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success W

A spectacular

Dame Mary Perkins is the most successful businesswoman the Channel Islands have ever seen. Nick Kirby finds out how the girl from Bristol turned the optical world upside down

HEN DAME MARY Perkins sold her first chain of opticians in 1980 and moved to Guernsey, even she couldn’t have imagined that over 30 years later she would

be at the head of the largest privately owned optical company in the world. But since she and her husband Doug launched Specsavers from their spare bedroom in 1984, the company has grown far beyond expectation: it now has more than 1,500 stores in the UK, Europe and Australasia and employs 26,000 staff – and it looks set to keep growing. Despite being an incredibly successful businesswoman,

Mary finds time to be involved with a number of charitable organisations as well as business programmes for women – she is Patron of the Spirit of Everywoman Award, and most recently has been involved in the Everywoman ‘Modern Muse’ initiative, which aims to inspire and engage the next generation of female business leaders. She was made a Dame in 2007 for her services to business and to the community in Guernsey. Although she is incredibly busy with the company’s

current expansion into Australia and New Zealand, she was kind enough to take time out to talk to about her business, her life and the community in Guernsey.

When you started Specsavers, did you ever dream it would become as big as it has? Not at all! Initially I thought we would cover the south west of the UK and south Wales – this is where Doug and I had our previous business – but then you realise you need to cover the whole country, simply because of the advertising. You don’t want to advertise on the TV and then not have a store nearby for a customer to visit. So it was planned that we would eventually cover the whole of the UK, but we

26 April/May 2011

still didn’t anticipate having so many stores. Of course, what has happened is that Specsavers has become a more trusted, popular brand, but many people don’t want to travel into big cities, so we are in a lot more smaller communities, and we do very well there.

And you branched out internationally. Yes we did. We’ve actually got more stores outside the UK than we have in the UK now. We’re in the Nordics, the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain and our latest venture has been in Australia and New Zealand. I get lots of air miles now, which is quite nice. I quite like the travelling – I have 24 hours where no one interrupts me, so I can catch up on reading!

Your company really is a family affair: tell us more about that. My son is joint Managing Director with my husband Doug, who is also the Co-Founder, and one of my daughters is the General Manager in the Netherlands. Bizarrely, I’m actually nobody! I don’t have an official title. I’m not a financial director, I’m not a marketing director – so when I sit on the board I sit there as Co-Founder and main shareholder. They really ought to find me a title. Up until a year or so ago it was PR Director, but even that didn’t describe me properly.

Have you ever considered listing on the stock market? No, we’ve never really considered it. I think that people who do so have a reason for it, such as needing more money to expand abroad or if there is a succession problem. We don’t have a reason to do that, and it wouldn’t be our way of working anyway. We prefer to stay as a private company and I hope that continues with the next generation as well.


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