Wendy’s thoughts on leadership, career fulfilment and discovering natural talents

For International Women’s Day, we asked Wendy – Co Founder, joint MD and Commercial Director of Peter’s Yard – for her thoughts on leadership, career fulfilment and discovering your natural talents.

  1. Describe your career before Peter’s Yard

After I completed my degree in Economics, I joined Cadbury Schweppes as a Graduate Trainee in their Marketing Department. The first brand I worked on was Curly Wurly and I still smile when I see one; it was a lot of fun being brand manager of a kid’s brand.

I promised myself I would stay with the business for as long as I felt I was learning and developing my career. I surprised myself by still being there 22 years later having worked in a variety of Marketing, Sales and General Management roles. These included becoming the youngest General Manager of our tourist attraction Cadbury World, leading our Global Innovation team and travelling the world as one of the few female members of the Global Leadership team. My last role there was particularly rewarding. I worked for an inspirational boss who gave me the freedom to recruit a team, create best practice Sales and Marketing processes and lead training programmes across all of our business units around the world. The team were given an award to mark the contribution we made to the future of the business which is something I’ll always remember.

  1. When did you know you were career driven?

I was about 25 and I was standing on the roof of our London Head Office in Marble Arch at 1.30 in the morning after a black tie event! I’d kicked off my shoes and climbed through the large sash window onto the roof terrace which connected a few private apartments that could be used once you had reached a certain level of management. I had heard about this perk when I joined as a trainee and I set myself a goal to reach that level as quickly as I could. Standing there that night, looking down onto the glare and noise of central London, I felt an overwhelming feeling of excitement and pride. It was not driven by status or superiority but the exhilaration of achieving a personal goal.

  1. Did managing a team come naturally to you?

No, initially it was a painful process. My first direct reports were two keen graduates not much younger than me. As a new manager I wanted them to be happy and to like me. I thought we were working well as a team until they asked if they could have a word in private. They both explained they were frustrated because I wouldn’t let them manage the monthly process of updating the spend on their brands. I had assumed they would hate this nightmare task as much as I did so it was the last thing I wanted to delegate to them. However, they thought I didn’t trust them with the budget which could not have been further from the truth. Thanks to their willingness to speak up we sorted it quickly and never looked back as a team.  It taught me the importance of honest feedback and creating an environment where people feel they can give it just as easily to their boss as to their peers.

30 years on, developing people feels much more natural and very important to me. I want to allow our young managers as much opportunity as they wish to grab. The difference between a small business like ours and a multi-national business is you can see where you have made a real contribution. That’s a great feeling and I want to give every member of the team the chance to experience it.

  1. What advice would you give others starting out as young managers?

To me the whole language of being “a manager” feels dictatorial and hierarchical. I don’t like the constraint of structures and tight job descriptions. In practice I have found it is better to recruit bright, enthusiastic people and help them discover the type of work they love to do. Being able to use your natural talents makes you feel whole and when you find the right role for you, you tend to be brilliant at it. I wish I had learned that earlier in my own career and hadn’t tried to be like the senior managers above me most of whom were men. Women often bring a different leadership style and it is only when you see it as a strength that you really start to flourish.

  1. What made you want to start your own business and what would your advice be to people considering starting a business from scratch? 

I am a creative person by nature and it was the idea of building a brand and developing a team with a single-minded goal that appealed to me. Peter’s Yard has created employment for over 30 people, our brand is served in Michelin starred restaurants and on British Airways flights, it is sold in retailers including Fortnum & Mason, Whole Foods Market, Ocado, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s so we have already created something I am very proud of. Looking back, every success came on the back of tenacity and hard work and there are many opportunities ahead so having stamina and a clear goal is essential.

I love to help people who are starting up new businesses and, when I do, I recognise how fortunate I have been to do this with other passionate and experienced people including the other owners of our business. My Co-founder, Ian, invited me to join him 10 years ago, right at the start of the journey meaning we have always had each other to bounce ideas off. My advice would be to find someone with totally different skills and completely shared values and go into business with them.