in my first month as an entrepreneur when my laptop broke and out of habit I rang the IT department of the company I used to work for. Then there were surprising bumps in the road that came from a realisation of how differently people treat you when you don’t have the corporate job or powerful brand next to your name. This was one of the harder ones to come to terms with. Ex-colleagues who had worked with me for years suddenly wouldn’t return a call, fearing that I would try to “sell” them something from my new enterprise, or ask them a favour to open a door. But I developed a thicker skin. You learn how disposable you are when you are no longer of use to some people.
On the more positive side, you also learn who the true friends and associates are; who did stay in touch and supported me and the business every step of the way. In return, I have repaid that loyalty in spades.