I have both a mentor and a sounding board. The mentor, who played a major part in my career, was Dame Hilary Cropper.
I joined Xansa in 1988 as a relatively junior HR manager and stayed for 12 years, with two off to have my children, and ended up as a senior business partner. I did a lot of growing up during that time. Hilary had a major impact on me.
It was an informal mentoring relationship – I worked quite closely with her. I suppose you could say I was her bag carrier for a while, particularly when we were looking at acquiring a company. She taught me the need for confidence, especially as a woman in a man’s world. She had amazing pragmatism, drive and a great sense of humour.
She approached everything in a very positive way, insisting that everything can be turned to your advantage, however bad the situation. Under Hilary’s tutelage, I went from being a very traditional HR person to being very commercially focused.
She pushed me to challenge her very hard, around challenges such as employee relations during outsourcing deals or convincing her that we needed to acknowledge union recognition.
I left in February 2004, having taken a couple of years off to have my children, and Hilary died in December of that year. I remember being at her memorial service, and what struck me was that it was full of very successful women. Her legacy was enormous – many of them would have seen her as a mentor or a role model.
My ‘sounding board’ is Mike Campbell at Easyjet, a relative by marriage. He does a similar job to mine but in a very different field. We both work for organisations which are very strong consumer brands.
I invited him to the O2 HR conference to talk about the Easyjet story and the feedback was tremendous. My team still talks about it. I can ask him “What do you think about such and such?” We’ll have a five minute conversation. To have someone operating in your world, but in a different industry, is really helpful.