As a child, I was surrounded by multilingual voices: Farsi and Greek (I spent my first four years in Tehran and Athens); German (my grandmother was born in East Berlin); Italian (spoken by various lodgers); Russian (my second cousin taught it at Cambridge); and French (which I learnt after my parents divorced and my dad moved to Paris to pursue his marketing career).
Foreign shores and the sound of different languages fascinated me, as did singing and performing in competitions and amateur musical theatre shows.
Looking back, my love affair with the human voice began at an early age.
No surprise then that I chose to study languages at the University of Bath, moved to Paris upon graduation, and began my career with press and marketing roles at the United Nations University (UNU) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Self-belief, determination, and good communication skills meant I progressed quickly. By the age of 30, I was the ICC’s International Marketing Manager, with a strong global network of senior business leaders and influencers.
My unconventional early career stood me in great stead when in 1990 I returned to the UK to seek corporate job opportunities. I was soon in my first C-suite marketing role, reporting to Waldemar Schimdt, then CEO Europe/Brazil of Danish facilities group ISS A/S. I was 32, arguably way over my head, but inspired to make my mark and validate Waldemar’s faith in me. I am forever grateful to him for seeing potential in me when I was so young.
Leaving ISS in 1996, I returned to London to marry my long-term sweetheart. I was 37, perimenopausal, and desperate to have a baby. Nevertheless, wanting it all, instead of focusing on my fertility, I accepted a European Marketing Director job offer for a company I innocently thought, as did Wall Street, was a paragon of progress.
The company was Enron Europe.
Sitting in my Millbank office next to the Chairman’s, with views of Parliament and the Thames, I thought I’d ‘made it’ and that life couldn’t get any better. Nine months later, I was known as the ‘difficult woman who asked too many questions’ and sitting in the typing pool. Bewildered and bemused, I had no idea what was going on but knew whatever it was deeply contravened my values. I resigned, eleven months after accepting the job, determined to quit corporate life forever and focus on my ovaries.
Until a head-hunter called with an intriguing proposition: would I consider joining English property partnership Jones Lang Wootton (JLW) as Partner and European Marketing Director with a seat on the European Management Committee? You bet. I couldn’t resist, not least because no-one outside the sector, let alone a woman, had ever been brought in at Partner level. The opportunity was too good to miss.
I spent two adrenaline-filled years at JLW, helping the partners position and prepare the firm for incorporation, acquisition by LaSalle and flotation as JLL. I spoke my mind, voiced my values, challenged the status quo, and made lots of friends and quite a few enemies. It was exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, tainted only by accusations, just before I left, that my success was due to the fact I was sleeping with my boss. I wasn’t.
Leaving after JLL floated, I finally took time out to conceive, only to be told that I was postmenopausal and would never have a baby. To manage the grief, my architect husband and I bought and restored an old French farmhouse, only to discover, in 1999, that I was 18½ weeks pregnant. Yes. 18½ weeks.
I spent the next fourteen years juggling motherhood; working as an independent consultant and management development trainer; volunteering; building a 'grand design'; and helping run my husband’s architectural practice.
By 2013, I was ready to explore new opportunities, but not expecting a call from a head- hunter enquiring whether I knew any candidates for the C-suite role of Group Marketing and Commercial Director at Lafarge Tarmac (now Tarmac). Naively, I didn’t realise they were courting me, thinking instead that I could never go back to the boardroom after 13 years living down a no-through lane in the English countryside.
Yet apply I did, partly to test my potential, partly to prove to others there is life after children grow up. It was an interesting, short-lived experiment, which led me to conclude that 24/7 corporate life was no longer for me.
I stepped up the networking and explored non-executive director opportunities. Nothing sparked my interest until, serendipitously, a senior leader told me he thought I’d make a great coach.
The rest, as they say, is history. Inspired to help more women secure and retain senior leadership roles, I trained as a coach, secured my ICF Professional Certified Coach credential (PCC) and did a two-year Master’s in Voice Studies at the prestigious Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating with distinction in 2017.
Eight years on, I have built a six-figure coaching practice and work with category-defining businesses around the world. My C-suite experience and internationally recognised coaching credentials have struck a chord in a world where confidence, presence, communication skills and the ability to connect with others are increasingly in demand.
By sharing my story, I hope to inspire others to believe in themselves, create the life they want, explore the joys of life-long learning, and rekindle their childhood passions. Mine is singing, jazz, and listening to world-class vocalists and musicians at Ronnie Scott's. Maybe see you there sometime.