I came to Tesco in 1986 thinking I would stay for a couple of years and move on. It was to be my second job after graduating in Business Studies. I liked the people who interviewed me, they had a great vision for putting personnel teams into distribution and I turned down other jobs offers purely on instinct that it would be a good move for me.
Friends thought I was mad—Tesco was third in the market, a small UK supermarket; not sexy and not a great long term bet.
During my induction I was repeatedly told that "we don't really do women in distribution" and that I had "better be exceptionally good to survive." With arrogance of youth and an optimistic nature, I got to work and managed my way through several sets of union negotiations. The challenge for me was to be taken seriously in a male dominated industry, but someone once told me that it was good to be different and that I should use the fact of being a woman to my benefit—people behaved better in meetings and were seemingly more willing to listen to common sense.
My second challenge was motherhood, I had my two sons a couple of years apart and suddenly had to learn a whole new set of skills mainly about juggling work and home life. I went to work three days a week which meant I never had any time for me and my development.
All that changed when I got the opportunity to move into the world of leadership. I had been in stores training for a few years by then and was asked to develop our leadership training for a change programme called Future. It was another chance to do something new and I was lucky I found something I loved and I found out who I really am at the same time.
By now I was in my mid-40s, the family was growing up and taking a look around me, I believed that I had missed the boat for any further promotion and that my choice was really about making the most of what I had or moving out of Tesco.
Then came my next challenge—I was offered a promotion to become Personnel Director in Asia. My immediate thought was "I can't do it—the boys are both mid exam years and I can't move to Asia." However, once again by being clear what I could and could not do, we worked out a solution so I could be in Asia for a number of days per quarter and then do the rest with help of a video conference screen in my spare bedroom, a great support team in Head Office and a very understanding husband. It did involve some sacrifices along the way: I missed my silver wedding anniversary and taking my second son off to University but I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
These challenging roles have provided me with a lot of personal learning’s, especially when people say "be yourself"—make sure you know what they mean and then be it.
Looking back, I wish I could have been kinder to myself, less critical and worried about things that in the long term don't really matter. Now I know that it is ok to go faster or slower at different points in your life. A business like Tesco can help you to do that if you know what you want. In my effort to make sure everyone else was ok, I forgot to look after myself and would feel endlessly guilty if I did anything other than for the family or work.
Well, I can honestly say 27 years later my friends have been proved wrong and I made the right decision to join Tesco. My journey has been full of highs and lows but always challenging and never boring.
Now I find I am less concerned about ‘"proving myself" which means I can really be there for others and add value in many different ways.