Anne-Marie is the former Managing Director of textiles company, Cityfax, and a Female Leader who continues to inspire us at CPW with her stories and outlook on life today.
So, who better to chat to for the first edition of our Female Leaders interview series?
These spotlight pieces will form part of our growing Female Leaders community, created to educate and inspire women and flip the old-school, male-dominated financial planning script.
What inspired you to get involved in the business?
“I never had a grand plan, and in many ways, I ended up in textiles by default. I was working for a retailer at the time. They’d just trained me to become a buyer, but there was a very obvious glass ceiling. Instead of accepting that, I went away and did an MBA full time at Warwick Business School to become better qualified.
From there, the owner of Cityfax offered to share the cost of the course if I worked with them for a year. One year became 26, and I ended up retiring from there.
I’ve always been driven by not being bored, and things kept changing at Cityfax. New challenges came up, we set up manufacturing overseas in places like China, India and Turkey, and we went through six rounds of redundancies.
Boredom wasn’t an option, and the owner also appreciated the value of women in a business, which, at the time, certainly wasn’t always the case.”
What challenges have you faced?
“At another company, when I was made a buyer, I was only the second female buyer and lots of their manufacturing was done in East Asia.
A lot of men at the company were very unhappy about a woman getting to go to East Asia, and I remember going to a board meeting on my range. I was the only female and one of the senior men said to me, “You can pour the coffee.”
“I can, it just depends where you want it poured,” I told him, and he soon got the hint. I never wanted to bang the feminist drum in the workplace, and I thought the only way to get round this is to get more business qualifications, which is when I applied to and got a place at Warwick.
There weren’t enough females doing the course, so, if anything, there was positive discrimination there. I worked my socks off, got a distinction, and through the course and my time at Cityfax, picked up some interesting insight into the management of people, why they resist change, and how to make change management a success.”
Do you feel you had any additional challenges as a Female Leader?
“I didn’t have children but it’s hard as a female to take career breaks and get off the ladder, and managing women in the workplace takes a different approach.
On one of my visits to East Asia, I was told the supplier didn’t want to do business with me because I was a woman. I put my foot down and told them, “I’m the representative, if you want to do business with us, you deal with me.”
At the time, the suppliers’ entertainment for the night was often karaoke and sex workers. They just weren’t accustomed to dealing with and entertaining women.
That being said, the people I travelled with were great fun and I enjoyed all my trips. I also think my generation was pioneering in the move towards gender equality. People don’t realise that, but it’s been a rapid change.”
What does success mean to you?
“Success, for me, is not being bored. Always being stimulated. My father used to say that I confused being stationary with being bored.
I’ve always been driven from an early age and I got my first job at 13. My parents weren’t poor but it was made clear there wasn’t any extra, so if I wanted fashionable clothes at school, I had to finance that. When I graduated from university, I had to carve out a career for myself. I didn’t want money for money’s sake, but I did want a sense of economic freedom.
I also wanted to retire early from a very early stage. I remember wanting to retire at 50 when I was younger, then Gordon Brown changed the age, but I managed it at 56.
I enjoyed work. I enjoyed broadening my horizons, travelling to places like China on my own, getting interpreters, negotiating deals, learning how to stay calm in tricky situations. But I had a life and I wanted to let that take over from the work.”
How have Cooper Parry Wealth helped? And what have you valued most about our relationship?
“Cooper Parry Wealth came along at a time when I wasn’t happy with my current financial adviser. I’d been moved to someone who frankly made my hackles rise the way he treated me. He was very condescending, and I didn’t want that.
So, I started working with Ewan at CPW for a number of years and then Marie further down the line. With both of them, nothing has ever felt like a hard sell. They’ve given me lots of practical advice, and they’re hot on important things like sorting your will, power of attorney etc.
They’re very accessible and very responsive too, but they leave you alone if you don’t need anything, which I like. I want to keep moving forward and enjoying life, and with CPW, I’m confident my finances are in a good place to do that.”
Thank you to Anne-Marie for sharing your stories and insights with us. If you’d like to find out more about our Female Leaders community, or you know an inspiring woman we should spotlight next, get in touch with Marie Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on LinkedIn.