Photography: Julian Dodd
Emma Gannon left her job as the social media editor of British Glamour in 2016 with the bold goal of rewriting the rules of work and taking back control of her career. "On paper, I had my dream job," she says. "But inside, I felt empty. I’d spent six years working in PR, advertising and publishing, where it was considered ‘normal’ to get takeaways delivered to your desk, exist on five hours’ sleep and chase promotion after promotion. The career ladder felt rigid and outdated. I wanted to create my own ladder."
So Gannon (pictured below) gave up the job title and the steady salary and became a "multi-hyphenate", working on a mishmash of different jobs and side hustles. "I never did understand why the term ‘jack-of-all-trades’ was meant as an insult," says the 29-year-old broadcaster, blogger and best-selling author of The Multi-Hyphen Method. "Being adaptable, moulding yourself to different roles, adding new strings to your bow – that’s a huge advantage in today’s workplace."
This year’s 35 Women Under 35 list, published by Management Today in association with Accenture to shine a light on the country’s top young businesswomen, is packed with career chameleons. These women entered the workforce during the financial crisis. They watched established companies crumble, entirely new industries spring up and technology evolve at an extraordinary rate. And the pace of change is about to get even faster. So fast, in fact, that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't even been created yet, according to a report by Dell and the Institute for the Future (IFTF). Survival and success in the world of work depend on constant reinvention.
Take Poppy Gustafsson (pictured left), co-founder of Darktrace. Her career has seen her pivot from chartered accountant to VC fund manager to entrepreneur. Now valued at $1.25bn just five years after launch, her cyber security firm has become the 16th billion dollar company to come out of Cambridge and the fastest to achieve "unicorn" status. In that time, Gustafsson’s role has also jumped from CFO to COO to co-CEO. "I’ve always had an analytical, commercial mind," she says. "My mum owned chickens and, at the age of 12, I was putting together business plans to help her sell more eggs. But I’ve never had a career plan. I’ve just gone out and done what I’m good at – and then tried to do it better. Don’t be shackled by expectations."
Ann Hyams also ditched the traditional career plan. "If I’d plotted a path, I never would have ended up in investor relations," she says. "I wasn’t aware of the role or what it entailed until a few years into my career." She grew up in a sporty household, studied geography at Oxford University where she captained the swimming team, then joined LEK Consulting as a strategy analyst. "Even when you’re in a set role, be inquisitive and get involved in other projects. That will open a lot of doors for you." That attitude has propelled her to investor relations manager at hospitality giant Whitbread, where she works for Alison Brittain, one of only six female CEOs in the FTSE 100 (soon to be five when Moya Greene steps down from Royal Mail).
Hyams (pictured below) describes her job as "the complete opposite of a 9-5". She travels a lot, is rarely at her desk and is always online – which is true of 96% of her generation according to the Levo Institute and the Adecco Millennial Economy Report. But she manages her own diary and still finds time to run Eyedea, a London-based networking group to inspire and connect young female professionals. "Women, in general, don’t ask for help enough. When we do, we inadvertently make it negative. We shouldn’t apologise for asking questions."
Nami Patel is another multi-hyphen millennial. Patel grew up in inner-city Birmingham, studied natural sciences at Cambridge and qualified as a chartered accountant in 2008, just as Lehman Brothers collapsed. To arm herself with new skills, she started working on corporate finance projects and set herself the ambitious target of becoming a chief financial officer by the time she hit 35. She did it – with three years to spare. In 2016, she was appointed CFO of Fox Networks Group in UK and Africa. But that’s not all. She’s also senior vice president of business development for Europe and Africa, co-chair of the company’s female leadership group (Women@21CF) in the UK, a board director of DriveTribe and a BAFTA member.
Patel (pictured below) became a multi-tasker at an early age. "My mother passed away unexpectedly when I was 15 and I had to work through my grief, focus on my GCSE exams, take on a lot of the domestic work and help care for my seven-year old sister," she says. "I got used to juggling."
Lena Brooks’ childhood also shaped her career choices. Her father, a miner, had an accident the year before Brooks was born, leaving him unable to work. Growing up in Shirebrook in Derbyshire, she watched her mother juggling lots of different jobs to support the family financially, while her father stayed at home to raise four children. "Grafting and giving things a go was part of our family ethos," says Brooks (pictured below right).
She was the first member of her family to go to university, then was snapped up by KPMG which funded her MBA at Manchester Business School. Now she’s a senior director at Walmart, the world's largest company by revenue. "As millennials, we expect constant flux and to take risks at work," says Brooks, who’s just had her second child. "The world is evolving so fast. If you’re not reinventing yourself every day, you’re not staying relevant."
That doesn’t mean changing your own skin, adds Brooks. "When I first moved to London, I still had a broad Midlands accent; a senior executive told me I didn’t sound ‘intelligent enough’ and advised me to take elocution lessons. I was astounded. You have to be proud of who you are, be bold and grab every opportunity.
"And that’s what I’ll keep telling my daughters."
Ones to Watch
Management Today also selected five Ones to Watch who narrowly missed out on the full list:
Razan Alsous, founder, Yorkshire Dama Cheese - 35
Alsous fled the civil war in Syria in 2012 and moved to Yorkshire. Struggling to find work, she started her own halloumi-making business, Yorkshire Dama Cheese, using a £2,500 Local Enterprise Agency grant. The business has won 18 awards and has expanded into new products including "Labneh" spreadable yoghurt and matured yogurt balls.
Sheree Atcheson, business consultant, Deloitte - 27
Sri Lanka-born Atcheson set up the UK cohort of Women Who Code in 2013: it now has more than 8,000 female members. She has held several tech roles, including software engineer for Kainos and product analyst for SR labs, and is currently a technical business consultant for technology, strategy and architecture at Deloitte UK.
Ashleigh Hinde, founder, Waldo - 29
This South African entrepreneur is a true visionary. The Harvard grad launched online contact lens retailer Waldo last year, disrupting a market dominated by big, established players. Funded by the investors behind Domino’s, Simba Sleep and Cornerstone, Waldo will be expanding into the States this year.
Jessica Leigh Jones, engineer, Sony - 24
Leigh Jones is a graduate astrophysicist and qualified electrician and engineer. Aged 24, her career has already seen her working as an R&D advisor to the CEO at electronics retailer Maplin, a research associate in lightning strike protection for aircraft at Cardiff University, and an engineer at the Sony UK Technology Centre in Pencoed, South Wales.
Ellie Van Leeuwen, product designer, Spearmark - 25
Van Leeuwen is the brains behind the Droplet: a flashing cup that prompts patients to drink more fluids. She came up with the concept as part of her final project at Bournemouth University, where she was studying industrial and product design, and is now working with Spearmark to trial the product in care homes and hospitals and bring it to market.