Has the business world changed since the 1980s? – Cathy Ridley chats to Business Leader
29th April 2022
Our CEO Cathy Ridley spoke exclusively to Business Leader about her time in business, the foundation of MovePlan, and whether the challenges facing female entrepreneurs have changed since the 1980s.
Cathy was interviewed about her entrepreneurial journey, explaining how she got to where she is today. She told Business Leader that she left her home county of Yorkshire for the glamour of aviation, working as a long-hail stewardess for British Airways. Cathy travelled the world for four years as a 747-cabin crew member, providing exceptional service to passengers while experiencing new and exciting cultures around the world. It was during this stint that she learnt the importance of customer service, a skill she has valued more than any other throughout her career.
When Cathy decided her flying days were behind her, she secured a job as a personal assistant at an established advertising agency in London that was soon to move into a new office. She coordinated the move with her colleagues, something she described as “a steep learning curve”.
“Overall, we managed a successful relocation, but I also gathered incredible insights along the way,” she said.
When the time came to start a family, Cathy knew she didn’t want to stop working. In need of a job that put her in charge of her own time, she toyed with the idea of setting up a business to utilise what she had recently learnt and help time-poor individuals faced with moving a business.
Cath said: “I had never considered starting a business on my own, but there weren’t many options for women to work whilst raising a family. While I didn’t necessarily have a business plan at first, I truly believed in the idea and wanted to give it my best shot. My aim in setting up MovePlan was to create a better quality of life, both at work and at home at a time when I had a young family. The reality was that in becoming my own boss I was certainly in charge of my own time but had never worked harder.”
Cathy launched MovePlan in an attic room at home, but soon enough had to change her office into a nursery. As the business was beginning to take off, Cathy took a very short maternity leave, finding appropriate childcare and a new office so she could return to work.
Having come from the booming world of advertising in the late 1980s, Cathy’s network was largely made up of advertising businesses that were expanding, and urgently needed to move into bigger offices.
She said: “This meant that in the early days we grew by word-of-mouth. But out of the blue, MovePlan landed its first big international client: a major pharmaceutical corporation that was impressed by the methodology my two-member team had developed based on our observations and experiences of relocating smaller companies. Now we were responsible for moving over 700 people – this was our springboard to working with big corporates.”
The first few years of the business were all about trial and error, as Cathy took her time growing the business wanting to be hands-on with relocations. “There is zero room for mistakes,” she said, adding: “This is also important when you’re establishing a brand and making a reputation for yourself. As a woman, this was of particular importance. It was the 1980s after all, and my clients and contractors weren’t used to taking orders from women.”
"It was the 1980s after all, and my clients and contractors weren't used to taking orders from women"
— Cathy Ridley, CEO of MovePlan
MovePlan moved into its first small office in Spitalfields in 1990 at the same time it was branching out with larger corporations. Testament to Cathy and the team’s work, the first major pharmaceutical client is still a client today, with the team masterminding moves for this pharma giant all around the world, including the relocation of their laboratories.
Cathy also spoke to Business Leader about the challenges of starting out as a female entrepreneur nearly four decades ago, saying: “Back in the 1980s, most businesses were run nearly exclusively by men, or at least most of the C-suite were men. As a woman in this environment, I had to wholeheartedly believe in what I was selling to men, who were the primary business decision-makers. I realised early on that I needed to have unfaltering confidence in our services. This wasn’t a problem because I passionately believed (and continue to do so to date) that partnering with MovePlan makes a massive difference to the success of a project.”
She recalled being forced to take a large business to court for taking the name MovePlan and being subjected to sexist comments from the other company’s lawyers, who argued that Cathy’s clients remembered her solely because of her blonde hair and appearance, rather than the name of the business. “Hopefully, this kind of tactic would not be used today,” she said.
Asked what the biggest challenges are facing female entrepreneurs today, Cathy said: “Women still tend to be the primary caregivers, be that to children or elderly relatives. Time is a precious resource and women have a rougher deal, by and large, to men.”
She added: “I see this beginning to improve with younger generations, but it wasn’t until I went on a business trip to Asia where I was put up in a serviced apartment, that I truly appreciated the difference between how men and women are able to work. Suddenly, I didn’t have to worry about anything other than my business as the domestic side of life was removed. I remember thinking to myself ‘this is what a man’s working life must be like’. It was brilliant!”
Cathy believes women often launch their own business because they’re exhausted of being excluded by certain environments and are eager to take back control of their time – something that she said hasn’t changed for 30 years.
She said: “Typically, women are much less confident than men but what they lack in confidence they often make up for in attention to detail and the ability to get things done.”
Cathy spoke to Business Leader about support available for female entrepreneurs who want to progress in their career and have a family.
She said: “We’ve come a long way, no doubt. There’s much more help available today than when I started out, but it’s still tough for someone starting a business. Larger businesses are supporting working parents more than ever before in terms of parental leave and onsite nurseries, but an entrepreneur must research and fund childcare. More options are available, but they are expensive and aren’t tax-deductible!
“Younger generations today seem to be much better at sharing the load of childcare and running a home. In an ideal world, childcare should be split equally but I suspect that mothers still bear the brunt, taking on the scheduling of events and making sure that everything is organised for birthdays or school holidays.”
Cathy offered her best advice to female entrepreneurs:
- Don’t start a business unless you absolutely believe in what it provides for the customer.
- You’re on a tightrope; keep going and don’t look down but know when you need to take personal time out.
- Expect to ‘plate spin’ on a regular basis.
- Don’t take no for an answer.
- Be curious. Build a strong network around you and never stop asking questions. Also, never stop questioning the status quo.
- Understand what motivates you – money may not be enough.
Asked about the trends she is seeing within the industry, Cathy said: “The pandemic irreversibly changed the way we work. But it has also brought the move and change management sector to the forefront and as such, it’s never been a busier time for the industry.”
She added: “Since the pandemic began, employers have recognised that their people are the most important asset to the business, and rightly so. Companies are desperate to retain and attract excellent talent and must offer their employees a workplace of choice. Business leaders are having to play a much bigger role than they previously have in terms of creating and fostering a culture that’s all inclusive. A lot of the businesses we work with are rewiring how they work, rather than focusing on where they work, and taking steps towards making flexible working the new normal.”
Cathy said there is also a shift when it comes to MovePlan’s clients’ needs around ESG, which she believes will “remain front of mind for business leaders”.
“Technology will continue to be the enabler for businesses,” Cathy said.
Referring to the trends in the near future, Cahty said hybrid working will continue to be a priority.
However, she said the challenge will be to strike the right balance in terms of workplace culture, adding: “In my experience, culture is one of the most fundamental aspects of a business which isn’t valued as much as it should. Going forward, businesses will need to pay more attention to this and work with specialists such as us to design the blueprint.”
Cathy ended the interview talking about how 2022 is shaping up for MovePlan, explaining: “Our overarching vision this year is to further strengthen our change management offering. This has been an ambition for some time but the pandemic brought it into sharp focus.”
She added: “We’re going to continue to work closely with our clients during this crucial period of transition. We’re on a mission to help businesses find their own balance in the workplace and use assets such as technology and the office to boost morale, inculcate a positive culture, and increase productivity no matter where one chooses to work from.”
"We’re on a mission to help businesses find their own balance in the workplace"
— Cathy Ridley, CEO of MovePlan
To read the full article in Business Leader click here.