Annabel Kaye: My biggest role model was my mother
Annabel Kaye is the Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd and this year she is celebrating 35 years of running her own business. She refers to herself as a ‘Relationship Architect’ and a ‘Terrain Master’. Since 1980 she has been helping organisations to find a way to put the ‘human’ back into Human Resources’ by adopting a type of flexibility that doesn’t hurt people. Her humorous and quick witted presentations reveal a lot of experience about what she calls the ‘dark side of HR’. She spends a lot of time on outsourcing, managing freelancers and virtual teams. For this edition of Global Woman I had the privilege of hearing more about her inspiring story.
You are a professional woman helping other women with your experience and advice – what motivated you to follow this path?
The women in my family – and other friends have always advised each other in a caring way. We enjoy sharing what we know and what we have learned in life and our experiences seems very natural to us. I think it is natural for most women to do so. I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t thinking about better ways to do something and sharing my thinking with others. The professional advising is a natural extension of that – just taking it to another level. Asking me about what motivates me is a bit like asking me what motivates me to breathe – it is just a very natural thing for me to do.
How do you remember the beginning of your career?
I have worked for pocket money or had a job or a business since I was a child. Being able to make my own money was always important to me. I don’t think I started out thinking of myself as having a career. Like many young women I had it in the back of my mind that one day I would have children and a family – so on an unconscious level I think I saw any work I did as being part of that. When I was 19 I was seriously ill and was told I would never have children. It shook me. I started to think if I am going to work for the rest of my life then I had better do something that interests me and is worth doing. When I got over the illness and was well enough to work again, which took about a year, I got my first job in ‘HR and Employment Law’ – and that set me off doing the work that I am still doing today.
A lot of women are trying to move out of their comfort zone and choosing to start their own business – what would be your advice for them?
A lot of women are taught to follow their passion and that is lovely but you can’t pay the rent with just enthusiasm and passion. It is important that you enjoy what you do, but it is also important that it is something that is capable of making the sort of money you need to live. If you decide to go into a profession or business that is very poorly paid, unless you come up with an amazing new business model or way of delivering it, the chances are you will remain poorly paid. You need to think about the financial side and get to understand how your business is going to make a profit. It is good to experiment and work things out, but don’t get trapped in something just because you like it. It’s a start, but it’s not enough. Learn about your business – study it and take it seriously – but don’t forget that it is still a ‘business’. You don’t make money by reading books on how to be successful and not doing anything about it.
You don’t make money by reading books on how to be successful and not doing anything about it.
How do you balance your personal and professional life?
I am not sure I do. I love my work and I work as long as I am awake. I also love my family of course. When my children were younger I made a point of being around to do the school runs – often getting back to work after the children were in bed. Now they are grown up and married so that is not an issue any more. Today I make a real effort to make sure there is time for exercise and time for my husband. He is very patient. I love the time we spend together but there are other times when I am so focussed on work that I barely know that anyone else exists. So I tend to work hard and then stop. I am not good at doing half of anything.
Who was your role model when you were younger?
I grew up at a time when feminine role models weren’t that easy to find – at least ones that I felt comfortable with. Women were mostly portrayed as sirens or housewives and I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to be either. I adored Lucy of the “I love Lucy” TV series as she was both funny and independent. I also loved Carol Channing who was a comedienne and actress. I loved Morticia Adams from the “Addams family” and I was so disappointed I was not a brunette. My biggest role model though was my mother – who was a working mother at a time when that was not fashionable or usual.
I am not good at doing half of anything.
What makes you feel strong and determined to achieve success in life?
I draw a great deal of strength from friends and family, though I am lucky to have a lot of my own personal strength. My definition of success in life has changed a lot over the years but I have never tired of enjoying learning and helping create better ways to solve problems at work. It gives me a great deal of pleasure.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I want to develop my online business and create a structure where I can work from anywhere. I want to continue with my professional speaking – which has turned out to be a great pleasure in its own right as well as a fabulous opportunity to travel – something I really enjoy. I’d like to stay healthy and active and useful as long as I can and make enough money to be able to do what I want when I want. For me freedom is the most important thing. I get tremendous pleasure from sharing what I know with other business women and seeing them grow their own businesses. I think I am developing into a sort of ‘business grandmother’ – which after 35 years in business is not really surprising. Like most grandmothers I want to see all the children and grandchildren thrive and do well.
Interview: Mirela Sula