To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve interviewed our Founder & CEO, Gisela Graham on what it means to be a woman, the struggles she’s faced and unrivalled business advice for women looking to start their own businesses.
Starting a business in the ’80s couldn’t have been easy, what struggles did you go through as a female?
Being a woman, especially as I had no track record and started from scratch, was a constant struggle – bank loans, letters of credit for buying from overseas etc… The most annoying tussle I had was with a High Street Bank (who will be nameless!). The Manager wouldn’t increase my overdraft as the business grew, essentially because I was a woman. He then went on holiday and his superior cut my overdraft even further. But, I was lucky enough to get an introduction to a German bank with a London office, who had a much more liberal policy.
What advice would you give to women looking to start a business today?
- Don’t take “no” for an answer.
- Make sure you have some difference – in your product or service.
- Getting finance is crucial
- Work all the hours under the sun.
How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
It was very useful for me that, unusually, in my line of business many of the customers were women, so I had credibility when I was starting up. My first employee was a woman, and right now about 80% of my 60 staff are women. Several of my women employees have been with the Company for 20+ years. I’ve also given shares in the Company to about 16 of the staff – almost all women – because we’ve built the Company up between us.
You’re now the Queen of Christmas, but what advice would you give your younger self?
Maybe I might have been a little less cautious? And, you have to make your own luck, take the rough with the smooth, embrace the highs and learn from the lows.
What main change would you like to see for young girls in the next generation?
Equal opportunities in the workplace – as a female CEO I’ve noticed a big shift over my time in business but there’s no denying that there is still a long way to go.
Gisela Graham is proud to #PressforProgress this International Women’s Day.
You can view all of our International Women’s Day campaigns over on our Pinterest