From PA to CEO, read Jane’s amazing story.
Jane Weaver runs AYS Couriers, her own logistics company. Jane was working at AYS when redundancy loomed so she bought the company! AYS Couriers sends goods across the UK from sheaves of paper to industrial fridges. I’m full of admiration for her and you will be too after reading her story.
Jane, do tell us how you ended up working in the predominantly male field of logistics?
Completely by accident! I took a job as PA to the owner of AYS Couriers, purely because I liked her and was impressed with her pride in the business. I was at a low ebb in my life and stepped away from my PA career to take less responsibility and work within a role that was comfortable to me at the time. I came to AYS at a very difficult time in my life, in the middle of a difficult divorce and at a very low ebb.
My MD was very supportive and came to know how I was feeling, she had a great balance between being an empathetic woman whilst remaining clearly the “boss” – this is a model I try to replicate in my current role.
After about 18 months the owner of the business told us that she had decided to sell AYS, at this point I realised this could be the answer to the worries I had about my future. I saw this was the chance to make my own future and although there were many obstacles my determination to take this opportunity saw me through. Instead of wondering what I was going to do to get out of the ‘mess’ I felt I was in, I took control and made a decision to throw all my energy into seeing the sale through; I set goals and ‘made deals with myself’; such as “I will spend the 2 years just looking after my daughter (then the youngest of 3 was 13) and ‘making this happen’” I saw the purchase and me taking up the role as MD as a way of providing security and financial advancement as well as giving my battered mind something positive to focus on.
I didn’t let my head drive doubts into my mind and read up on others who had achieved similar things, I took inspiration from other business women and educated myself on legalities and business structure.
The biggest challenge was financial I had been left after my divorce with no capital; the current business owner advised me to talk to an associate of hers who had been through an MBO before and who had contacts with potential investors. Through his support we were able to buy the business with a team of shareholders.
Over the following years shareholders were brought out, until we got to the point where I remain the sole owner. Buying the business transformed my life and I am eternally grateful that I took the opportunity to make my own destiny, I would say to anyone sometimes when you can’t see a way forward and are unsure how you are going to ever feel positive again, the best things are around the corner, believe in yourself, this is just a phase in your life – not the rest of your life!
Did you plan your career? Or have you reacted to events as they have happened?
I have to admit I did not have a plan when I left school, prior to A levels as I was ‘bored’! My first job was as an office junior for Birmingham City Council, this gave me a great insight into the work of different departments as we moved around on a rota basis gaining experience.
Following this start, I moved around, not working more than 2/3 years in anyone place. Although some would think this is not a good admission on a CV, I think this demonstrates an interest in learning and developing. My experience allowed me to take on pretty much any administrative role as I could learn and turn my hand to anything. I moved to PA more in a management support role than in the traditional shorthand secretarial role; this gave me inside knowledge of the work of Directors and CEO’s that proved invaluable!
What would you change if you had the chance to go back and do it again?
When asked over the years if I would have changed things at times I would have said yes, I would have gained more qualifications but now as my career has matured I would say No. I strongly believe that one of my greatest skills is being able to take on new challenges, change motivates rather than frightens me; this is a direct result of working in many different sectors at various levels.
What has most surprised you about running your own business?
The absolute joy of it! I am enthusiastic about my business and particularly enjoy being in a position where I can give others the opportunity to become a stakeholder in the business and develop their career, the sky really is the limit at AYS for both the business and its personnel.
What have I learnt from this journey:-
1) If you really want something and are prepared to do what it takes to get it – you will succeed.
2) Don’t let bad days (or weeks or months!) make you feel this is all that life holds for you – none of us know the future.
3) Forgive yourself for your mistakes, when I asked a great friend how my life had got so confused she responded “one step at a time” she constantly told me “you are only human” – we all find ourselves in situations that didn’t quite work out as we thought, we are only human – it is life experiences that make you the person you are.
It’s hard to put into words, I guess I mean I am an ordinary person, my life felt fractured – and yet good things were around the corner, I took the opportunity that provided drive and passion in my life and ‘saved’ myself from the downward spiral – if I can do it – so can you!
Have you experienced any overt or covert discrimination because of your gender? If so, how do you deal with it?
Not at all, I have found the female approach to be very successful. In my experience there has always been a lot of support for me as a business owner, both I believe as a female and as someone who came to business in a less than traditional route.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given re starting your own business?
“Know where you are going! Decide where you want to get to, then you will find the way” It is easy to become distracted from your goals, having a clear destination or end result in mind clarifies thought processes, you can’t plan if you don’t have a clear destination in mind.
Who has been the biggest influence, or role model in your life? Who most inspires you?
I have had two ‘Bosses’ who inspired me along the way. The first one taught me that ‘no’ was not an option when things get tough, find a way to do it! He gave me a “can do” attitude that helps me every day, we sometimes impose limitations on ourselves by accepting the first “I can’t do it” thought that pops into our head.
My focus on the end result in business and ability to identify the route to the goal is a direct result of his influence.
The second inspired me in her belief in her business, I could see how much having her own business meant to her and I guess I wanted that feeling too. She is a successful business woman but retains a down to earth combination of wife and mother alongside her professional image – a very “real” lady.
MD is a big job when running your own business. How do you manage to balance home and work and to relax?
Stop fighting yourself, when you own a business you will have enormous passion about it, it is part of your life and you never fully switch off but that does not mean that you cannot enjoy being away from it. Whenever I take holiday I still want to know how things are going and holidays often give you time to come up with ideas and direction for your business. I don’t believe this is a fault it is natural state for someone who goes into business ownership, you just manage your communication and contact.
My family know they come first but also know how important the business is to me, and that it makes me happy! Relaxation should be built into you week; it refreshes and de-stresses you and in the end makes you more productive. At particularly difficult times I believe that it is your duty to yourself and to your business to ensure that you do the things that help you relax and re-energise so that when you are at work you are 100%.
If the current Jane could give the 16 year old Jane some advice, what would it be?
Believe in yourself, a tendency to become ‘bored’ could be seen as ambition and a desire to increase my knowledge. At the time I faced criticism for moving on from roles that were ‘secure’, now I know the benefit of the development I gained in other roles. Don’t lose ‘yourself’ it is you being you that brings about success; never try and change yourself to fit someone else’s model.
If you could have any career you wanted, what would it be and why?
I would like to be in a role where I could help others realise their ambitions, I have learned so much in this role, and I would like to be able to support others in their desire to progress in business. Many people suffer from not taking up opportunities that are presented, with an enquiring mind and thoughtful planning most things can be achieved more easily than you might think.
How has deciding to run your own business affected your life?
Taking the decision to lead an MBO and buy into the business and then to eventually take on the whole business has transformed my life. If anyone is hesitating about doing it I would say go for it! Ensure that your business and personal plans are realistic and achievable and then go ahead and take control of your own destiny. My journey from a time when my future was unclear to my role today has been a roller coaster of amazing experiences. All the clichés are true, seize the day, believe in yourself – you can do it! For me I am just beginning “watch this space”!
Jane, thank you so much! I am so looking forward to meeting you again
I first met Jane when she attended my RenewYou course. Our second meeting was at an awards ceremony at The Savoy Hotel where she won a hugely deserved award and very kindly gave RenewYou some of the credit in giving her the confidence to apply. See How to Win an Award for your Business for more on that and some more pictures!
Thinking of expanding your training business? Are you passionate about empowering women? I have a brilliant opportunity for you! To find out more,click here.
Posted on January 11th, 2012 by Jane