Special feature: Women in Business

More women are starting and growing businesses in Lancashire than ever. And more women are being appointed to senior positions. The county’s women are creating opportunities for themselves, their businesses and those around them. Here, in our annual review, we profile the women showing the way in the county’s commercial community.

Ruth Connor Chief Executive, Marketing LancashireRuth Connor, Chief Executive, Marketing Lancashire

Ruth was appointed last year as the first chief executive of Marketing Lancashire, which is responsible for tourism and for promoting inward investment opportunities in the county. “My role is to drive the organisation to become the lead voice to promote and support business generation and economic growth for Lancashire by creating, growing and protecting a confident and cohesive brand for the county,” she says. Ruth aims is to develop strategic relationships particularly with major private and public sector partners to ensure that Marketing Lancashire is at the heart of the economic and regeneration agenda. The tourism sector for Lancashire currently generates £3.45 billion, supports 55,000 jobs and attracts 60 million visitors.

Anne ParkinsonAnne Parkinson, managing director, Mayes Accountants

Anne joined Mayes in 1993 as a temporary administrator. She now acts as the sole non-accountant on the board, and has held the position of managing director since 2005.

In her 20years with Mayes, winner of this year’s Red Rose Award for financial businesses, Anne has driven innovation through the business with a determination never to shy away from the big ideas. She has revolutionised the way clients are managed and built on Mayes’ reputation for providing services that deliver more, producing exceptional savings and results for an impressive client base. “Women may still need to prove themselves more to their colleagues, clients and suppliers, but there’s no doubt that women can make it at all levels – but it needs hard work,” she says.

Sarah Page, managing director, Plumbs

Sarah is a third generation leader at Plumbs, the Preston-based soft furnishings business which employs 300. Plumbs, and Sarah in particular, were heavily involved in Preston’s Guild celebrations in 2012, developing the apprenticeship scheme alongside the Guild. “I’m now looking to further enhance the workplace opportunities for young Lancastrians through involvement with the Princes Trust and Preston Vision,” says Sarah. Sarah has overseen a number of changes in the business. It once had 90 high street stores and a mail-order arm, but now concentrates more on in-home advice and consultancy. There is also a significant contract furnishings aspect to the business. “The world of work is changing for ambitious women. Now they are much less likely to take years away from work when they have children which used to let the men run ahead in their careers,” she adds.

Suzanne Dennis, managing director, Suzanne Dennis Optometrist

Suzanne is an optometrist with four independent practices in the county. She has more than 25 years’ experience and has built up her business through commitment and an ongoing process of professional development. “We use new technologies and ideas to drive the business but we don’t lose sight of our roots as a traditional village practice,” she says. Suzanne employs 15, some of whom have worked with Suzanne for more than 10 years and one for more than 20. She is an Ambassador for The College of Optometrists and hosts interactive workshops in schools. She is leading the way in promoting optometry as a career choice by hosting careers events at the practices and attending Career Fairs at local schools and colleges.

Alison Bargh, director, CityBlock

Alison, a mother of three, has successfully grown the student accommodation company from a single block of 30 bedrooms to five blocks housing 381 students. During this time she has expanded her team to 15. Alison identifies potential that exists inside her employees and goes out of her way to help develop confidence and key skills. This year, the family business will celebrate 10 years of student success.  In the last two years CityBlock has invested more than  £6m in Lancaster, employing more than 100 directly and indirectly.

Caroline James, senior partner, Trevor Dawson

Caroline doesn’t like to characterise herself as a ‘woman in business’, but rather someone who has made a career choice to be a Chartered Surveyor operating in the predominantly male orientated commercial property market. “I have always found it to be an advantage,” she says, “but at the same time I have often had to prove my capabilities initially.”

claire holtClaire Holt, founder, Flashbang Science

Flashbang Science is a  science education company providing an interactive and fun approach to scientific learning. 12,000 children have visited the Flashbang mobile laboratory in the last three years with the business doubling its revenue year-on-year. “We’re now planning another laboratory and other business opportunities to satisfy increasing demand,” says Claire. The company was shortlisted for the IOD North West Awards in 2012 and the Red Rose Awards this year. The firm is also a winner of the Rossendale Business Awards Innovation Prize and Lancashire’s Give it a Go Enterprise competition.

