How did you first become involved in working with small and medium-sized businesses (SME’s)?
I became involved with SMEs when I was a business manager in the UK Police Service. In the latter half of my career, I had responsibility for the procurement of goods and services on a local, regional and national level. I had to ensure compliance with EU legislative procurement practices over a wide range of goods and services and SME’s were a key provider both locally and regionally.
What were the biggest challenges that you felt SME’s face when competing in the market with larger business providers?
I felt one of the biggest challenges for SME’s was the lack of opportunity to compete as it was not clear to them where contracts were being advertised or marketed. Additionally, they had little experience of submitting tenders and to some extent misunderstood the tendering process. Larger business providers would have expert teams completing and submitting tenders which gave them a definite advantage particularly in the use of wording and language to win the contracts. Another challenge for SME’s was price as larger organisations had economies of scale which helped to reduce costs and make them more financially competitive.
What did you learn about small businesses and the challenges and benefits of running a small business during your time working in public sector procurement?
I found that the main benefit for SME’s was locality and, due to their size they were more easily able to adapt to the changing needs and demands that were required as they were not bogged down in bureaucracy. Unfortunately, it was often the case that SME’s couldn’t invest in their own development – for example, eCommerce, compliance with new legislation, environmental issues or embracing diversity and inclusion etc. On occasions, this affected contract renewal which was really sad as these contracts were important to their businesses.
You specialise in cultural and transformational change: how might businesses benefit from this in the light of the enormous changes they are currently facing?
Businesses will benefit enormously and survive only if they are able to transform themselves and change their working practices to keep trading during these ever-changing and now unprecedented times we all find ourselves in. Changing ‘how we do things around here’ is never easy but I am sure a lot of businesses will have learnt a lot about themselves through this crisis and they need to put that knowledge and adaptability to good effect for the future. Assessing their strengths and opportunities to overcome their threats and weaknesses is a good starting point.
How and why did you become involved in Women in Business in Gibraltar?
My career progression provided an opportunity to study for a business leadership qualification with the UK Institute of Directors. I took this up and successfully obtained a Company Director Diploma from the IoD. That opportunity provided a new network both from a career and business perspective and also involved in women’s leadership and mentoring groups both within the public sector and in the business world locally and nationally.
I retired in 2011 and relocated to Gibraltar permanently to join my family after having commuted for 4 years. It took me a while to settle into this country as I found relocation really hard without my own network of family and friends readily available, so I looked for new groups to join and the Women in Business network provided a great opportunity to meet local like-minded women. I was very interested in supporting women developing their own businesses and careers and wanted to help in any way I could by ‘sending the elevator back down and sharing my experiences to help other women become successful.
Do you find that professional women and women in business find it difficult at times to balance family commitments and business commitments, and what are your tips for finding that balance?
I think it is hard for anyone to balance family commitments whether that is supporting a partner, raising children or caring for sick or elderly relatives. These are huge responsibilities and take up a lot of time and energy. It is even more difficult for single-parent families particularly if they do not have any family supporting them locally.
As we come to International Women’s Day on 8 March I am sure balancing family commitments will continue to be a topic of discussion and whilst equality/joint parenting/shared caring responsibilities continue to be solutions so are Company or even Governmental Policies. Many policies do not support family-friendly solutions to allow equity in joint parenting. This creates a balance issue for women who are then required to take the lead caring role. I do know some women who started their own businesses to allow the flexibility they needed to balance family commitments with working.
During the Covid pandemic, I know new challenges have been building which are again challenging the role of women in work and society, as we see the home domestic space being used for homeworking and the need for homeschooling of children, as well as working, and this is disrupting the balance of many families. My tip here is that we need to be mindful of this challenge and ensure that we don’t reverse the progress we have made in society. The changes due to Covid should be seen as a springboard for women, not a step back.
In my own family life, I have just had to be very well organised both at home and at work. I have to admit that it was really difficult at times, especially when both my husband and myself held senior and demanding positions. We were fortunate that we had personal assistants at work and with the support of after school clubs managed the family commitments together.
What are the achievements you are most proud of?
I am most proud of being known as a person who could ‘take people with me’ when delivering significant change in the organisations I worked for. I learnt early in my career about how work stress affects individuals if working practices and processes are changed without proper consultation, particularly if those systems were computerised. There was a fear of failure in not being able to undertake the new skills, threatening progress, redundancy or even termination of employment. This happened very close to me when my father died suddenly from a heart attack after months of uncertainty at work. That reinforced a passion in me to make sure I made a difference when managing people through change, which I consistently achieved throughout my life.
I am also very proud of the fact that I led the transformation of key public sector services into business-focused units that were comparable on price and quality with the private sector and that later I was part of a national team that helped to change UK primary legislation on police powers and structures, with my office at the forefront of leading that change process.
What do you think are the most important characteristics of successful business leaders?
For me, self-awareness is key as is emotional intelligence and resilience with drive and energy to believe that there is nothing you cannot achieve. Use of those skills to develop relationships or embrace the ‘hearts and minds of the team around you, developing them as you go, so that together you can deliver a successful business.
Why did you join the GFSB and what are its greatest strengths?
I joined the GFSB through Women in Business following negotiations first to collaborate and subsequently to merge the organisations. This was because a substantial number of WIB members recognised that this was the best way forward as a network given the progressive role of women in society and the need for us all to work together. It is important that we are all at the same table creating equality for everyone. The merger opportunity brought about a gender-balanced Board and full engagement with diversity principles, which was very important for WIB values.
The GFSBs greatest strengths are its involvement on various government committees, its ability to lobby the government on key issues raised by members for the overall benefit of the business community and driving change to improve the experience of visitors which will create significant success for the country as a whole. I also believe that members of the GFSB Board are a huge asset for the members who are able to offer assistance on a pro bono basis to help make a difference to the business community.
What would you like to achieve as part of the GFSB as we go through the Covid crisis and the challenges arising from Brexit?
My ambition is together as a Board we work closely with the members and help Gibraltar businesses transition through these very difficult times, recognising opportunities as they arise to create long term success for the country. Gibraltar is unique, it is small, imaginative, creative and nimble, and should be able to quickly adjust and adapt, as can be seen from the significant achievement of the vaccination programme where we are a world leader.