Life & Culture

These women mean business

Jews are no strangers to business, yet the influence of women has not always been recognised. As in wider society, the glass ceiling remains.


But cracks have formed.

The cosmetics industry has much to thank Helena Rubenstein and Estee Lauder for, while Diane Von Furstenberg made quite a mark on the fashion world. Meanwhile Sheryl Sandberg and our guest editor Nicola Mendelsohn are at the forefront of social media.

Women now account for 26 per cent of FTSE 100 directors, according to this year’s Women’s Business Council Progress Report.

The same research showed 1.2 million small and medium enterprises in Britain were led by women last year, contributing around £115 billion to the economy.

One of those behind this trend is Karen Mattison MBE, who co-founded Women Like Us with partner Emma Stewart MBE in 2005. They aimed to provide careers advice and support for mothers returning to work. The initiative earned them their honours, which led them in 2012 to form Timewise, a recruitment business for flexible and part-time work.

“That need for flexibility has been traditionally assumed to be a thing for women, but it affects everyone,” says Ms Mattison. Now 48, she was mum to two young boys, with another to follow, when she started Women Like Us.

“Starting your own business can give you autonomy and flexibility,” she says. “A lot of businesses have lost some fantastic talent because women haven’t felt they can have flexibility. “I saw something that wasn’t being done and wanted to fix it.”

Starting a business, however, is not quite so simple.

“Having an idea is one per cent of it,” says Ms Mattison. “The rest is having the belief to keep it going. Use your gut instinct and listen to the evidence.”

Investment and backers are crucial, but for Ms Mattison there has been an added ingredient: her business partner. “It’s like a second marriage!” .

Creating a management style which reflects your values is important, says Debbie Klein, 48, who helped found communications group Engine, of which she is now chief executive for Europe and Asia Pacific. “Mine is ‘cool head, firm hands, warm heart’.

“Someone once said ‘focus on the bagel, not the hole’. I love that. Positive people succeed because people want them around.”

The South-African born mother-of-two had strong female mentors: her headmistress and her first boss. “I never felt barriers. It comes down to hard work, being in the right place at the right time and seizing the opportunities.” However, she concedes that women face one large problem. “It was always going to be difficult to achieve everything at the same time: career, children, looking after family. Be aware that it’s hard, so don’t beat yourself up if it’s difficult to achieve the balance.”

Fellow South African Robinne Collie, 44, operates from a purpose-built office in her garden. Her business emerged from her kitchen as she found cooking with her husband stressful. “It wasn’t a bonding experience; it was a battle of wills. “It showed me a lot about him, myself and how we operated.”

As an advertising and marketing executive she experienced many team building exercises and felt a heated kitchen was the perfect backdrop.

Food@Work runs cooking events and challenges facilitated by professional chefs and learning and development experts. Corporate clients have included Tesco, L’Oreal and Barclays. Although several of the chefs are women, the vast majority are male. “Chefs work in a hierarchical way. As I’m the boss I don’t get any grief,” she says. “I’m respectful. I don’t have their skill so I’m happy to step back.”

The experience has improved Mrs Collie’s own cooking. So much so that she has launched uFoodie, offering pop-up courses for the amateur cook to rev up their repertoire. “It’s been amazing. The challenge now is to reach a market beyond the people I know,” says Mrs Collie, who runs the classes from her Whetstone home.

Expanding was also a challenge for Rosie Rubin, the rising star behind Rosie Olivia Millinery. The 28-year-old, a former pupil of Liverpool’s King David Primary School, set up her business fresh out of university six years ago. Today, her smart, innovative designs are available at high-end stockists like Selfridges, as well as from her website and Belsize Park showroom.

Her creations are regulars at Royal Ascot and have been modelled by Zara Tindall, Pippa Middleton and Princess Beatrice.

The road to success started off at Nottingham Trent University, where she studied decorative arts. “I did a lot of internships with milliners and fell in love with hats,” she recalls.

Upon graduating, she returned to her family home in Liverpool where she started on her own designs. “I did an enterprise course with the Prince’s Trust. Then I started making hats for my mum and her friends.” Keen to boost her profile, she applied to become a stockist for Fenwick of Bond Street and had a collection accepted.

“That’s really helped develop brand recognition,” she says. Social media has been indispensable, as has wearing her own creations. “It’s free advertising!” she laughs. “I have learned a lot over the last six years. I’m a designer but I have become a business woman.”

Also very involved with fashion are former lawyers Vanessa Kenley, 48, and Samantha Cohen, 49, the joint owners of Dress2Party.

Friends since their teens, they originally set up shop in Mill Hill East, north London, selling sparkly princess dresses for bat mitzvahs.

Less than a decade later, the pair now own 10 stores nationwide, employing 22 people. Much of the business is online but both women love being on the shop floor with customers, who include Carol Smillie and Vanessa Feltz.

“That’s how we know the stock and customers so well,” says Mrs Cohen, a mother of three.

“We do so many different things now. We’ve even had some of the original batmitzvah girls come back to buy bridesmaid 

“We never imagined it would be this big. It’s hard work but it’s fun to dress people for happy occasions.”



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