Clare Townley, director, Harmsworth Townley

Harmsworth Townley is a family engineering business established more than 60 years ago.  Its main markets include heavy industry, distributing high power semiconductors and metal fasteners. Diversification a decade ago into solar electricity led to more work in the renewables sector and the company’s Ecolifegizmos range provides inspirational, educational and sustainable fun science kits. The business has won many awards and, in between work, being a mother to three and taking care of her own mum, Clare finds time to play her tenor horn.

Emma Clifford, director, First Class Childcare

Emma runs First Class Childcare operating nine nurseries across  Lancashire and Yorkshire.

With husband Andrew, she bought the business in 2012 from his parents and has transformed it; recruiting experienced managers, re-branding the business, implementing a training framework with development plans for all 150 staff, and putting the emphasis on learning in a fun environment. A mum of two, Emma recently opened the first Forest School in the Ribble Valley.

Christine WinstanleyChristine Winstanley, director, Eric Wright Partnerships (EWP)

EWP operates within the health, social care and education sectors to design, develop and operate buildings. Christine joined the Eric Wright Group in 2009 after a decade in the NHS and was promoted to director of EWP within two years. She is responsible for strategic partnerships in health and works closely with the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), local authorities, NHS Property Services and private health providers.

Debbie PettittDebbie Pettitt, chief executive, Marsden Rawsthorn

Debbie Pettitt was appointed as chief executive of Marsden Rawsthorn in November and is the firm’s first non-solicitor in the role. Since her appointment, she has restructured the firm and relocated the Chorley office to modern premises in Buckshaw Village. She joined the company in 2008 as marketing manager.  Debbie originally trained as an accountant, and in 2004 she became national business development manager for Sage Accountants Division, leading 150 sales staff.

Gill Gardner, corporate partner, Brabners Chaffe Street

Gill joined Brabners Chaffe Street as a partner in 2011 and works in the Preston Corporate team. Beginning her career in the City, she specialised in venture capital and corporate finance work, particularly MBOs and MBIs; enjoying a year’s secondment to work on international takeovers with Mallesons Stephen Jaques in Sydney. Gill is a council member of Lancaster University and acts as one of the two Deputy Pro Chancellors there. She is also a non-executive director of the Cumberland Building Society.

Jean Atkinson, owner, Eden Marketing

After 17 years working as a high profile global marketer, Jean set up Eden Marketing in 2011.

Her passion is training and through Eden Marketing she provides businesses with the tools to ‘do it themselves’. Her jargon-free workshops are focused on developing marketing strategies to achieve results. She’s seen many successes with companies reducing marketing spend whilst still achieving growth and she regularly delivers seminars, mentoring sessions and runs a monthly marketing surgery for business owners.

Joanne Wilcox, commercial property solicitor, Marsden Rawsthorn

Joanne joined the commercial property team earlier this year from Goodman Harvey in Manchester. After graduating with from the University of Huddersfield in 2002, she went on to obtain a postgraduate diploma in Legal Practice from the University of Central Lancashire two years later. Joanne has more 10 years’ experience gained at Warrington-based Forshaws Davies Ridgway, DWF, Sefton Borough Council and Goodman Harvey.

Joanne Vary, managing director, Granby Marketing Services

Joanne joined handling and fulfilment specialist Granby Marketing Services in 2000, where she has been instrumental in creating a ‘Best in Class’ client services department. Having worked in most areas of the business Joanne was promoted to managing director in February 2011. As part of her role with Granby, she mentors local people looking to start up businesses and provides internal and external training and apprenticeships for staff.

Karen ODonoghue ViaKaren O'Donoghue, chief executive, The Via Partnership

Karen has been chief executive of the social business since its inception and has recently been elected as President of the newly established Career Development Institute (CDI).   Karen’s commitment has enabled her to maintain a motivated workforce to successfully achieve Via’s core objectives – ‘to help local people choose the job they want and support employers to find the people they need’. Karen is an inspirational leader and has been shortlisted in several categories for the BIBAS.

Libby Bridge, head of education, i2i

As Head of i2i’s education division, Libby Bridge is on a mission to change the mindsets and attitudes of young people to help them realise their potential and be the best they can be. Libby and her team use techniques and tools that have been developed in-house and used with remarkable results in the world of sport and business, other areas i2i operates in. GCSE results and levels of attainment have improved dramatically in the 70 schools that i2i has worked with to date. “The real prize,” says Libby, “is contributing to the goal of producing well-rounded young people ready to contribute to a better economic future for themselves and others.”

