More women than ever before are now self-employed, with many female entrepreneurs citing their inspiration for founding a business as being another female entrepreneur. But despite the promising statistics, the top businesswomen in the country aren’t always immediately recognisable – so let’s shine a light on some of Britain’s leading self-made women and see who else can be inspired (wealth estimates by TheRichest.org):
In 2011, Dame Mary Perkins was heralded as Britain’s first self-made female billionaire on the back of the success of Specsavers, the brand of opticians she founded with husband Doug Perkins in 1980. But even going back to the 1960s, she was helping to pave the way for women in business. She co-founded her first enterprise whilst in her twenties; a small chain of opticians based around Bristol (also in conjunction with her husband).
Not only was it unusual for women to own businesses in that era, but it wasn’t exactly typical to see female opticians. She was one of only two females in her A-level Science class, and one of only four on her optometry course (in a class of thirty). But those odds didn’t stop her from receiving the honour of a DBE in recognition of her charitable work and services to the British public, nor from amassing a wealth that exceeded one billion pounds last year.
Though she claims this to be an overestimate based on Specsaver’s turnover (with the company’s value being clipped back by the Times earlier this year), there’s certainly no doubt that Dame Mary Perkins is one of the leading – and wealthiest – businesswomen in Britain today.
When thinking of Bet365, the face we perhaps associate most with the business is that of blokeish screen hard-man Ray Winstone – the company’s advertising mascot and the very embodiment of masculinity. But behind this macho television façade, the highly successful bookmakers are indeed fronted by a most passionate and gifted female entrepreneur.
Starting out in the bookmaking trade as a humble cashier in a small chain of shops owned by her father Peter Coates, Chairman of Stoke City FC, Denise Coates would later found her own betting chain with Bet365. Since its inception in 2000, the company has grown into one of the most profitable online gambling presences, with combined bets of more than £12bn placed each year.
The company’s guiding light since day one, her vision has taken Bet365 from lowly origins in a portakabin to the most successful online platform, acquiring rights to broadcast over 20,000 sporting events over the internet each year with a special interest in live, up-to-the-minute odds and gambling. Denise was appointed CBE for services to business and community earlier this year.
Jacqueline Gold first joined Ann Summers as a wages clerk in 1979, after her father, David Gold, had purchased the small chain of stores. She didn’t enjoy the atmosphere in those days, but a chance visit to a tupperware party in 1981 inspired an idea that would come to revolutionise the company. Seeing the potential of selling to women in their privacy of their own homes, Jacqueline founded the ‘Ann Summers Party Plan’. Ann Summers Parties are now embedded in British popular culture, and their success led to Gold’s appointment as CEO in 1987 – despite her having had no formal business training.
Under her watch, Ann Summers have progressed from being the minor chain of male-orientated sex stores bought by her father into a multi-million pound business with 136 stores across the UK & Ireland, with international expansion now firmly on the agenda. In 2000, Ann Summers purchased Knickerbox, of which Jacqueline is also CEO. Ann Summers currently records turnovers of over £100m, with Gold herself having accumulated an estimated personal wealth of £550m.
In addition to her role at Ann Summers, Gold is a columnist for numerous publications (including Retail Week and Women Mean Business magazines) and a patron of charities NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood) and Breast Cancer Care. She is regularly voted amongst the influential and inspirational women in business.
Tamara Mellon is the co-founder, and former president, of fashion accessories brand Jimmy Choo: worn by celebrities from Victoria Beckham to Cheryl Cole, Jennifer Lopez to Sarah Jessica Parker. Mellon started out by setting up her own portobello market stall, later working for fashion boutique Browns and later still as accessories editor for Vogue magazine – where she met Malaysian designer Jimmy Choo, after whom the company would be named.
They jointly founded the fashion empire in 1996, setting up their first boutique in Knightsbridge. Further branches would follow, from New York to Los Angeles, as Jimmy Choo Ltd became a major success, winning numerous designer of the year awards and collaborating with fellow brands H&M and UGG amongst others. Tamara’s tireless dedication and business acumen has been highlighted by Mr. Choo himself, who told the Guardian in 2007 that she’d made his name famous and respected around the world. She was awarded an OBE in 2010.
In May 2011, Mellon sold Jimmy Choo to luxury brand Labelux for over £500m, personally netting a figure in the region of £85m from the sale. Later that same year, she announced with immediate effect that she would be standing down as the label’s supremo – a move that raised a few eyebrows in the industry. However, her parting from Jimmy Choo has been amicable, with Labelux commenting that was she was an entrepreneur who would go on to pursue new opportunities – but with a fortune of £150million, there’ll be no rush for her to find new employment.
Though she left school with just five GCSEs, Hayley Parsons founded her own venture, Go Compare, in 2006 after fourteen years of working for Admiral – where she played a key role as head of business development for similar online insurance operation, Confused.com. Go Compare rose to prominence as one of the first comparison sites to emphasise the features on offer, on a like-for-like basis, rather than simply quoting a succession of prices. In early 2009, they became the first site of their kind to compare over 100 individual car insurance providers.
Earlier this very year, Ms Parsons netted dividends of £3.2m after the company reported a year of record profits, contributing to a personal wealth of an estimated £95m. Though best known for their inescapable ‘Gio Compario’ adverts, starring an outlandish faux-Italian tenor, GoCompare have been highly influential in the rise of price comparison services since 2006, with both company and CEO picking up numerous awards and commendations – including being the first comparison site to be welcomed into BIBA (the British Insurance Broker’s Association) in 2008, and achieving Investors in People status in 2009.
Hayley continues to drive the company forward, striving constantly for greater successes and ever-increasing profits against a highly competitive market. But as premiums rise and people continue to flock to price comparison websites, there’s no doubt that this success story is far from over. Ms Parsons was awarded an OBE in this year’s Honours List.
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