Jag was the first of her immediate family to enter higher education, in her case studying Politics and Economics at Brunel University. It was, she says, more of a “life experience” than anything else, there was no masterplan to take a particular career path thereafter. Her upbringing instilled a strong sense of work ethic, an example set by Jag’s father who stressed the importance of always being able to stand on your own two feet. Jag therefore entered the world of work from the age of 16 as a part-time sales assistant at a local supermarket whilst studying for her A Levels.
Jag continued with part time employment while an undergraduate, this time as a sales assistant at Next on Oxford Street. Brunel University was unusual at the time in that it provided sandwich courses over four years in the arts as well as the sciences. She did two rather different six-month work placement stints. The first was at the Department for Social Security in Balham quite a trendy part of South London today, but not so much then with DSS employees strongly advised to take their name badges off if risking eating lunch in a local pub.
The second spell was a little less edgy. It involved working in the Finance Department at the Dagenham Motors Kent Dealership. It was very hands-on with the day starting with literally counting the cash from the previous day’s takings. It was her first real experience of the nuts and bolts of finance.
As a result, when she left university, she headed for the then thriving HMV on Wardour Street, in Soho London. It had a large and well-polished finance division. It taught her the fundamentals of finance and led her to seek the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification. The working life coupled with studying for the professional qualification was finely balanced with the vibrant culture and social life of working at a music retailer. All in all, life, while working hard, was rather freewheeling.
All of which came to a halt suddenly. Jag’s father died very unexpectedly when she was just 23. To state that it was an enormous shock to her and her family would be an almost crass understatement. It instantly “rocked her world”. For Jag the only way forward was to live from there on in her father’s spirit. The importance of personal and economic self-sufficiency had become much starker with her father’s ethos of working hard, standing on your own two feet and maintaining financial independence becoming the drive and motivation to move forward.
Jag left HMV to take on a Business Accountant role at The Economist and devoted herself to her studies to become a qualified accountant. As it turned out, the switch in career had many benefits to it. More in hope than expectation she asked her then boss in London whether there was any chance that she could be transferred to the New York City office. To her surprise she became a Senior Project Manager for the newspaper operating in the heart of Manhattan. She found an apartment very close to the World Trade Centre. New York was a strong cultural contrast to London.
She was there on September 11th 2001 when the twin towers were toppled in the terrorist outrage. Not long after that it was suggested that she might return to the UK to take on a Senior Finance role for the Economist Intelligence Unit. She thoroughly enjoyed her time at The Economist and was firmly encouraged to undertake an MBA at Warwick Business School. This was a considerable challenge and she was uncertain of herself to start with, but knuckled down and emerged with flying colours indeed, with a distinction in hand.
It also triggered a change in direction. She moved to Gemserv a professional services consultancy rooted in the utilities sector. There were two particular reasons why this was an attractive opportunity. First, she would take on the top finance role of CFO. Second, while Gemserv was an SME (although it tripled in size in her almost decade there), it was owned by very large energy supply and distribution businesses. She learnt a lot working with a diverse shareholder base and honed her skills in strategy formation and implementation as well as acquisitions. She became well versed in Board dynamics as an Executive Director, harnessing her skills to make and drive forward real impact.
Between them, The Economist and Gemserv provided the platform on which she built her career. She did not, however, want to become institutionalised at her business or in the sector, had a strong desire to embrace socially fulfilling activities and already had an eye on a plural life. She wanted to add some Non-Executive Director strings to her bow and started to accumulate them. She took up a new role as COO at Anstey Horne & Co, a specialist firm of chartered surveyors, which would take her to another sector entirely. It was invaluable experience but she was also thinking ahead.
By now a mother with two daughters of her own, she decided to leave London and return to Kent, with the objective, ideally, of a portfolio existence. The initial means to this was by diversifying her experience further by taking on a role at Golding Homes, a leading provider of social housing. It was a cause which she supported strongly and it also allowed her to re-establish a base in Kent and decide how exactly she wanted to balance her time between a host of intriguing interests. As of now she is the Director of Finance and Corporate Services for Royal British Legion Industries, a charity based near home which supports ex-servicemen, servicewomen and people with disabilities, and she holds an array of NED and voluntary responsibilities. The values which Jag has acquired from her late father still serve to shape her intense sense of what is significant in life and how it should be properly lived.
The end result is a person who has experienced a considerable amount of diversity in what she has done including an atypically wide array of sectors. This has made her appreciate more than most people in finance the importance of diversity more broadly in all of its forms. She is also a walking, talking demonstration of the fact that it is entirely possible to successfully hold a portfolio of cross sector Executive and Non-Executive roles.
You can read more about Jag’s NEXD career on EquityChair ‘In Conversation’