Inspirational Woman: Dr Karen Dickens | Philanthropist & Founder, Comitti Boats UK & Caribbean

Dr Karen Dickens Karen was born in Cornwall, and has a PhD in Physical Organic Chemistry from Kings College, University of London. 

She has over 30 years’ experience of working in the oil and retail industry, having joined Esso Petroleum Company Ltd in 1987 where she worked in a wide variety of roles in research and technical support before moving into Fuels & Lubricants sales, marketing, planning, development and Retail Operations both within the UK and internationally.  She was appointed Global Fuels Programme Executive within ExxonMobil, with responsibility for developing and launching the Synergy Fuels Programme across key Esso, Exxon and Mobil markets.

She moved to Chief Executive Officer of MRH (GB) Ltd in March 2016 to develop the biggest UK independent operator of dealer retail service stations by implementing a new customer focussed strategy to improve customer service, delivering significant Return on Investment for the Private Equity owners and ready the company for an IPO.  Under Karen’s direction, MRH’s turnover increased to over £2billion, with over 491 sites and 1,100 employees with the company being sold in July 2018.

Karen still advises companies, management consultants and Private Equity companies involved in the oil and retail industry, but in 2020, Karen embarked on a new venture which stems from her passion for boats and water sports from growing up in Cornwall.  Her new company – Comitti Boats UK & Caribbean –  aims to bring these iconic Italian motor boats to a much wider audience, across multiple markets and geographies.

A big part of Karen’s time is also focussed on philanthropic projects and she works closely with The Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust as well as supporting a children’s charity, the Nature Fun Ranch, based in Barbados where she also spends time during the year.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

The honest answer?  No.  I didn’t have a master plan, but my favourite subject was science, and I always enjoyed Chemistry, so that felt a natural choice for my PhD.  When I joined Esso, I absolutely loved the team so again that felt like the right choice.  I guess throughout my career I’ve always done what I love.  I suppose the one plan I always had – especially when I left MRH was to give back, and work for charity in one form or other.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

To be honest, I’ve always classed challenges as opportunities.  I’ve had periods where the jobs or the tasks have been incredibly tough.  But I’ve always had the right team around me, and I’ve always smashed any targets set, or challenges, that way.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think it’s got to be my philanthropic work.  I’ve helped orchestra some great fundraising events for Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust – most recently last year, raising 95,000.  And the Natures Fun Ranch Children’s charity in Barbados, where I’m supporting and advising them.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Team, and being able to motivate a team.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I’m very passionate about this.  It’s very important and I have lots of mentees – some that I’ve been mentoring for over 20 years and who are now close friends as well. I’ve had two significant mentors in my career, one Italian early in my career and one British later in my career. The mentoring was really powerful not only encouraging and challenging me but setting an example of how important teams are and the importance of treating them like your extended family.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I actually don’t think its Gender Equality – its Diversity that we should be thinking about. Because everyone operates differently and as I say building teams around you is so important to succeeding, that you need to look across the board and at all sorts of individuals who will bring something unique to the party.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I think it would be about Work / Life balance .. in fact that’s not just to my younger self that’s something I work on all the time, even now!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Making a success of my new company and continuing to raise awareness and money for my charities The Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust – look out for our new 12 days of Christmas fundraiser from 1st December on their websiteand Nature Fun Ranch in Barbados

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