Julie, thanks for joining us today. Can you start by telling us about yourself, background, and your current role?
My name is Julie Kapsalis and I am a workaholic. I am Managing Director of Chichester College Group (CCG), a Director of Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, Chair of Chichester Chamber of Commerce Industry and Board Member at the Institute of Economic Development and Gatwick Diamond Business. I am also mother to Hektor (aged 8) and Felix (aged nearly 7) – they are my proudest achievements. My greatest weakness is not being able to say ‘no’. I have also recently taken up showing sheep and am an avid darts fan (but that’s another story).
I began my career in marketing and PR, working for clients including Scottish Courage and Procter & Gamble. I then moved (randomly) to work in economic development at the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), managing a portfolio of contracts including Business Link and Finance South East.
I have continued to work in economic development for the past 15 years with a particular focus on enterprise, skills, and social inclusion. I was very proud to serve as an advisor to the UK Government's task force on women's enterprise and recently contributed to the Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship.
I was also privileged to fulfil a long-held ambition to work on the London 2012 Olympics and managed a major legacy programme to encourage volunteering and community engagement in sport. My current role at Chichester College Group (CCG) – the largest training provider in Sussex – is my most diverse yet. I oversee a portfolio of commercial businesses including an Examination Board, chain of childcare nurseries, commercial training, apprenticeships, and international education. I am particularly proud of my work on building international partnerships in Japan and China.
That is certainly a long and impressive list of commitments. How did you get to where you are today?
I got to my current position(s) through the support, wisdom, and friendship of the most wonderful network of people. I am a great believer in networking and having a mentor and executive coach. These three channels have been fundamental in helping me learn, develop, and overcome hurdles. I’d cite three examples:
- The former CEO of SEEDA, Pam Alexander, taught me resilience, mental toughness, and how to prepare and deliver on major speeches and chairing meetings – ensuring quality briefings, knowing your audience and political positioning. Even ten years after working with her, I still find myself thinking ‘what would Pam do’ and this helps me - especially in difficult situations or when I question my own ability.
- My mentor is John Peel – former Chair of Coast to Capital and CEO of Varian. John is the best connected person I know and has taught me the power of networking, reciprocity, and a passion for place based regeneration.
- My executive coach is Kiki Maurey and she keeps me focused, motivated, and always thinking two jobs ahead of where I am now. She is challenging, thought provoking, and generally awesome.
All three of these people helped me at key crossroads in my career. This included particular challenges post children, redundancy, and career changes. There were times when I was ready to give up on my career – especially given the crippling cost of childcare, but they all kept me focused, grounded, and believed in me – even when I didn’t believe in myself.
I was told once that it's a lonely place being an MD and totally see the benefit of an executive coach and a close-knit advisory team. Have you experienced any challenges as a woman in business during your overall career – if so, could you share them?
My biggest challenge has undoubtedly been (and remains) juggling being a mother and sustaining/growing my career. At the core of this constant juggling act has been the cost and availability of childcare. I chose to return to work when my children were still young and the nature of my job meant that the only childcare option that worked for me was employing a nanny.
I had the most wonderful nanny, who supported me and was part of our family for almost four years, but this came at a huge financial cost.
In 2014, Merryn Somerset Webb wrote an excellent piece on the cost of childcare in Money Week. Her research showed:
“A good live-out nanny who will cover her employer’s hours at work and her travel will want around £600 to £700 a week in her pocket after tax. Let’s say we find a cheap one at £560 a week. Once you have included her income tax and national insurance (NI), and the additional employer’s NI, that comes to £826 a week. That’s £42,952 a year out of your own net salary. So, to break even on childcare alone with a live-out nanny, the mother has to make just over £60,000.”
This is a cost that I know only too well – although personally, I have always considered this an investment in my children and my career. But there have been many occasions where I have questioned whether it was financially worth my while pursuing my career and returning to work.
One of my problems was that I always wanted to pretend I was superwoman and could do it all and was always too proud to ask for help or admit I was struggling. I had no problems building a network of business contacts but was terrible at building a network of ‘mummy networks’ – in fact ‘rhyme time’ at the local library was and remains my greatest fear. It has taken me almost eight years to build a network of fellow parents on whose support, friendship, and supplies of red wine I can depend on.
With a young family too, I can certainly relate to ‘rhyme and red wine time’! What is your experience of leadership on a Board? And how, in your opinion and experience, do female leaders differ from male leaders?
I was once told that if you are just one woman on a board, you can be labelled as ‘the troublemaker’, if there are two of you then ‘double trouble’, but three or more is a tipping point that shifts culture and changes attitudes and convention away from just being a minority interest.
My personal opinion is that this is absolutely true although it has taken me a number of years to feel confident enough to call out and challenge a lack of diversity (in all areas) on Boards.
I was very pleased when Tim Wates, Chair of C2C LEP, asked me to become the Board’s diversity sponsor and for his support in recognising that our board needs to reflect the population that it represents. Making these changes, however, are not easy and take time and work in developing our networks, our contacts, and our pipeline. We need to understand what the barriers are to more women applying to join boards. Is it where/how we advertise, the times we meet, how we promote role models, and having mentors who champion us, believe in us, and support us?
Some of my personal bugbears are…Board meetings that are always scheduled in the school holidays or over run late into the evening, appointment panels with zero diversity of gender or ethnicity, and being the lone ‘troublemaker’.
I’m proud to say that over half the team at Harvey John are women and they absolutely all play a pivotal role in the continued success of the business. What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
It has taken me a while to be brave enough and confident enough in my abilities to give this advice but it is simple….
I no longer make any apologies for the fact that I have to leave early for a Year 3 play at school or that my suit may have a snot stain on the sleeve (not my nose but my son’s!) or that I use an Avengers notebook in meetings. If you work with me, you get me, warts (snot) and all. I now wear my heart on my sleeve and I think that authenticity is important. When I travel overseas on business now, I love the fact that, in many cases, I no longer exchange just the obligatory branded pen set, scarf or business card holder but that frequently I am exchanging small personal gifts for my children and the children of my colleagues. This is especially the case with other female business leaders who are mothers. We are teaching and enriching the lives of our children through international friendships and sharing of our cultures. I know that my husband misses our children just as much as me when he travels but the onus still falls on me (wherever I am in the world) to remind him that Wednesday is ‘swimming’ and Friday ‘PE’….
I think most people reading this would have been exhausted just at your introduction alone! How do you balance being involved in so many companies / projects at the same time?
Meticulous diary management and red wine.
Red wine is never far away is it? What would you say is your secret to success?
Working in roles that I am passionate about and having a family who support me.
My mother is probably my most important role model and rock. She keeps me grounded but is always there to help – she’s the only person who still makes me feel like I’m 15 (I wish!) and tells me off because I’ve dyed my hair a stupid colour or am being a diva.
No comment on the hair dye, I’m long past having a comment on that subject! If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Believe in myself and live in the future, not the past (still haven’t cracked the last one).
You have a great story to this point but I’m sure there’s a lot more to follow. What do you want to achieve in the next 10 years?
To make a difference to the local area where I live and work, and to try and be a role model to encourage more women onto Boards and leadership roles. I am passionate about seeing people succeed in education and business.
Above all, I want my sons Hektor and Felix to be proud of me and I want them to achieve their ambitions and dreams – currently to be a wrestler and professional gamer!
Well looking at what their Mother has achieved, I’ll be sure to look out for their successful careers in their very specialist chosen fields!
Thanks very much Julie for being the trailblazer for our Women In Business blog series and obviously for your time which is clearly very precious! We wish you every success with the following chapters of your career.
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