An evening with Mary Portas
I’ve just returned home from an evening in conversation with Mary Portas at the Salisbury playhouse as part of the Salisbury international arts festival, Firstly I just wanted to comment on how great an event the arts festival is for the city, it’s actually the first year I’ve had a chance to enjoy it as every other year I’ve been working my soul into the ground pouring all my energy into my business and leaving very little left for me.
This evening the tour was promoting her book, “Work like a woman”, I was very curious to understand what that would mean, and what her angle would be – What does it mean to work like a woman?
Interestingly her message really resonated with me and my current journey and path, her calm and excellently executed delivery of what working like a woman truly means was both empowering and inspirational.
Early in the year I realised something was not right in my business, that I had conflicting paths and no real resolution, I was giving everything I had and getting very little back, but the truth in it was I knew I was drifting further away from my path, my destiny, A lot of what Mary was talking about this evening hit on this message, many times in business or work we make compromises and deny ourselves our true purpose, because we have to conform, fit in our be like everyone else, and when you are really different to everyone else, this pulls you in all sorts of directions.
I set out early on in my business to be kind to the world, to everyone, my business motto is “Help, not harm the planet and all who live on it.” but I wasn’t being true to myself or my mission because the business was struggling and I was having to make compromises, the business was becoming more about money and profit and further away from my true desire to help people.
The stress and financial pressures on myself were so great life was just not fun anymore, I found myself reevaluating what my true objectives where and made some major changes in my business.
One of the biggest changes was changing our location, previously we had been in a shopping centre commercially owned by big suits in London, who had no real care or desire to be kind, or help, the whole vibe of the centre was money, money money, which filtered down through all the staff and tenants in the property, it just was not a nice place to work, or own a shop. Our new centre is surrounded by local businesses, owned by a human, and the whole vibe is so much different, it feels friendly, driven by a willingness to help out and be kind to each other.
Much of what Mary spoke of, particularly her theory of being kind to others, to come before anything else resonated so well, having just been through this recent transformation myself.
This is exactly what needs to change, we need to put basic compassion for others before anything else and most specifically before profit, as the old saying goes you build it and they will come, but what it actually should say is you build something that makes people feel part of something, to feel connected, nurtured and cared for, and they will come.
The problem I was having despite building something that was helping people because I was so knee deep into “getting the shop to meet it’s demanding overheads”. I had little energy left to create the space I actually set out to create, which was always supposed to be a great place to come, and be part of something, and somewhere along the line I had made compromises and changed my vision to become what was then more commercial.
She also spoke about the fact that the title could have been “just don’t be a bastard”, but that she wanted to create a space for female power, and rightly so, I look back over my own career at how, I was once a project executive working in a FTSE 100 company, and upon returning from maternity leave and requesting to go part time, how I was taken off a multi million £ project and put onto one barely worth £20,000, that no one wanted to happen anyway. I really loved how Mary talked about how we all seem to conform to this grey suit world, that doesn’t seem to like creativity, individuality or flair, I can remember often being, looked at as if I had suggested, the most ridiculous idea, and gradually that creativity and individuality become suppressed, as we begin to conform to corporate norms, I knew I had to get out and starting my own business was the dream, so I took the option to leave and took the plunge.
But even as a female business owner, I’ve had occasions, where it’s clear male dominance is a thing, Being out with my husband at business events, and people talk to him, first. In fact last year at a business award evening, my whole team of 4 females attended, and I brought along my husband, and during the networking point, a gentleman, came directly to my husband to ask about his business, and even after he pointed out it was my business, he still, continued to talk and aim his questions to my husband. So I can totally understand why she feels it is important.
Thankfully, having made changes to the business earlier in the year, we are now in a position to focus more on our mission, to do the things that are important to us and get set on our path to helping people, through offering people the chance to learn about and become conscious consumers. Which is in essence the main take away I got from Mary’s talk tonight.
Thank you to Mary Portas for being such an inspiration and changemaker in today’s society.