Liz Faye, managing director and co-founder, Carepal

Liz formed Carepal, a specialist care adviser, after a terrible experience when arranging care for an elderly relative. “I knew knew something had to be done to help others in the same situation,” she says. Liz fights for the elderly and vulnerable to get the care they need.  The business has just entered into a joint venture, Carepal Law, with Vincents Solicitors.

Maria Moriarty Eames, brand and marketing director, Total Foodservice Solutions

With 15 years of marketing experience under her belt, Maria was taken on by Total Foodservice in July 2010. A hard-earned promotion followed in May 2012 when Maria was elevated to the Total Foodservice board as the only woman and the youngest director of the business. She has driven the company to be more marketing-oriented with a key focus on providing added value marketing support to independent customers.

Mary Cross

Mary Cross, head of contract services, Glovers Project Services

Since completing her postgraduate qualifications in 1999, Mary has asserted herself in the male-dominated world of construction.  Mary has been with Glovers for five years and has used a combination of networking and social media to raise the company’s profile and expand into different sectors.  She regularly delivers training to public sector clients and contractors and has established the Glovers Construction Social as one of the must-attend networking events in the construction calendar.  Mary looks to act as a role model to young women wanting to enter the industry.

Michele Needham, managing director, Tulchan

Having worked at Tulchan for 29 years Michele knows the business inside out. Michele joined the women’s clothing brand as an office junior and progressed into sales-related roles before operating in her current position of managing director for the past five years. Michele oversees the whole business in a hands-on role and is leading Tulchan through a period of progression.

Naomi Fell, director, Harrison Drury solicitors

Naomi, a commerical property lawyer, joined Harrison Drury last year having made a name for herself at law firms in Cheshire and Cumbria. She has secured a host of new clients and advises some of the region’s biggest businesses on property matters. Having been listed in the Legal 500, she is well known by the professional and business community throughout North West and led the firm’s Kendal office this year, its first office outside Lancashire.

Sharon Harrison, senior relationship director, Barclays Corporate

Sharon, who specialises in professional practices, is a key influencer within her sector and is closely involved in structuring deals and providing support and advice to a large number of clients. She has established a reputation as a knowledgeable and professional banker who constantly seeks to add value having been instrumental in organising a number of high profile events for solicitors and accountants.

Gillian Bardin, managing director, Taylor Patterson

Gillian has in her current post since 2006 and last year led the firm through a period of change as four new directors were appointed to the board. Gillian, who is responsible for the future strategy, growth and development of the company, says that creating and leading that new team was one of the most satisfying achievements of her career.  She was previously corporate services manager for Moore and Smalley.

Tricia Morrison, partner and head of construction, Napthens

Since joining Napthens nearly two years ago, Tricia has built her department from the ground up. She now leads a team of three construction specialists in a growing division. Known for offering advice rather than options, she acts for clients including developers, contractors and industry professionals, advising on all aspects of construction and engineering law.

Antonia-LoveAntonia Love, partner, Farleys

As an equity partner at Farleys, Antonia is head of one of the largest family law departments in the North West. Renowned for her work involving complex financial settlements and the representation of high net worth individuals in divorce cases, Antonia also has an excellent reputation in public law work regarding children – recently representing two children in a landmark case that received national media coverage.

She was nationally honoured by being named Partner of the Year at the Family Law Awards in 2012.

Liz Cousins, hospital director, Spire Fylde Coast Hospital

An experienced private hospital director, Liz Cousins joined Spire Fylde Coast in 2012. She has a track record in improving business performance through combining a high degree of commercial awareness and delivering demanding financial objectives. Her experience includes a new hospital start up in a foreign environment, contract negotiation, change management, cost control and introduction of new patient services. More recently Liz has overseen the opening of a new £ 1.3m theatre and continues to work to drive the hospital to meet the current patient demand.

Saimina J Virmani, chief executive and solicitor, Joseph Frasier Solicitors

Saimina set up in practice on her own in 2008 when she was only 25, and just a day after qualifying as a solicitor. Joseph Frasier remains the only private legal practice for deaf and hard of hearing people. “We focus on making legal services more accessible to this group,” she says. The firm has become known for lobbying at a central government level and has gathered a host of celebrity supporters.

