One of a kind
PUBLISHED: 12:57 11 November 2014 | UPDATED: 12:57 11 November 2014
Martin Chambers talks to a woman who quit the corporate life of a CEO, and is now quietly using her ideas to put a smile on employment culture
Being kind to people is not one of the core values usually associated with business leaders. For Bridget McIntyre, formerly a UK CEO at RSA Insurance Group and leading light at Aviva plc, these values are at the heart of her new enterprise.
The first thing that strikes me about Bridget is her warmth and energy. Her smile is not the ‘have a nice day’ variety so often encountered in service industries, but a genuine medium of connection, part of her optimistic outlook.
In her demeanour, she radiates a palpable energy that lifts the mood in the room. That energy fuels her drive to build a business in which she can balance life and work, while at the same time focus on the community of which she is a part.
Bridget’s home is a farmhouse near the Norfolk border, where she lives with husband Chris, a keen bird ringer who has a ‘ringing shed’ in a garden designed to encourage feathered visitors.
Bridget stepped away from the world of executive suites in London to start her social enterprise company Dream On in rural Suffolk. The change appears to have lifted a burden from her shoulders as she relaxes, smiles and chats about her business dedicated to improving the lives of women.
The hub of Dream On is a converted garage beside Bridget’s home. It comprises a small clothes shop, where women can find and buy clothes that make them feel good about themselves, some office spaces and rooms for coaching and workshops.
As Bridget toiled away in the corporate world, she planned her escape to begin again with her own vision.
“I wrote a plan to do Dream On 13 years ago based on what worked for me – coaching, workshops on development, actually understanding who I was and my image. I love clothes so that was always going to be a part of it, as was wellbeing.
“I wanted to offer all that to women who couldn’t afford it and to make it accessible, so we have a mix of people who come to coaching. We have people coming to our free-to-access programmes, and on Friday and Saturday we run a programme called Transforming Suffolk, where 12 women go through a six-month programme. They have coaching and they go to workshops to help them make some kind of transformation in their lives. It could be returning to work, a change of jobs, to set up a business, or to get a business working.
“We have women who can afford it, but cannot afford to pay very much – I never want to turn someone away because they can’t afford it. They might pay £20 or £50, it depends. We just work out affordability.
“We do corporate coaching locally and in London, and that generates a good income for us.”
So the corporate world has not been abandoned completely. Keeping tabs on that world in London helps Dream On generate cash to keep the rest of the local business going. Clients include the Bank of England, the FCA, Barclays and, locally, the East of England Co-op.
Bridget’s other jobs also keep her in touch with the world of big business. She is a non-executive director (NED) of Aegeas UK, having been on the main board in Belgium for three years. She is on the board of the NHBC (National House Building Council), and is a governor of the Health Foundation charity. Closer to home, she is finishing her first year as a NED on the board of Adnams, a role she relishes.
“It’s a great company,” she says, “quite innovative, thinks long term and has long term strategy. And it has great values, and those values are not just words they are lived in the organisation. It is a privilege to work with a company like Adnams.”
She is big on time management – her own and her clients’
“I plan to devote two days a week to Dream On, the rest of the week to NEDs. That works for me, keeps me stimulated with ideas and keeps me connected to the corporate world. Some time in the future I will reduce it and spend more time on Dream On, but for now it works well.
Bridget is an accountant by profession and chairs the audit committee at Adnams, which, she says, is about providing confidence in the governance of the organisation.
“My personality is positive and encouraging,” she says. “I’m really interested in people, so I pay attention to that side of the business. I’m good at thinking about the strategies for business. The mentality at Adnams is that they are custodians.” Bridget admits to being concerned about what she would bring to such a high quality organisation.
“They were very clear that they wanted someone with a social conscience, so they like that I do Dream On and that I’m connected with mainstream life – that I’m not just a corporate person sat up in an ivory tower.”
Not that corporate life was all bad.
“I loved my corporate life until the last year when I wasn’t enjoying it. You can’t do those jobs unless you absolutely love it with a passion. I craved a life outside of work. I wasn’t seeing my family, I wasn’t enjoying life like I could, so I felt my time had come to not be there any more.
“I had head-hunters in London trying to convince me to stay in corporate, but I said no, I’ve done my time.” Bridget has always worked with a coach so she was clear about what she wanted. It took her two years to make the transition and she still uses a coach to keep her on track, ensuring that what she’s doing is what she wants.
“One of the things I had to work on from the start was making sure that this was not all-encompassing, that I was not working six days a week,” she says. “I had to get the balance right, or I would be back where I started, doing the same thing, but in a different world.”
So she doesn’t work Wednesdays.
“I do art on Wednesdays. I think you’re more creative in your business if you do things that aren’t your business, because that’s when I get my ideas.
“I was talking to a friend the other day about the things we love and doing what you love. We both agreed that the trick in life is this – if you can get work not to feel like it’s work, then it’s working, isn’t it? For me it doesn’t feel like work any more.”