Deborah is one of only sixteen female CEOs at AIM-listed companies. She is passionate about championing female financial independence, encouraging women to have a better relationship with their wealth.
Deborah has had a long-standing career spanning over two decades in both industry and consultancy, working for big names such as Marks & Spencer, Nationwide Building Society, and Towers Perrin. From there, she went on to co-found Innecto Reward Consulting which is now part of the Personal Group family.
Since Innecto launched in 2002, Deborah led the business to new heights and it has since become the largest independent reward consultancy in the UK. Her role involved her securing and delivering multiple global projects for high profile clients including Boden, Caffè Nero Sky, and Arsenal Football Club.
Day to day, Deborah is responsible for overseeing and developing Personal Group’s strategy whilst servicing the needs of the working backbone in the UK.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
My background is pretty unconventional for an AIM-listed insurance company Chief Executive. I left the corporate world in 2003 and set up my own business called Innecto. This was eventually bought by the company I’m now Group Chief Executive for. Quite a journey!
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
In a way I did. I joined Marks & Spencer straight from university, and through their graduate programme I got exposure to lots of different roles. As part of that, I realised that I wanted to run my own business.
I knew I needed to get a bit of experience under my belt, so I worked for Nationwide Building Society, then a major management consultancy for a few years, to learn my trade before setting up my company. I eventually realised my ambition when I was 35.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Everything is challenging when you do it for the first time – but gradually you stress-test yourself and start to believe you can do it. Whether it’s your first big client or first major presentation, it’s all challenging. I’m still kept on my toes presenting to our shareholders and managing a team of 250 employees. But I prepare well and then I trust myself to deliver.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Workwise, it’s got to be building Innecto from scratch and employing fantastic people who shared my vision of creating a work environment where the team love their work. This has to be followed by the Board at Personal Group believing in me and appointing me as Group Chief Executive. When we sold Innecto we gave £500K of the £3m purchase value back to Innecto employees. Sharing that success was a really proud day.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
It’s dull, but it’s about just keeping going. When times are tough, and you are under pressure, keep putting one foot in front of another. Gradually, things get easier and then you realise you are out of the woods and standing on top of the hill with a great view! I also believe that showing loyalty and being there for people – during good and tough times – means the team understands you mean it when you say ‘we are in it together’.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
I am 53 now, and if you’d told me this question would still be relevant in 2020 when I started work, I wouldn’t have believed you.
I find it depressing that we still don’t see senior women in the City. My last shareholder roadshow in September, during a whole week of meetings, I only met one other woman – and she was one of our own Non-Executive Directors who attended a meeting with us. Literally, not a single other female in the room during 26 meetings.
To accelerate the pace of change we need to introduce girls to other sectors whilst they are still at school. This will help them to see that there are interesting well-paid jobs in investment, insurance, commercial, and operational management. They don’t require super-powers, just a bit of belief that it is possible to succeed.
We need to challenge women and girls on their ability to manage other people. Sometimes women hold themselves back from these roles because they feel uncomfortable telling others what to do – but it’s a skill you can learn – and to progress to senior levels, you need to be able to manage and lead people.