Kate Harling, owner, Marmalade Toast

Marmalade Toast provides corporate imagery and videography services for companies nationwide. Celebrating six years in business this year, Marmalade Toast has grown and is now making a mark within the corporate market working for clients such as Lloyd Motor Group, UCLan and Lencarta and has established itself regionally as well as nationally. Marmalade Toast has seen a 400 per cent growth in business in the first quarter of 2013.

Kate BaileyKate Bailey, new business manager, Eric Wright Facilities Management (EWFM)

With more than 100 employees, EWFM is responsible for 105 properties and has an annual turnover of more than £9m. Kate joined the Eric Wright Group in 2006 and has more than 20 years’ experience in catering and facilities management. Contract awards have increased by 40 per cent in the last three years, with a target to continue to grow the FM business. Often the only woman in a meeting, Kate’s knowledge and experience enables her to hold her own in a male-dominated industry.

Jane Backhouse, founder, Focus Experiential Training

Formed in 1991, the training business now has an enviable national and international client base and is based at Clough Bottom Organic Farm in the Ribble Valley. Jane began her training career with Next and has developed the company and the farm stone outbuildings to provide experiential training facilities for companies across the UK.

Janet Cottam, managing director, Bryan Lee Building Contractors

Janet’s father established the business in 1980 which Jane now leads. A medium sized contractor, the business focuses on exceptional customer and Janet’s personal involvement on each project. “I put myself in our customers’ position and make sure and concerns are addressed.”

Julie Ryder, founder and managing director, HearFirst Training and Consultancy

HearFirst is a national workplace training and consultancy business, specialising in delivering deaf, disability and British Sign Language (BSL) training. The company is managed and staffed mostly by people who are deaf or disabled themselves. Last autumn, the company celebrated its 10th anniversary with a new contract to supply deaf awareness training to staff at the House of Commons.  The company was founded in 2002 by Julie Ryder after becoming deaf herself.  Since then, the company has grown to become one of the most successful training consultancy businesses operating across the UK, delivering training to over 25,000 people.

Karen-Tems-squareKaren Tems, host, The Business Network

Whilst managing her own successful training company Karen Tems saw first hand the benefits of being a member of The Business Network.  Her commitment was evident when she switched careers in 2009, buying her first local group and becoming a full time host. Karen organises lunchtime events in Central and East Lancashire, South Manchester and Bolton and Bury.  She brokers introductions with high calibre decision makers, helping members expand client and supplier connections.

Kristen Durose, managing director, Red Star Wealth Management

Red Star is a boutique firm offering tailored advice to corporate and personal clients. “Starting my own accountancy business has been the best career decision that I have made.  It has allowed me to build a business with the values which are important to me. Many of the skills needed to be a successful accountant are those often associated with female strengths.  An ability to listen and understand a client’s needs and an ability to communicate complex tax matters are central to what I do.  It seems strange then that women make up such a low proportion of senior roles.”

Louise Potter, director, Taylor Patterson

Louise was appointed as a director of Preston-based financial advisory group Taylor Patterson earlier this year having joined in 2011. She is responsible for both the apprenticeship and graduate training programmes and ensures that the firm achieves its aim of growing its own talent and keeping skills in Lancashire.  Louise also has group responsibilities for HR and IT.

Debbie KingDebbie King, partner, Farleys Solicitors

Since becoming an equity Partner in 2006, Debbie has headed up the corporate team at Farleys, specialising in all areas of corporate and corporate finance work. Debbie also advises on private equity investments, shareholders, joint venture agreements and Companies Act compliance. Debbie has advised on a number of large deals over the past 12 months, including three complex group re-organisations and the management buyout of NR Engineering Ltd.

Jane Fox, owner, Fired 4 U

Jane set up her paint your own pottery studio in Walton le Dale seven years ago and, within three years, outgrew her original premises. Craft activity offerings have broadened to include parties, a holiday club, sessions for vulnerable young people and adults and team-building sessions for business. “Social media has helped our continued growth year on year bringing in new customers and getting existing ones to use us in other ways,” says Jane who employs two part-time staff.

