EDITOR INTERVIEW In conversation with...

Jan Ward, CBE, Founder & CEO of Corrotherm International; former Institute of Directors’ Global Director of the Year; Chair, Energy & Utility Skills Group; Chair, Millers Oils

Just how did an unmarried teenage mother without qualifications go on to become CEO of her own multi-million pound engineering company?

Sheer determination and refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer! It helped that I was young enough to ignore any barriers, simply because I didn’t recognise there were any. I was the youngest of 6 siblings and grew up in a working class family where everyone worked. My brothers did national service (I was always fascinated by their travel stories), my older sister was a lorry driver, my mother worked in factories during WWll. For me the issue wasn’t that I was a woman, but that I was young; and the challenge was proving that I was capable.

At the time there were not many female role models to guide or inspire you. What fuelled your determination? I was forced to leave school at 15 (things were very different then), got married and worked part-time around raising my son. At 19 I was separated and climbing the walls, desperate to build myself a career. When a government scheme for the unemployed was introduced I took an evening course studying international trade. As my qualifications and work experience in trade and exports increased, so did my passion for travel and engineering. I had come from a background where it didn’t matter what the work was or whether the workers were women and I’m sure this had an impact on me.

By 1984 I had a supportive new husband and a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering. Eight years later I founded Corrotherm International, a supplier of high-grade metals to the oil, gas and desalination markets.

How different is the industrial landscape for women today? Things are changing, slowly. Today for example, women looking to set up a business will face less prejudice


from banks and lenders. Employment law and equal opportunity working practices have to reflect an ever-changing society and our diverse lifestyle. Organisations and companies are beginning to recognise that it is skillset, not gender (or age, race) that counts. More women are taking more senior leadership roles on Executive and Industry Boards, in politics and education. But males still dominate our sector.

What practical steps can our industry take to close the diversity gap and develop the next generation? For women there is still the perception that Engineering is not a ‘sexy’ industry (the shapeless one-style-fits-all overalls/PPE gear, unpleasant, grimy sites and difficult working conditions). We should be doing more to make engineering more appealing to women; small adjustments like making the workplace more female-friendly and welcoming: women’s changing rooms, correctly fitting women styled/sized work and footwear, more flexible working hours to take account of family/personal commitments and unexpected health issues. Introducing a women’s champion or ambassador at work, more female managers taking up Board positions - all steps that will help practically to encourage women to feel they can aspire and achieve more.

Of your considerable professional achievements what has made you most proud? That Corrotherm continues to thrive. That the systems and practices we introduced have stood the test of time. Although my role is less hands on today (I pulled back some years ago to focus on my other Directorships and Non-Exec Board roles), my senior team have stepped up and are delivering a great job – and that the 17/18 year old I employed all those years ago is now my MD. I feel like a proud ‘Mum’ overseeing her brood.

Jan Ward is a keynote speaker at the Women in the Lubricants Industry Conference at the Institute of Directors, London, on 11th March.

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