Even though I am a dog person, I think about my life being that of a cat, with nine separate lives!
I was independent from the age of 14 owing to an early career as a tennis professional, which I brought to an end at the age of 19; I travelled the world playing in tournaments such as Wimbledon and the French Open, as well as representing GB in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Next, I studied at home to make up for all the lost school years and managed to get a place at the LSE to study Economics. I was recruited by JP Morgan on their graduate program and traded bonds and derivatives on the trading floor in London. I then moved to Brussels, where my partner lived, and brought up our two children there, before starting to work in my husband’s family owned business as Finance Director; I also looked after the family investment portfolio. After an Executive MBA at Cambridge Judge BS, I founded Culthread, an ethical outerwear and lifestyle brand in 2018, and I am currently three years into a Doctorate in Business Administration, where my subject is concerned with Inclusion in the Financial Services Sector in the UK. That makes 7 ‘lives’ – I can’t wait to see what the next few bring!
Can you tell us a bit more about your brand Culthread?
I founded Culthread because despite being in the outerwear industry and surrounded by large numbers of samples and prototypes, I often went out ‘coat-less’ because I couldn’t find the right coat to wear! For me, a coat should look and feel great, be weather appropriate, as well as having a hood, and have ample pockets both inside and out, so that carrying a handbag isn’t necessary. I wanted to wear a coat that was developed in an ethical way; with responsibility towards the people involved in production, without any cruelty towards animals, and with respect to our planet.
We developed Culthread around the motto ‘No Cruel. All Craze’. We believe fashion makes us feel good, but we will never compromise our values to achieve it. Culthread is a female-centric brand, and all our products are 100% vegan. We use recycled materials (100% recycled polyester, Thermore ® 100% recycled post-consumer plastic insulation) as well as ‘dead-stock’ (much of which would otherwise be destroyed). Culthreads are made in very small limited editions, to keep our manufacturing and transportation footprint as low as possible and ensure that everyone who owns one feels very special!
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
When I decided to stop playing tennis on the WTA tour, I sat down and thought long and hard about my next career steps. I decided to study for the A levels that would help me earn a university place to study economics, so that I could get a job in an American investment bank. More recently, I planned to start my own business, and decided that an MBA would help me to get going with that.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
As one of only two female traders on the floor of JPM at the time, challenges could have been expected, though in reality, these were few and far between. I will never forget the opening comment on my first day at work in the London office by the big boss, John Roberts (on whose desk I was assigned), “what you need to know is that there is a tea rota on our desk – each of us gets tea at 4pm for the whole desk once a week – your day is Friday”. From that moment on he had made it clear that the ‘new girl on the block’ was to be treated the same as everyone else. So, when I did my MBA decades later, I was shocked to have to face a barrage of gender stereotyping and bias which was left largely unchallenged by my fellow students, whether one of us or faculty were the perpetrators. Nevertheless, it was a great learning experience and gave me the confidence I needed to found Culthread.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Determination. Of course, I have worked hard, and I have been fortunate in the opportunities that have come my way, for which I am very thankful.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I believe mentoring can be very positive for both parties, particularly for underrepresented groups, like women in business. I do as much unofficial or casual mentoring as I can, whenever the opportunity arises. I am fortunate to have several friends that are mentors to me, and to whom I would like to give thanks.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
As chair of the Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) Alumni Council and a member of the CJBS Advisory Board, my current focus is on gender in business schools, specifically getting more women to take business degrees and how the issues of equity and gender equality is taught in business schools (or not, as is often the case). Leaders and future leaders tend to graduate from business schools, so it is vital that students are taught about the numerous issues surrounding gender in the workplace. I would like every business school degree to start by teaching the Heidi Roizen case study, and continue the narrative with real discussions and useable solutions thereafter.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Do not forget to put yourself first whenever possible, not last.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next challenge is to grow Culthread into a recognised brand whilst staying true to our core ethical and sustainable values. Writing my thesis next year will be challenging, but I hope to achieve my doctorate in the next few years. I am currently working from home and using the extra time (no commute/travel) to make short presentations aimed at understanding and reducing the Gender Investment Gap, particularly targeted at young women in the UK. The GIG is yet another important contributor to gender inequality, and I hope that these presentations will be helpful to young women who are statistically less likely to invest in shares than men, and thus have savings that are not earning much or growing.
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