'It's a reality check when you have to sell your car to pay the wages' - Rosemary Squire

YOU LIVE AND YOU LEARN: The co-founder and co-CEO of Ambassador Theatre Group on the importance of memory, the value of boardroom quotas and why you shouldn't underestimate Woking.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 20 May 2015

I went to a girls school in the brilliant, bluestocking suffragist tradition. It gave me confidence to achieve, not hide while boys did all the talking. At university, I did languages, which trains your memory and helps you work faster in all sorts of jobs.

I've never separated work from the rest of my life. It doesn't go away at 6pm on Friday. By the time I was 28, I was general manager of London's second-largest theatre group, but I was made redundant while on maternity leave. That was a big mistake. They had to pay me a lot of money.

Later the same day, I got a call from my future husband, Howard Panter, to join his production company. In 1992, we founded Ambassador Theatre Group, with a venue in London and another in Woking. Everyone said 'Woking? But that's a dump!', but it was the blueprint for our later success. Sometimes adversity can be an opportunity.

The first three years were a nightmare. It's a reality check when you have to sell your car to pay the wages, but you can't reap the rewards unless you take the risks. On 1 December 1995, we bought out our partners in Woking and completed on our second theatre in London. That was when I knew it was going to work.

It can be tiring working with your spouse, but for us it has been successful. Howard is from the creative, production side, while I'm more commercial. It doesn't half help that between us we've done every job in theatre except act.

I set up a group in the 1980s to address the enormous gender imbalance in theatre. It's improving, but there's still a long way to go. There hasn't been a woman artistic director of the National Theatre yet. It won't be over until the second woman gets the job.

Boards set the tone of an organisation. I've often been the only woman at the table and the culture changes when another joins. I support quotas, because men in suits just hire other men in suits, especially in the macho world of deal-making.

We have two private equity partners. I speak to them nearly every day, but they're hands off about the business. You couldn't just rock up and ask Ewan McGregor to act in your play without a lifetime of contacts and knowhow.

We are now the world's biggest theatre group, turning over nearly £500m. This country's great at the creative industries. We should recognise that.

Rosemary Squire will be speaking at Inspring Women Birmingham, 23rd April. For more details, click here.

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