I think I’m right in saying that, along with the estimable Stephen Quinn , publisher of Vogue, I’m the longest-standing judge of the Veuve Clicquot Business woman of the year award. I’ve notched up 10 years (and it’s quite right, BTW, that Stephen and I are outnumbered by women on the panel these days). C’mon, show some pity. Someone has to drink all that Grande Dame...
There are now dozens of awards for women in business but the VC was the first and is the most enduring. The first winner, way back in 1974, was Stella Brummel, the MD of Benford Ltd, then the largest manufacturer of concrete mixing equipment in the UK.
This shows that rather than do the obvious and concentrate on women in luxury and fashion - which would have been very ‘on brand’ – Veuve’s parent company Moet Hennessy has done the right thing and concentrated on real business women with their sleeves rolled up getting stuck into not only concrete but also call centres, civil engineering, architecture and running airlines. Of course there is nothing wrong with luxury – it’s a tough game and the margins are to die for – and we’ve also had Anya Hindmarch and Linda Bennett as winners.
This year’s two victors are splendid examples of proper business talent – one a seasoned campaigner and one relatively new to running her own show. Needless to say, I’m proud MT got to both the winner – Harriet Green of Thomas Cook, and the winner of the Newcomer Award, Jenny Dawson, who runs Rubies in the Rubble – way before anyone else. Harriet transformed Thomas Cook, once Britain's Least Admired Company, into a refocused, leaner business on no more than four hours' sleep a night, and is serious force to be reckoned with. She gets a vine planted and named after her and a case of the finest bubbles every year for life.
Jenny’s business tackles one of the UK’s pressing current scandals – the vast volume of food waste. Rubies in the Rubble makes chutneys using fruit and veg that would otherwise be made into compost or worse landfill. It’s discarded simply due to supply and demand imbalances or failed aesthetic standards.
Jenny, 27, and a former hedge fund operative, founded Rubies in the Rubble in 2011. She appeared in MT’s 35 Women Under 35 list last year and is now selling her chutneys in Waitrose and will launch a new healthy crisp range over the summer. On receiving her award, Jenny said: ‘Rubies in the Rubble was in the running for this award last year so it really means a lot to us that Veuve Clicquot have followed our progress and growth over the year, see potential in what we are building and acknowledge it. It is incredibly encouraging and I feel really appreciative and incredibly honoured. Thank you.’
Back in 2009 we did some revealing interviews with past winners, which you can read here. And remember that there are only four current female CEOs in the FTSE 100. Maybe when that figure gets to 50% Veuve Clicquot might consider giving an award for something else. Maybe for men.
- Harriet Green is the speaker at MT's Inspiring Women conference in November. Want to hear her share her insights? Book here.