“Everyone - from any background aspiring to directorship, should feel welcome to be part of our business community” Jean Church MBE, CEO, My Business Lynq

Having risen through the ranks at Tesco in the 70s and 80s, Jean Church MBE is a motivational leader, an experienced board director, CEO of Business Lynq and Chair of Council at the IoD. Now on the brink of retirement, she describes how three decades of IoD membership has changed her business outlook.

I grew up in Wales and chose secretarial school after grammar school, rather than university. Soon after, I got married, had three children, got divorced and needed to earn money. I joined Tesco as PA to the Regional Director and didn’t look back.

There weren’t many senior female role models in the 70s and 80s, but it was an exciting time to be at Tesco which was being transformed by Lord MacLaurin. The predominant style of leadership was dictatorial, but it taught me a lot about how to manage people. Yes, I’ve hit glass ceilings and they can be tough to break, but you learn so much on the journey.

Unusually for the time, Lesley James was appointed to the Board at Tesco as HR director. She was committed to investing in training and development which helped me work my way up to become Regional Personnel and Training Controller, she was a true role model. My career continued to progress at Woolworths, Co-operative Retail and Countrywide Property Lawyers.

Joining the IoD in 1996 was a turning point in my career. The IoD sets the standard for what it means to be a competent and professional director and until I joined, I’m not sure I even understood the implications of the title of director. It has exposed me to a completely different peer group – directors of global businesses as well as government ministers.

Back in the 90s the IoD was predominantly a male organisation and I remember being overawed by the Directors Lounge at Pall Mall – it felt more like a London Club and I was the only female in the room when I first visited. Since then, we have made great strides and I am pleased to see the IoD committing to a more inclusive and diverse membership. Everyone, from any background, aspiring to directorship should feel welcome to be part of our business community, able to exchange knowledge with peers and understand good governance and practice. There are certainly many more women in senior roles now – I reflect that we are following in the footsteps of the IoD’s first female president – Lady Rhondda.

Participating in IoD training changed the way I thought about my career and the people around me. I learned how professional standards are measured, met and delivered transparently. Membership has provided amazing opportunities for me, including becoming Wales National Chair from 2015 – 2020, when I contributed to the Secretary of State for Wales Business Advisory Group and the First Minister for Wales Council for Economic Development. I was privileged to be awarded an MBE for services to Business.

My career spanned the 1970s to the 2020s and I am pleased to see that the days of autocratic decrees from the boss are (almost) over. Successful leaders of tomorrow need to demonstrate humility as well as being transformative, agile and value creating.

Alongside my working life I have become a mum, a grandma and now a great grandma and this year I plan to retire to have more time for my family. This includes stepping down as IoD Chair of Council in November, but I will watch with interest as the organisation adapts and changes to influence, connect and develop better directors from all backgrounds and genders.

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