Louise Cox Chester worked for many years at Director level as an investment analyst, global equity research and investment head for some of the world’s leading investment banks. However, her passion for wanting to help people to achieve their full potential – through both business and personal development – led her in 2004 to found Witherdens Hall. This boutique, organic Spa Retreat, set in stunning Kent countrysideis the perfect environment for clear headed thinking and planning – as well as for great opportunities for fresh air and rest.
You used to work in the City, what did you do and why did you leave ?
I was a Director of several City banks focussing on Telecoms Equity Research and Sales. Then I was persuaded by one of my favourite clients, Dresdner RCM, to move to be Head of Research for them. This morphed into being their first Global Head of Investment outside San Francisco. I ran some Tech, Telecoms and Media mutual funds, some funds for the Government of Singapore and headed up a global team advising on over £50bn of assets. It was wonderful to be able to act on the investment decisions that I used to only be able to give to others and my team was great. We were based all over the world but had a strong camaraderie and a great performance record. I left when Allianz took over Dresdner – my job went to Munich! And within a week my rock musician boyfriend found that our diaries coincided for long enough to ask me to marry him – so although the headhunters were pursuing me, I felt the time was ripe to move on, quit the 5am start and follow another (as yet unidentified) dream.
I felt I’d done everything in the City I’d set out to do. I’d been no 1.
Given your solid economic background and reputation you could have had your pick of City fund manager jobs, what made you want to be a business specialist and mentor?
I felt I’d done everything in the City I’d set out to do. I’d been no 1. Extel rated 3 years in a row, I’d worked for one of the best Fund Management houses, I’d been a director since my early thirties, I’d had the chance to hang out and exchange ideas with some of the best management teams in the Telecoms industry, but I didn’t see how the next years would be anything other than repeating what I’d already done. The most interesting bit of my job was the high-level strategic thinking (I used to often come out of meetings thinking ‘ I’ve just been paid to spend an hour with the CEO of Vodafone sharing ideas on strategy. Wow, I love my job!’).
I wasn’t aware thought that I didn’t have to work in the City to have those amazing business exchanges and I left the City without any clue what I was going to do next. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think I would be any good at anything else. For a while I just pottered around Witherdens Hall, creating a kitchen garden, making new friends and trying to enjoy a slower pace of life. I even got a job in our village florists because I wanted to learn more about flowers. They paid me £4.25 an hour and my husband thought I was joking when I told him! But my business brain started to want exercise and I ended up turning them into an online florist serving all of the UK. It was great fun but it also gave me the confidence to realise that my skills were more transferrable than I realised! And after that, just
through word of mouth, the requests for help from other business owners started to roll in – and they’ve never stopped. I am normally a ‘business buddy’ to about 4 businesses at a time, helping them move their business forward not just by talking with them about their strategy, but often by rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck in. And I also have businesses come to me because they are stuck that I can quickly signpost on to other associates of Vector Business Group with different skills, who will be perfectly equipped to help them.
85% of business strategies never get properly implemented – fact!
Why the name Vector Business Group?
85% of business strategies never get properly implemented – fact! I realised that if I was going to give a superlative service to my clients, I had to figure out why this was happening and make sure it never became fact for them. It came to me in a flash of insipiration when I was on a flight back from seeing a client in Dubai: a pilot defines a plane’s vector – the direction plus momentum it needs to get it to its destination. My clients need both Strategic Direction and Purpose to get them to their metaphorical destination. So, my job is to help them define both purpose and direction to get to their metaphorical destination. It’s evolved into a tried and tested system now and works incredibly effectively.
Was there always a grand plan to run a retreat or did it happen by accident?
When I was working in the City my hours were so long ( up at 5am, all meals at my desk or out with clients, home at 10pm earliest) and very stressful. I used to dream of a little haven where I could go to get some R&R, some space to think, to dream, to create. A place which would enable me to ‘reset’ myself and would inspire me to be the best person I could possibly be. And while I was at CSFB, I came across the perfect place – not to go to, but to buy. So a long-term aspiration of mine was to create this little Retreat for myself first and then for others.
You are a seasoned Buddist, how does this help you with the day to day tribulations in life?
I’ve been a practising Buddhist for nearly 15 years and I can honestly say that I would never have had the success I had in the City if I didn’t have my daily practice. By chanting in the morning, I re-calibrate myself to a positive resonance. This lasts longer some days than others, but overall it helps me never get too ‘out of whack’. It also helps remind me that all the courage, compassion and wisdom that I need to create value with my life, lies within me. It gives me the courage to work through stressful and unpleasant situations, looking at them as opportunities to learn and grow (and hopefully encourage and inspire others). And I get closer to understanding how connected we all are and how the law of cause and effect works. This allows me to be more compassionate, more accepting of situations and people and hopefully a nicer person to work with and have as a friend.
Many people visit Witherden to escape from Corporate life, what makes a stay at Witherden so special?
I don’t really know! If I had to guess, I’d say it’s partly because I’ve been there, done it and got the t-shirt, so hopefully I have created something that will be perfect for people with stressful corporate lives. And I have such a strong desire for people to have a really inspiring yet relaxing stay, one that doesn’t waste a single moment of their precious leisure time. So whether it’s the organic food, the Spa and it’s holistic therapies, the different programs you can do here from ‘Screw Work, Let’s Play’ to ‘What’s your Purpose?’, the courses & workshops you can attend, or just the peaceful natural surroundings, people pick and choose from a myriad of options what’s best for them at that moment in time. And, very quickly, being master of your own breakfast time morphs into realising that you are master of your own destiny, allowing clarity and confidence to develop and great possibilities to emerge from within.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of giving up their jobs to pursue a dream ?
Joking apart – I would suggest they come and stay with us first! We can enable them to work on having a really clear understanding of their Purpose and we can work with them on the nitty gritty of how to turn their dream into a reality. I do it all the time with my clients either through my strategy business, Vector Business Group, or for people staying at the Retreat and there’s nothing that gives us greater satisfaction than enabling people follow their dream.
My view is that it’s our duty to harness all the attributes gifted to us and use them to our greatest ability and that we are much more powerful beings than we ever dream that we are. It’s actually a myth that Nelson Mandela quoted Marianne Willaimson’s ‘A Return to Love’ when he was freed from the long years of incarceration, but it’s put this wonderful writing on the map. I can’t express my views better than this, so I’m not going to try!
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3])
To take a view at Witherdens Hall, click here.