"Why I gave half a million pounds to my staff"

Personal Group CEO Deborah Frost on working families, self-belief and returning to corporate life from a start-up.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 13 Feb 2020

Deborah Frost left the corporate world in 2003 to start her own business, reward consultancy Innecto. She sold the company to Personal Group last year for £3m – and is now at the helm of the whole group, making her one of just 16 female CEOs at an AIM-listed company. She tells us why she waited until her mid-thirties to start her own business, what she did with the windfall from the sale, and why bosses need to be more imaginative.

On starting her own business:

I always knew I wanted to start my own business – but I didn’t do it until I was 35. I wanted to get corporate experience under my belt first so I worked for Marks & Spencer, Nationwide and consultancy firm Towers Perin. It’s much better to learn on someone else’s dollar. Before I quit corporate life, I spent six months doing my “day job” and planning my own business in the evenings and weekends. When I launched specialist reward consultancy Innecto, I felt “ready” and I had clients right from the get-go because I’d built up such a strong network. If you try and start a business straight out of uni, the odds are stacked against you: you’re not used to working with people from different backgrounds and generations, you don’t have contacts, and you have no idea how corporates actually “do stuff”.  

On shared success:

I sold Innecto to Personal Group last year for £3m. As Personal Group is an AIM-listed company, we had to keep the deal under wraps until everything was signed and sealed. On the day we announced the acquisition, I told my 16 employees that I was giving £500,000 of the sale money back to them. It was a shared success – so I wanted everyone to reap the rewards. Employees who had worked for Innecto for more than six years received a full year’s salary. That was a pretty amazing day.

On gender equality:

Personal Group didn’t just buy my business, they asked me to become CEO of the whole group: a company with more than 250 employees and revenues topping £55m last year. If I’m honest, my first thought was: “I don’t know if I can do this”. The chairman and deputy chairman convinced me to take the job by reminding me that any bloke would jump at the chance. I’d joined the board of Personal Group as a non-executive in 2015 so they knew me, they trusted I had the right experience, and they believed I could do the job: I just had to believe in myself. 

There are 950 companies listed on AIM. Of the top 200 (valued at more than £100m), only four have female CEOs. That gender gap is even worse than the FTSE 100. I want to fly the flag and say to other women “you can do this too”. 

On the “family penalty”:

People say that women pay a “motherhood penalty” at work but actually I think there’s a “family penalty”. Parents who work full time lose out on time with their kids, while parents who work part-time can lose out in their careers. The concept of a five-day work week feels really outmoded to me. We need to be far more imaginative in how we structure jobs. Full-time shouldn’t be the default option. Research proves you can be far more productive and creative when you work part-time. 

We will be showcasing the country’s remarkable, talented, visionary and ground-breaking businesswomen of all ages, at every level and across all sectors, and those companies and colleagues that are helping them to succeed. Enter the Inspiring Women in Business Awards here.

Image: Courtesy of Deborah Frost/Personal Group

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