Women Love Tech publisher, Robyn Foyster, talks to two businesswomen about their experience of working life 20 plus years ago. Back then, CEO and Founder of Taurus Marketing, Sharon Williams, worked with Mandy Ross in the early days of Sharon’s business, when they were both juggling careers and family. Now, 20 years on, Sharon is still running her business based in Sydney’s Barangaroo while Mandy is the Marketing Director of Brighton Girls School in the UK.
You can watch the video here and read the story below:
Robyn: Sharon, you’ve always had some flexibility in the company you started with Taurus but what are some of your memories of being a career woman 25 years ago?
Sharon: I loved my work at an IT company. I worked hard and I was competent. I gave my job my all and when I fell pregnant, I was told by my boss that now I would be leaving – wouldn’t I. It seemed sad that just because I was having a baby, I wouldn’t be pursuing my career any more.
But the good news is that I went – right, OK – then I’m going to start a business. Interestingly what goes around comes around and my reputation encouraged the company’s competitor as my first client.
Robyn: What was it like starting up your own marketing and PR agency to have babies?
Sharon: At that time, it was hard, tough, enjoyable and rewarding. One thing I used to say was – the best thing in the world is to be with my babies. They were the most precious thing in the world to us. So, if Mothers were going to leave them, we had to leave them to work with good people and do great work and to be respected and fulfilled– to make it worth being away from our babies for any time. And we did – we worked with good people and we did great work and I cared for my working Mothers. It was an awesome time.
I feel for mothers everywhere – I feel your pain. I salute you and say – keep going. And same to the Dads because we’ve got lots of single Dads and Dads who are the carers out there now. Certainly, Mandy and I pushed through and forged a great friendship.
The resilience and the tenacity Mandy and I learnt together and demonstrated together when we were working in those challenging times 20 years ago, would be interesting for someone to read about now, when we again are facing challenging times.
Robyn: What about you Mandy? You’re now the Marketing Director at Brighton Girls School in the UK. How does your work experience there and at Taurus compare?
Mandy: I’m on a 12-month contract here at Brighton Girls School and obviously it’s very female-oriented and it’s a school that’s challenging stereotypes around girls and what girls can do. The ethos is ‘Kind and Bold’ so it’s really about empowering girls to go and become adventurous women – and that’s exciting to me. So, there are some very good similarities between where I am now and Taurus.
But before I was at Taurus, over 20 years ago, I was the Marketing & PR Director for an international company. I was one of only two women on the board before I went on maternity leave. Senior management was very male-dominated and I was the youngest female director there. It wasn’t easy – you had to really prove yourself. I think I was the only director who had to go and ask for a company car when I was promoted, as it was just a given for the male directors. You had to conform and put an awful lot in to your job and certainly, if you went on maternity leave, there was no maternity pay then and you may not have your job when you wanted to come back.
Three months into my maternity leave, I was made redundant by phone, by the man who was now doing my job. He also asked me to return my company sports car and I told him they’d have to come and get it!
At that time, part-time challenging and senior roles were rare. Until I met Sharon. Her company, Taurus, was a fledgling agency with a couple of great clients, and Sharon was a dynamo intent on shaping a boutique agency with a difference. To be able to join a small agency that was accommodating was so good – I don’t know that I would have found that anywhere else.
Robyn: What were some of the other differences Sharon was able to instil in the work practices at Taurus?
Mandy: Because Sharon had never run an agency before, she was free to follow her own compass and invent her own rulebook. I couldn’t not be energised by that, knowing that I could contribute ideas and there wasn’t a roadmap set out that would constrain me as an employee.
Working in an agency ramped-up my skills and made me a much better marketer. To this day, I still advise every marketer to start by working in an agency, or make sure they get some agency experience. Tech entrepreneurs came to us to build their brand, develop strategies and deliver on it – and we became an extension of their team.
Working for, and with Sharon meant trust and mutual respect were implicit. We both worked at pace to tight deadlines because our work days were not 9 to 5 and we’d streamlined our way of working. We’d also do a tag handover so we could pick up seamlessly with clients the next day.
Here are a some of Sharon and Mandy’s recollections of their time, working at Taurus 20 years ago:
- We went to visit Sharon at the hospital when she was in labour having Ollie and she wrote up an ASX announcement on her laptop while sitting on the bed and at the same time, she was breathing through her contractions.
- Sharon’s lovely Mum minding her children and my son in the back office at times while we got on the phones with a media announcement we knew would impact our client’s share price.
- The first Taurus Christmas – driving round with bottles of champagne to personally thank clients, suppliers and supporters who’d helped us. Plus of course that first Xmas party, when we weren’t sure anyone would come but we ended up with clients and media spilling out across the pavement from our little office.
- Sharon putting David Koch on her database early on, determined to be a voice. Her persistence paid off when she became part of Kochie’s Business Builders TV programme a few years later.
- Sharon’s son Ollie, aged 18 months, with a dummy in his mouth, vacuuming the carpet in the office at Taurus.