“I always like to surround myself with people who have more knowledge than I do, in whatever sector…”
Michelle Michael MBE has guided the fortunes of Weston’s Grand Pier from the heartache of a devastating fire to becoming one of the major family attractions in the south west of the country. And it’s all about inspiration.
Coinslot: It’s International Women’s Day, an occasion designed to challenge things that are holding us back. So, what do you think are the most important obstacles to the development of women in business?
Michelle Michael: It’s probably fear; fear that they don’t take the chance to shine.
It’s the feeling that they – well, we – might be rejected. That’s a powerful hurdle and it does hold women back.
Yet if, and when, we overcome that fear, then there’s actually no holding us back – but you always need confidence to be able to use your talents.
Coinslot: It’s interesting on a day like this that we are talking about women in business, whilst men, on the other hand, are only ever referred to as ‘businessmen’. So, are you a woman in business or a businesswomen!
Of course, we’re businesswomen, but the reality is we’re business people. For me personally, I’ve never really seen it any other way.
Because I have spent most of my working life in a family business, this distinction has never been made.
But, I am sure that it exists more so in some sectors over others.
Coinslot: Your family clearly plays a significant role in your business philosophy?
MM: Yes, very much so.
The most important influence from a very early age came from my parents who said that I could achieve anything, and instilled in me an ethos that work was a valuable and necessary part of life.
Once I was able to work without thinking of it as something I didn’t want to do, I could concentrate on my direction of travel.
Coinslot: Outside of your family, which people have influenced you most and where have you gained your inspiration?
MM: I take influence from wherever I can grab it.
I always like to surround myself with people who have more knowledge than I do, in whatever sector.
I never leave a meeting without a takeaway, even if it’s a certain perspective on a subject rather than a new learning.
But different people have influenced me over the years – some in my first profession as a solicitor in Bristol, some in business transactions, and others in life learning.
And I’m really happy to say that I’m always going to be looking for new influences and inspiration.
It’s so important to what we do at the pier – you share inspiration and that’s how you bring new ideas and vision to your local community and beyond.
It adds excitement to what you do.
Coinslot: International Women’s Day is all about female trailblazers and handing their experiences on to other women. In your career, what key experiences would you like to pass on and are you seeing significant change for younger women in business today?
MM: I am lucky enough to work with talented young women who are at the start of their careers, and I am delighted to see that they have a much healthier view of work life balance.
What’s also exciting is they feel that they can choose their career path rather than when I was starting out when I was programmed just to work.
Hopefully this will translate into a happier and healthier career for them because the talent is definitely there and shines.
Coinslot: Looking back, what have been your best and not so best (!) experiences as a businesswoman?
MM: I had great fun in my working career although there were times when I had to adapt in a male dominant environment.
About twenty or so years ago in the insurance industry, women at a senior level were a scarcity. I worked in that space for about ten years, but I was lucky to be working with my brother, so between us, we got the deals done.
But things have changed over those twenty years – slowly in truth – but I think the pace has picked up. There are new generations of women in the workplace, seeing and doing things differently.
Coinslot: What changes do you want to see evolve over the next few years for both women and the new wave of business people?
MM: I would really like to see something good come out of the pandemic, for all businesses whoever is leading them.
I really like the idea of supporting local, both from a sustainability and carbon footprint, but also to help locals thrive and promote their services.
I think that there is a strong movement to support this.
Collaborative working is also something that interests me and stems from social media and the fast pace that is being driven there.
Influencers continue to promote businesses and build trust and confidence in products and services and I think that this will continue.
That will open up an important question for us all: we will all have to think about how we change and adapt our businesses to best showcase them.
It may be International Women’s Day, but I think it’s a challenge to everyone.