CEO - maiden-voyage.com
Today we meet Carolyn Pearson, CEO of maiden-voyage.com. Carolyn tells us about her career so far, the inspiration behind her business and her plans for the future.
BoardroomMum Can you please tell me a little bit about yourself - education, qualifications etc?
Carolyn Pearson Having left school with only a handful of qualifications, my love for learning started the minute I left when I started to study part-time alongside my work. Since then I have gone on to do a degree in Business and IT, an MBA and then completed the Advanced Development Programme in Leadership with Cranfield School of Management. My biggest motivation came from a language teacher who told me that I didn’t have an aptitude for languages and had me removed from French at school. I went on to learn to speak fluent Dutch, I spent a month in l’institute de Francais in the south of France improving my French and am currently learning German. Last year I also completed a travel journalism master class.
BoardroomMum Can you please provide some information on your career to this point?
Again another teacher told me I couldn’t study computing because my maths wasn’t good enough but shortly after leaving school I landed a job in data entry. My love of IT was born and I worked my way up to programmer, business analyst, project manager and eventually became a head of IT working for some wonderful travel and media businesses including KLM, easyJet, ITV, BBC and Sony Music. I spent six years working in Holland as a result. In 2013 I left corporate life to set up a portfolio career of running my own business and providing some high-level IT consultancy.
BoardroomMum Were you clear on what you wanted to do as a career?
Carolyn Pearson Not at all, the education system set my expectations very low, I thought I was destined for a low level administration career but I do remember at the time a romantic notion of being a travel writer.
BoardroomMum Tell us more about maiden-voyage
Carolyn Pearson Maiden-voyage.com is a private social network through which professional women can connect whilst they are travelling on business as an alternative to that all too familiar and boring ‘table for one’ scenario. We have a team of ambassadors around the world that you can contact for top tips, ideas, find out the place to avoid and if you are lucky they may well meet you for coffee to help to get you orientated. One of our most popular features of the site is our recommended Female Friendly Hotels. These Hotels have been vetted for adequate security, good guest policies about not announcing room numbers and of course excellent in room products such as good quality hairdryers and decent toiletries. Our partner hotels also give our members special privileges such as upgrades or spa treatments.
BoardroomMum Where did the idea for maiden-voyage.com come from?
Carolyn Pearson I was lucky enough to be on a business trip to Hollywood and extended the trip to have a weekend of ‘me time’. It was fabulous during the day but dinner for one in LA is such a missed opportunity. So I decided to create a network to fulfil a need to connect with like-minded women and share the experience of being in a new city. I was super lucky, the press picked up on it pretty much overnight and thanks to CNN and the New York Times, I had a quick ‘lift off’. We now have over 7000 members in over 60 countries.
BoardroomMum What is it like being CEO of your own business?
Carolyn Pearson The boss is tougher than any other I have had before! I do work extremely hard and find it difficult to ever switch off. However I am a person who craves variety; routine kills me, so the flexibility of what I do and where and when I work completely suits my nature.
BoardroomMum What have been the main challenges?
Carolyn Pearson Learning to sell was my number one challenge. I never had a problem selling my skills in corporate life, at interviews, to get a promotion or as a consultant but trying to sell a product that I created from scratch was a whole different ball game. Coming from a big corporate package you soon learn that if you don’t sell you won’t pay the bills, let alone live in the manner to which you have become accustomed!
BoardroomMum What have been the main highlights?
Carolyn Pearson Maiden-voyage.com has been my ‘golden ticket’ and afforded me the most wonderful opportunities. A normal day for me is quite often to wiz around Paris or Amsterdam meeting hotel managers and inspecting the hotels, this feeds my pure love of travel. I now have regular travel writing slots for various magazines and blogs and even now I get such a buzz when somebody like the Economist, Mintel or Cosmopolitan writes about maiden-voyage.com. I can’t help thinking “they wrote that and it’s only little old me”!
BoardroomMum Has the site won any awards and been recognised?
Carolyn Pearson We’ve won numerous awards but the most exciting one was the Business Travel Show Innovation Awards. We were up for the “Passenger Services” Category but we got so many votes we won the overall awards across all categories too beating big brand names such as Carlson Wagonlit, HRG and American Express Travel.
BoardroomMum Do you have a mentor? Do you mentor others?
I have a few amazing mentors actually and a great network of senior advisers who I sometimes call upon to give me a rounded view of a problem/solution. I also have a small peer group of other women entrepreneurs, great for bouncing ideas off, accountability partners, wing-women and sometimes just someone to give you a back rub when you lose your way.
I’ve always mentored other women and occasionally men both in corporate life and through organisations such as MentorSET – for women in Science, Engineering and Technology. Now I am working with a couple of interns who I also mentor in return.
BoardroomMum What can we do for more women to reach these levels/fulfil their potential?
We have to champion sparky talent that we come across. In my last corporate role two women asked me if I would mentor them and I leapt at the chance. It might be that they are struggling with their line manager or looking for their next role which may be in another company so making sure that they know that the conversations are confidential and that they can trust you is paramount.
IT is typically very male dominated and in the past I’ve coached my female reports on how to succeed and get noticed in ‘the boys club’/senior leadership team. It’s so rewarding to hear back how they got a great appraisal or promotion just by implementing a few tactics and improving their visibility.
BoardroomMum What needs to be done for more women to consider technology as a career option?
There’s still a perception that technology is nerdy and boring but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s all about the industry you chose to work in. I love getting out and telling my story about working on the IT side of a TV programme or working in an office overlooking the airport runway, not to mention the perks! So women who do have an exciting career in technology should get out to careers days at schools and universities and inspire women to consider a technology career.
BoardroomMum Do you believe quotas are a positive development?
I’m not a fan of quotas and many will have more eloquently made the point about being selected on merit irrespective of sex, so I won’t labour that one. It is true that that companies with a balanced board perform better and I would love to see a fund created for companies with 40% or more women on the board. I’d invest in that!
BoardroomMum Any tips or recommendations for other women out there who wish to pursue their career ambitions and aspirations?
Carolyn Pearson Don’t wait until you know all the facts, jump in and try something, find out if it’s for you. If you are going to seek advice as to whether you should follow a particular path, be very careful to bounce ideas of those people who will come up with ‘reasons why you can’ rather than those who tell you ‘reasons why you can’t’ and seize opportunities. You may have to take a sideways or backwards step to get to where you want to be but that’s OK too. If you do something you love, you will automatically be good at it and the money and recognition will follow.
BoardroomMum Looking back over your career would you have done anything differently?
No, I honestly don’t think I would, I feel blessed by how it’s turned out so far.
BoardroomMum What are your plans personally and professionally?
Carolyn Pearson Travel is the theme for both. I have a burning desire to celebrate a significant birthday with at trip to Tahiti and professionally I am focused on the further expansion of maiden-voyage.com, particularly in the USA, China and India.
BoardroomMum Thank you Carolyn. We wish you every continued success with maiden-voyage.