This is me. It is always good to reflect – and on women’s day in particular to think about major influencers in my life.

My wonderful grandmother was a woman well ahead of her time.  Married three times to progressively younger men, always running her own businesses and full of fun.  She enabled me to see that a woman could shape her own life.

My multi-faceted career started as a laboratory technician in the Chemistry labs at the University of Sussex, moving to a secretarial college which I bunked out of after three months.  Whilst the college was not a great place for me it taught me to touch type, not be afraid of accounts and told me that I needed challenges.  Then to working in an accounts department where someone there saw some potential and asked me if I would like to become a COBOL programmer.  I was trained by ICL for a month in London and then started programming.  My invoicing programme was running six months after I left.  No bugs were allowed!

Then another turn into the hospitality business, the youngest licencee in London with my first husband, then a restaurant in Sussex that was listed in the Good Food Guide and two catering concessions at Wakehurst Place, Kew in the country and Borde Hill.  We employed forty people at the three sites.

When my marriage ended, I had my first taste of people management on a larger scale, joining the Brighton Metropole where I was based in the the personnel department and looked after 270 casual workers.  Not having a great role model or mentor there I got my first job in personnel as a Personnel and Training manager for a 500 bedroom hotel near the Barbican – it was in receivership but it had an amazing General Manager who totally believed in people and allowed me to study and try new things.

Then to the Hospitality and Catering Industry Training Board (HCITB) where I was lucky to have two mentors. Both saw potential and helped grow it by stretching me.  My last role there was heading up the small business consultancy.  This was wonderful as I could use my past experiences of running a small business to help others.

At HCITB length of service rather than results were rewarded.  I therefore found a set up role for a hospitality company in London with five fine dining restaurants – Bentley’s in Swallow Street being one and thirteen hamburger restaurants scattered around London.  My role was to set up the personnel and training function.  The world was my oyster, as it were, until the Chairman called me in to say that they were going to sell off half the group and then they were not sure if they needed me.

This gave me the push I needed!  So in 1986 Cullen Scholefield was founded.  Penny Cullen was with me for a short time and her greatest gift was Carol Bates who joined us in 1987.  At that time I also started to be involved in women’s groups such as:

  • Women in Personnel Management – here I met great women Anne Watts and Val Hammond
  • Women in Technology – here I worked with women who returned to work and heard about the amazing Steve Shirley – and Women in Tech is still working hard!
  • Women in Management is also around and I got to know an inspirational woman Eleanor Macdonald

One of Carol’s first projects was to set up a London branch for Women in Training. This was an initiative set up by the Manpower Services Commission and Rennie Fritchie led the way here.

We ran meetings at the National Liberal Club and had many amazing speakers.  Natasha Josefowitz was an inspiration to me showing me back in the early 1990s that it was possible to work well beyond the usual age as long as you enjoyed it.  That is my mantra!