Glass ceilings? What glass ceilings? The finalists for the 2010 Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year award have risen to the top of their industries, thanks to their entrepreneurial nous and business acumen. This week, MT will be speaking to the four candidates short-listed for the highly prized title. First up is Gill Riley, founder and MD of construction firm GGR-UNIC, who tells us about working smarter in a recession, how a construction company can go green, and why she admires Margaret Thatcher…
MT: What’s been your experience of the recession?
GR: What I’ve found this year, especially in January, is that we’ve been hit for money by more companies going bust than we’ve ever been. But like a lot of people, we did see it coming, so we got cannier with what we were spending and were generally more sensible. We’ve also moved people around the company; there are a lot of people doing jobs that they weren’t doing when the recession hit, but they’ll eventually go back to their original roles.
MT: What has the recession taught you about running a business?
GR: That we’ve got to work smarter. It’s also taught me not to take anything for granted – in 2007 we had a fantastic year but then with the recession it got quieter and our turnover went down. We’re more flexible now.
MT: How have you tried to invest in CSR and better working practices?
GR: Corporate responsibility is the norm now – or at least it should be. We have been recycling for several years, we recycle water from washing the cranes and we’re currently investigating electric cars for the reps (which they’re not overly keen on, I must admit!). We sponsor staff who run marathons for good causes, and as a company we sponsor a local rugby team. We’ve also had parties where residents from the local village have been invited – we had 150 people over to my home once. It’s nice; it’s about putting something back into the local community.
MT: Which leaders do you admire or look up to?
GR: Margaret Thatcher. She was a woman with balls and I respect her immensely for what she went through and what she did. I would love to meet her before she passes away.
MT: The competition is sometimes called the Oscar for female business leaders. To what extent do you think competitions like this (and MT’s own 35 under 35, which looks to highlight the next generation of young female business leaders) are still necessary these days?
GR: I’m especially keen on awards programmes that focus on entrepreneurialism. I know there are often extremely clever, talented women working in the corporate sector too, but they’ve never had to put their house on the line. Also, I’m from construction, I am working class and it’s really nice to be put forward for something like this and for someone to say ‘well done, you’ve done a good job’. I’m constantly asked about whether it’s more difficult being a woman in construction and I always say no. Perhaps it was when I first started out, but people know now that I work hard and that I know what I’m talking about. I feel that people respect me for who I am, not what sex I am.
Gill Riley is one of four finalists for the 2010 Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year award (judged by, amongst others, MT's very own editor Matthew Gwyther). We’ll be speaking to the other three finalists this week, ahead of next week’s result.
Incidentally, we’re about to start compiling our very own ‘35 Women Under 35’ for 2010. So please send your nominations to email@example.com by Monday 19th April (including a full biog, an outline of job responsibilities and details of any outstanding achievements both inside and outside of work). Nominees must be aged 35 or under on the 1 July 2010 and be living and working in the UK (and feel free to nominate yourself).
In today's bulletin:
EU embarrasses Government by slamming deficit plan
Slasher Voser continues his shake-up of sluggish Shell
Debenhams sales up after returning to first Principles
Public sector has 22% of workers - but 37% of employment appeals
MT talks to GGR's Gill Riley