As chief operating officer of independent management and IT consultancy Leading Resolutions, Sheila Bryant is clearly a successful woman in business.
Since joining the organisation in 2006, she has seen turnover rise significantly to its current £15 million, thanks to major investment in infrastructure and the management team.
A strong advocate of more women in the boardroom, her view is that the only thing holding fellow female entrepreneurs back is themselves.
“I absolutely believe in positive discrimination and equality and I think there is enough positive intent and sufficient will in boardrooms across the UK to create opportunities for any woman if she wants it,” says Bryant.
“I also believe that right now, if a woman wants a job on the board and has the same qualifications as a male candidate, then she would be more likely to get it. The issue for me is whether there are less women in the boardroom because they don’t want to be there – and that’s a question I’ve never been able to find the answer to.”
As a mother of two teenage sons, she acknowledges juggling life at the top with a family, can be tough, adding: “If you take time out to have children you need to be sure you still have the energy to drive yourself forward and be very clear about what you want to achieve.
“Often, as people get older, they don’t want to work such long hours or they want more time off, but if you are really ambitious and entrepreneurial, then you don’t have those choices. I think a lot of people don’t understand the sacrifices you have to make.”
Bryant took six weeks off after her first son was born and attended a work conference just two days after having her second, something she says today is one of her few regrets.
“I was far too driven and work focused and if I had my time again, I would have given myself a longer break, but I had great family support and never felt we compromised the balance of being with the boys. It was hard work but we simply waited until they were in bed and then carried on working.”
Her own journey began far away from the top echelons of the business world. Although both her parents and grandparents ran their own businesses, she freely admits that until her mid-20s, she was more arty than ambitious.
It was after taking an admin job in an accountants department that she was spurred on to understand more about the financial world, buying a basic accounting book, passing O and A Levels in the subject and then getting up at 5am to study for her Chartered Management Accountant exams while also holding down a full-time commercial finance role.
Her hard work paid off and she moved rapidly from business analyst to commercial and finance director within just six years at PHH Vehicle Management Services (now Arval).
From there, she launched her own accountancy firm with husband Andy, quickly growing to around 250 clients, before rejoining the corporate world.
“Our clients ranged from small sole traders through to larger organisations with a turnover of £2m to £3m that needed more strategic support. I took on several part-time finance directorships and, when we sold the business, we retained some of those larger clients who were on a strong growth path,” she said.
One of those clients was Leading Resolutions, which at the time had a turnover of around £2m. Bryant started as a non-exec financial director before investing in the business and becoming an executive director and now COO.
She is involved across the business and says: “I am very entrepreneurial and this role gives me the full rein I need to achieve the best results.
“As a woman, you need to be assertive but not aggressive. I think it’s a real shame there aren’t more women at board level, as I believe women bring a completely different perspective and a more rounded approach.
“In my experience, women have a very collaborative style, they are able to balance emotional intelligence with understanding and empathy and they will also put their emotions aside to get things done for the benefit of the wider business – that’s very powerful.
She concludes: “The biggest piece of advice is to be yourself, don’t try to behave like a man. Hold true to your values and instinct and you will succeed.”
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