Polly McMaster is the CEO and Founder of The Fold. Here she shares her career journey so far.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No, but being asked this question makes me realise that I probably wasn’t aware enough of what type of roles I would be good at, and where my passions lay to be able to do that effectively. Now looking back and knowing more about what I can bring to the table, I could probably plan it better!
Its been quite a schizophrenic career so far: from a PhD in virology (having studied Natural Sciences), to Strategy Consulting, to Private Equity and then to starting The Fold! What they all have in common is problem solving, creative and analytical thinking, and a lot of stamina and determination to succeed.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Absolutely – both on a personal and professional level. The biggest professionally has been starting a business from scratch. Nothing is easy – you have to dig to the absolute depth of your being to keep pushing on: from making your first product and sales, to raising money, recruiting, scaling… the list is endless.
It’s been a question of being brave even when you’re afraid, reminding yourself how much you love it and why you’re doing it, talking to people who support and care about you, and being calm and thoughtful to work out the next step. Dealing with some of these very big challenges has made other day to day issues easier to deal with, it helps to keep things in perspective, and build confidence that you can get through it.
What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?
Be yourself and play to your strengths. If you are promoted to a leadership position it’s for a reason – so be confident, keep listening, and let your passion shine through. Genuine passion, energy and commitment are strong motivators for those around you.
When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?
Sometimes qualifications don’t tell the full story, I would try to work out the story behind them: who is going to follow something through to the n’th degree, who loves what they do, who has used their initiative, who is solution focused, who has demonstrated the most grit and resilience. Who will give you that feeling of huge relief when they join the team – and you can’t imagine how you ever coped without them!
How do you manage your own boss?
Although I’m a Founder and Owner at The Fold, I also have a board and shareholders and a team to support. So they are all my boss! My focus is driving success for the business while staying true to the values we want to build into the brand and culture. As long as we are all aligned we can focus on finding the best paths for growth.
On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?
I’m up with our little girl (1 ½) Lainey at crack of dawn, and head to the office. I’m normally one of the first in, so I can get on with clearing some emails or a priority piece of work before the day kicks off. At the end of the day I try to have a clear head about what still needs to be done urgently, and priorities for the day ahead.
I do have a lot of meetings either with the team or out and about, which as long as they are productive – I really enjoy, as I love feeding of others energy and ideas. I try to be home for bath time most evenings, but we also host regular evening women’s networking and customer events in our showroom. I love doing that as it’s a fantastic time to get to know our customers and get their feedback on the brand and collection – so I normally go to bed with my head buzzing with ideas.
What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations
Look for special projects and work that can build relationships across different teams and levels. It exposes you to new people who will take notice of your work. It also shows that you’re willing to go the extra mile and to keep learning.
How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?
I’ve had both supporters for the business as well as a coach. Rather than mentor I would say that I’ve had advisors – people I can call upon with different areas of expertise and outlooks. They can help unlock a problem or open a door – and are excited to help you develop. My coach has been great too, especially at key moments when I’ve needed to be clear in my mind or planning for having a baby while running a business!
Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbee networker
Absolutely critical! I think networking works best when it’s a web of introductions. Meet a friend or contact who is related to what it is you are looking for – for example who runs a business or works in a particular industry. Ask for introductions when someone comes up in conversation, and then meet them. Once you’ve done this a few times, doors start to open and then relevant events come up. Then when you commit the time to those, they are more likely to be helpful. I think this approach helps you forge deeper relationships so it’s then more genuine rather than just handing out business cards, which can be a bit superficial.
What does the future hold for you?
The Fold is at such an exciting place – we have built a wonderful team, product that we are really proud of, and incredibly inspiring women are wearing our collections. The next chapter for us is building our brand in the UK and internationally, while sharing the stories of the amazing Fold Women in our community.