Ana Mardell, MD and daughter of one of the founders of Thesis, has led the company for over 6 years. In a bid to keep a fresh perspective on the business Ana works with Vistage, an advisory group for MDs, executives and business owners. Here she explains here how the association has helped her develop professionally and steer Thesis over the past few years:
In January 2013, after four years as Financial Director, I became MD at Thesis, taking over my father’s role. With a degree in Music and no formal business background I felt something of an imposter - especially when it came to leadership. With our company focus set for continued growth and success I wondered if my organisational skills, common sense and knowledge of Thesis would be good enough.
In those early days plenty of people were keen to know how I was getting on – after all I was the ‘boss’s daughter’. After sharing my trepidation of taking on the family business with a long-standing friend, I received some invaluable advice – to seek out my own, ideally impartial, support network so I could develop my own professional view and ask for non-biased advice from others in a similar position. He signposted me to Vistage – a private advisory group which worked through a series of local hubs or networks. I felt that I could be somewhat out of my depth, mystified by acronyms and business jargon, and wary of being a woman in what was a traditionally male dominated environment.
My first meeting (in July 2015) almost totally allayed my fears. A small, friendly and professional group welcomed me and we were facilitated by a solid Chair, an accomplished leader in his own right. Each group is small (usually between 8 and 14 people) enabling a good understanding of each other’s companies and a sense of belonging in a commercially confidential environment. The fact that all of us have chosen to be involved helps too – there’s a tacit commitment to supporting each other professionally.
Over the years our discussions have been diverse but unbelievably useful. They tend to involve, more often than not, growth, profit and people – business challenges that transcend your sector or size! Meetings take place monthly, giving me a full day’s head space away from the business. We hear from a range of expert speakers, helping shed light on old problems or introducing new practices, technologies and concepts, many of which have prompted me into additional research or fact finding. There’s an annual ‘team’ activity which last year involved a charity bike ride across the South of England. And some of the business tools I’ve learnt more about, such as psychometric testing, I’ve bought back to my own management team and we’ve employed in a way that works for us when recruiting senior staff.
Ultimately, I’m grateful to have trusted associates who I can turn to for sensible, impartial advice – without the prejudices of being a family member, friend or colleague. Being an MD is an isolating responsibility so it’s vital to carve out time to develop some perspective on the business. And hopefully doing so speaks for itself – business turnover at Thesis has grown by over 30% and employee headcount by well over 40% since 2015.