Patricia Vaz is general manager of BT Payphones, a £350 million business with 4,000 employees. Although not an engineer herself, she has some 3,000 engineering staff reporting to her.
Vaz's career path has been most unusual. She began with BT in 1975 as clerical support in the personnel department. Four years later she was plucked out by the internal promotion board and put on a two-year training scheme that catapulted her into middle management and, she says, "saved me 10 years".
Spells in the traffic department and in sales were followed in 1984 by business systems engineering management. Here Vaz raised eyebrows not only by her sex but also by her lack of engineering qualifications. "At my first conference I was asked if I'd come along to take the notes," she recounts. In some ways she feels that not being an engineer enabled her to get better results. "I thought in a purely business way and looked upon the engineers as experts whose support I needed. That way I got their loyalty and respect."