Jane Rabbit, owner, The Rabbit Patch

Jane started design business, The Rabbit Patch, 20 years ago in South Yorkshire and relocated to  Cleveleys six years ago. “If life begins at 40, that was when I really hit my stride!” she says. “I love where I live so we started publishing the suite of Visit Fylde Coast websites and I also started and chair the Wyred Up business support initiative, and also chair the Rossall Beach Residents and Community Group. Business and community go hand in hand at our place!”

Pia Webb, owner, Webbs Consulting

Originally from Sweden, Pia  created the Webbs Quality of Life Model, which has been successfully adopted by CEOs in Sweden and is now being introduced to the UK. “Through it, I empower business leaders to identify the link between their own and their employees’ quality of life, which then increases levels of productivity and profitability in their organisations.” Pia is on a mission to take her model global, and MP Jake Berry recently presented her ideas to David Cameron in person.

Shelley Redfern, sales executive, Love to Brand

Leaving behind a 17 year background in the travel industry, including three years working in Dubai for Emirates Airlines, Shelley joined the team at Love to Brand in Clitheroe which supplies promotional merchandise and corporate gifts.  Love to Brand works with many of the county’s leading companies and brands in Lancashire. Shelley’s role is to identify and develop strategic alliances and business relationships.

Jo Scott, owner, Strawberry Standards

In 2011 Jo left an enforcement background in trading standards to provide independent consultancy services on a range of trading and consumer law matters. Strawberry Standards gained a good reputation in Lancashire for services offered to the food industry and evolved in response to the demand for third party expertise throughout the food chain. Two years later, and with clients throughout the UK and Europe, the company continues to develop services around food innovation and legislative requirements.

Adele King, owner, Ladykings Locksmith

In 2012 Adele King took voluntary redundancy from her 13 year service as a senior prison officer at Wakefield, Whitemoor and New Hall prisons and retrained to set up Ladykings Locksmith. Adele is one of the few female 24 hour locksmiths in the North West and has quickly established a name for herself as a reliable professional in both the domestic and commercial markets, in what is traditionally a male dominated area. She is already an approved supplier for selected estate agents and solicitors in Lancashire and is on her way to achieving Lancashire Safe Trader accreditation.

Saira Hussain, director Hussain Architectural Design

“It has been a struggle being a woman in construction but the business is growing and I opened an office in London at the beginning of 2013,” says Saira. “I feel as though there is a glass ceiling for women in architecture and construction and it's very difficult to gain the respect of men in the business.” Despite that, Saira has worked on many projects in the north west, including award winning projects in Manchester, Spinningfields, Media City and a council building in Rochdale.

Ruth Rule-Mullen, associate solicitor, Forbes

Ruth has been with Forbes for over six years and was made Associate in 2009. She has experience in both the private and public sectors and regularly appears before Employment Tribunals throughout England and Wales. Her particular expertise lies in providing corporate support and advising upon the Transfer of Undertaking Regulations. Her client base includes a wide range of industries including hospitality and manufacturing organisations and she advises businesses of all sizes.

Sarah Duffy, owner, Red Hen Creative

Sarah founded Red Hen Creative in 2012 and brought together local creative talent to develop cost-effective campaigns for lancashire businesses. Since launching, Sarah has seen over 100 per cent growth in the business, allowing her to offer new services including PR, and enter new sectors including education.

Rachael Nixon, owner, Excel Coaching

Rachael has been a fully qualified business and personal coach for seven years and is also an NLP and EFT practitioner. Twice a finalist in the Enterprise Vision Awards (EVA), she set up Excel three years ago to help a variety of businesses across all industry sectors achieve their business and personal goals. “I’ve always been focused on helping others to achieve and be the best they can be,” she says.

Paula Riley, Riley’s Butchers

Paula looked at the business with a different set of eyes. “I wanted a place where you could get everything for a dinner party including dessert and wine,” she says.  She has also moved the business into the ready meal market and hosts cookery classes demonstrating budget family cooking. Riley’s was recently crowned Northern Butchers Shop of the Year and employs 12.

Helen Cowley, tax manager, Cassons Chartered Accountants

Helen, a chartered accountant and tax advisor, is one of the region’s leading experts on UK tax legislation. She deals with the operational management of the tax department, as well as providing a wide range of tax advice to individuals, businesses and trusts. Over the last 12 months she has played a leading role in helping to expand Cassons’ specialist tax team.