Buses, banks and bras

11 Dec 2012
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Beacons, all three, to women in business everywhere

Ann Gloag trained as a nurse before establishing the Stagecoach bus company with her brother Brian Souter in 1980. The company is now one of the most successful independent transport operators in the UK and runs services in seven other countries. She is ranked as Scotland's richest woman and is one of the top 50 female entrepreneurs in the world. She is also an exemplary philanthropist having donated millions to Marie Curie Cancer Care, hospitals in Africa and India and the US-based charity 'Mercy Ships' which converts old car ferries into floating hospitals.

Appointed in August 2000, until recently Susan Rice, from Rhode Island USA, was Chief Executive of Lloyds TSB Scotland (now Lloyds Banking Group), making history as the first woman to head a UK clearing bank. She went into banking without any background or training. She studied biological sciences at university and then stepped onto the US academic ladder which she swiftly ascended. It was her husband's appointment as Vice Chancellor of Aberdeen University that brought her to Scotland and a sideways move into banking with Bank of Scotland. Then came the offer she couldn't refuse. Susan Rice is on record as loving 'going into areas where I just don't have the knowledge or technical knowhow. I love working with people and figuring it out'.

Michelle Mone was made redundant in 1994. It was the unplanned spur to success. The year before, in Florida, she had spotted a feature about breast enhancers for wearing inside the bra. P45 in hand yet anything but downhearted, she tracked down the US manufacturer and obtained her own licence to produce and market the enhancers in the UK and the rest of Europe. This was just the beginning. Then came her own design 'Stay Kups' a strapless/backless bra and, after three years in development, 'Ultimo the Ultimate Bra.' Most cleavage bras are deemed to be uncomfortable, but the 'Ultimo' is filled with gel to create cleavage without discomfort. The design is a phenomenal success story and Michelle is widely regarded as one of Scotland's most exciting entrepreneurs. Her secret lies in her constant hunger to develop new products and her dictum should be an inspiration for all women entering the business arena: 'Look at things in a fresh way. But the most important thing is to have faith in yourself.'

From jumpers to highfliers

These are just three of many inspiring stories. We could equally well tell the story of Kim Winser, the Helensburgh-born Chief Executive of Pringle Scotland who has effectively reinvented the famous brand, transforming sporty into chic. Or that of Deirdre Kinloch Anderson whose company makes the 'best kilts in the world' from traditional tartans for the Royal Family to new corporate tartans for the likes of Gleneagles, Glenlivet, ScottishPower and the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland. Or that of Vera Weisfeld, who as a single parent in 1969 answered an ad for a job at 'What Every Woman Wants' in Glasgow, was appointed the manager of the Argyle Street store and ended up marrying the owner and between them creating a multimillion pound empire with over 40 stores throughout the UK.

Then there are the stories of Christine Hallett and Joan Stringer, the first women principals of Stirling University and Napier University respectively. Or Dr Lesley Sawyers, the first woman Chief Executive of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce in its 220-year history.

The power of example

The point is, such stories are an inspiration for all women who want to enter the world of business, or are already in business and have high aspirations. The percentage of women in top jobs in Scotland are exemplary role models showing what women can achieve. And it's worth mentioning that there have been women throughout Scotland's history who have risen to the top of their profession. In many cases - sadly - their achievements have been unsung but that was put to rights with the publication of a Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, which features 750 deceased women who have influenced Scottish society from as early as 210AD. The book is published by Edinburgh University Press and edited by Sue Innes, Vice Convenor of the Scottish Women's History Network.

Starting out

The trend these days in Scotland is for women to set up their own businesses. Shining examples are Lorne Blyth's Flavours Italian Cookery Holidays, Amanda Boyle's shopfitting company Caledonia Contracts Ltd and Eilidh MacPherson's enterprising farmingscotland.com. That truly is something completely different!

Practical help is at hand from Scottish Enterprise and the specifically focused Scottishbusinesswomen.com.

It may not be what every woman wants, but if you are a woman looking to make a success in business, Scotland is a good place to be right now.

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