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The mango business was all about survival. It was instinct. One of nine children, I grew up in St Elizabeth, Jamaica. My mum sent me to sell mangoes to commuters on the trains passing through the town. Life was a bit challenging and I needed to work so that my family could have food on the table. Growing up, I was the eldest so it wasn’t something we sat down and thought about. It was resourcefulness, I suppose. We chose mangoes because they were free, you could just go and pick them. They were abundant where I grew up. We chose the product that was most readily available and the profit margin was 100%.
As a teenager, I trained to work as a teacher. By the age of 19, I was teaching design and technology. I had my daughter in 1998, then moved to the UK in 2002 to work as a teacher because I didn’t feel safe in the Caribbean anymore. I wanted to do a QTS (qualified teacher status) qualification, but I had childcare issues, so I struggled to find a permanent role in a school.
I was doing supply teaching but I needed to have had a long-term job to be placed with the QTS. Back in Jamaica, I’d done a business degree with an American distance learning college but discovered that it wasn’t a recognised qualification in the UK. That was a difficult time. I couldn’t carry on teaching and I didn’t have the right qualifications to do anything else.
A real turning point for me in my business career came with studying for an MBA. My boyfriend at the time was studying human resources with distance learning provider RDI. I went online to get feedback from people who had done these courses, and realised studying for an MBA with them was a really great opportunity for me. It has really opened a lot of doors. It has helped me to return to business and to build a career. As well as having my own consultancy, I now work as a global business development manager at IHS Global.
Selling mangoes gave me a taste for business. It also helped me realise I had developed the ability to build rapport, and had resilience and tenacity, skills you need to succeed in business. It was entrepreneurial and I felt that I was able to focus on what I really wanted to do. I always wanted to own my own business and the other jobs were kind of a platform for where I wanted to be. Selling mangoes also gave me the soft skills of business, which I feel I can now nurture. To build up my skills, I tend to network a lot and do a lot of training courses and development myself. I have a number of friends in business, and I tend to stay close to them and learn from them. So it’s always been a passion, and I always seek new ideas of how to build my business.
The thing about England is that it’s very multicultural. You’re dealing with people from different cultures and you’ve got to think about a lot of other factors when you’re managing them. I find the management style here in the UK is a bit more consultative. There’s more staff involvement. It’s certainly very different from when I was managing people in Jamaica. Decisions were predominantly made without a lot of staff input. The cultural way of dealing with clients there is also different. I prefer the way things are done in the UK.
My advice on leadership is deal with people from different cultures as individuals. Respect people and also understand that at the end of the day we’re humans first. I think that’s what counts. If you can do that then that takes care of it all.
Ultimately, I’d like to become a sales trainer and life coach. I’d like to work with kids with similar experiences to my own and disadvantaged children. I have my consultancy business, which I am growing and building, but ultimately I want to be a sales coach and trainer, as well as a life coach. I think there are things I’ve learnt along my journey I could help others with. Education has always been a passion, in the sense it helped me to change my situation. Because of that, I’d like to open a school in Africa and Jamaica as I feel there are many talented pupils there who lack encouragement and opportunity. I think ultimately I want to be a multi-enterprising person, owning my own consultant company and growing in that role.
by Hannah Friend – Guardian Professional, Thursday 3 April 2014 07.00 BS