BCMS and Tilney launch new network for women business leaders

Liz Jackson MBE writes: In late April 2022, I hosted a fabulous event in London for women business leaders. The concept of Diamonds and Colours was born out of conversation with two great friends and business connections, Amanda Browning of Tilney Smith & Williamson and serial entrepreneur Alison Cooper, a former client here at BCMS.

Diamonds and Colours is a network for women at the top of their profession, who want to create a new culture of kindness

Amanda and I had one of our usual meetings – which always seem to include cake – and at some point, started to share stories of all the amazing women we knew who ran businesses. Of course, these women had been very successful. And of course they showed bravery in starting their companies and resilience and tenacity in scaling them, often against the odds, incurring difficulties in attracting investors and raising debt.

The thing we kept landing on, though, and the element that had stuck in our memory, making us smile, was when we recalled their sheer kindness either to us or others. We started to think, would it not be an awesome idea to get all these brilliant women in a room together to just see what happens?

The Diamonds and Colours concept

Alison, having sold her global airline foodservice business, is now CEO of the prestigious jewellery business, Alicia J Diamonds. I thought it would be fun, to ensure the event wasn’t too serious, if Alison could tell us about a ‘girl’s best friend’ and how to identify what makes a good buy. Another friend, Helen Swaby, founder and CEO of Clarendon Fine Art, Whitewall Galleries and DeMontfort Fine Art, was also immediately onboard and offered to host. Diamonds and Colours was now, officially, A Thing.

The venue was clearly important. We agreed to host our inaugural event at Clarendon’s gallery on Dover Street, Mayfair. It is a beautiful space and they purposefully displayed work created by female artists, to help set the scene. My wonderful PA identified a women-owned caterer, Pink Ginger Catering, who was given the remit to provide afternoon-tea inspired canapés. I am a firm believer that cake is an important component of a successful event!

For this first event, I felt we needed to choose representatives from our invitees who could join a panel discussion to help set the scene for the evening and spark some inspiring discussions. When I approached Rupal Patel, Shalini Khemka CBE, Laura Tenison MBE and Hannah Dale with the idea, they all got it straight away. Diamonds and Colours is, pretty simply, a network of women at the top of their profession where the goal is to support one another and create a culture of kindness.

We also want to open and share our little black books and build new and enduring connections, celebrate everyone’s successes, and provide advice through the tough times. It is, we hope, a real alternative to the ‘old boys’ network’.

Sparkling guest speakers

And what a panel they turned out to be – an incredible illustration of how important it is to have a diverse group of people represented.

Rupal recounted exciting stories of working for the CIA, which she had thoroughly enjoyed, but observed that not only was she often the only woman, but also often the only woman of colour. Rupal had a fascinating take on something I feel often impacts on women business owners: imposter syndrome. As the compère of the event, I asked the question: “Had the panel ever doubted their own abilities, or felt like they didn’t belong?” Rupal’s response really made me think: “How can you suffer from imposter syndrome if you turn up to everything being completely yourself?” It was refreshing to meet somebody so comfortable in their own skin; you could sense her confidence create a ripple of inspiration and admiration across the room.

Alison Cooper’s foodservice business, En Route International, was first founded in her garage. She grew it to a £14m turnover business, before deciding to seek an external investor. I’m proud to say that this was a transaction that my business, BCMS, helped to deliver. With her new investor Dnata on board she was able to triple revenues and grow the business internationally. En Route specialised in bakery products, and on exiting, Alison then went from carbs to carats when she started a brand-new business, Alicia J Diamonds. Alison talked about the work she does with the Prince’s Trust as an ambassador for Women Supporting Women. She also challenged us on our investor policies, as she will only choose to invest in a business led by a woman. That’s putting her money where her mouth is. For me, Alison embodies everything we are trying to achieve with Diamonds and Colours.

There was a real ”Surprise Surprise” moment on the panel, too. Attendee Sandra Pollock OBE told me at the beginning of the event that Hannah Dale had been awarded Outstanding Creative Entrepreneur at the East Midlands Women’s Awards pre-pandemic, but had never been given her trophy. Heart-warmingly, Sandra had brought it with her to present to Hannah – a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Hannah’s incredible achievements in growing Wrendale Designs to a £15m+ revenue business, initially from her kitchen table.

The celebrations continued as Shalini had just been honoured with a CBE for her Services to Entrepreneurship and the UK Economy, for all the work she has done representing SMEs through the pandemic and working with government to help navigate the challenges of recent years. Her mum, Dame Asha Khemka DBE OBE, told us how she was “fit to burst with pride” for all that her daughter had achieved.

Laura Tenison MBE shared how she had recently successfully sold parent & baby omni-channel retailer, JoJo Maman Bébé to Next Plc and Davidson Kemper Private Equity. Given that JoJo Maman Bébé is a household name, and brand we have all relied on as we have raised our children, it was truly amazing to hear how Laura had started out making clothes from her London flat. She even talked about her early career as a courier! She is a great example of how hard work, sheer determination, and building a great team around you can provide a recipe towards success.

A new safe space for networking

Before and after the panel there was plenty of networking. I must have been able to speak to at least 30 different women, and I was stunned to see how quickly people were able to share their challenges and vulnerabilities with new acquaintances. Conversations seem to automatically go deep; there was no posturing or superficial chit-chat. It was wonderful to see people arrive on their own, and leave in groups.

What about the men, I hear you scream! Well, my dream is, one day, that all networking will be equally represented by men and women, along with company Boards. As a blind woman, I am confident I bring a perspective different from most to the Board I serve on, and Rupal and Shalini talked about the different perspective they add to the discussion as women of colour.

To be clear: our event was not to moan about how unfair life is, but simply to roll up our sleeves and do our bit to try and change the now and the future for our daughters, and their daughters. There are no longer any all-male Boards on the FTSE 350, and yes, women have come a long way. But the stats are still pretty horrible. Fundamentally, companies with diverse boards not only deliver more to the bottom line, but in my view and from what I have witnessed, they do it in a way that cares about communities and our planet.

If you are serious about being kind in business and creating spaces to bring talented, successful women into, please, please think about joining us at Diamonds and Colours.

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