Jan Ward CBE of Energy and Utility Skills
Jan Ward CBE, the chair of employer-led membership organisation Energy & Utility Skills, charts her career so far and reveals her top tips for aspiring business leaders.
What is it the company does?
Energy & Utility Skills is the expert voice on workforce issues in the energy and utilities sector across the UK. It works with governments, regulators and key audiences and is the provider of choice for guidance, employer solutions, setting, registering and assessing competency standards and bespoke consultancy. It also helps employers attract new talent, develop their workforces and assure a high level of competence across their businesses.
What does your role involve?
I am the chair of the board of three executives and six non-executives. I was appointed in August 2016.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
At 19, I started the first of a three module course in international trade on a government scheme for the unemployed. The following year I started working in telesales with an export company while I completed the course and went on to a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering in 1984.
In 1992 I founded Corrotherm International, a supplier of high-grade metals. Since 2002 I have acted in advisory capacities to various Government departments. In 2014 I received a CBE for services to business and was named the Institute of Directors’ Global Director of the Year.
In 2015 I was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Engineering by Southampton Solent University. Throughout my career I’ve not really looked to move on as such. Some good opportunities have come my way and I have accepted them.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
First and foremost lead by example, make sure you are seen to comply with the standards you’ve set for the company, and you should never be too important to make the tea.
Communication is key, it’s important to stay in touch with every tier of your team and make sure that they are clear on the company’s values and objectives.
If you want to retain your people you must live your values and not just pay lip service to what you say your values are. Be collegiate, but be decisive.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
My biggest challenge is always to reign in my impatience to get things done. As a non-exec you are there to support and advise, but decisions and actions are for the executive. It’s been a character building exercise for me to be “hands off.”
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I rarely find work stressful. More days in a week would be helpful, but I enjoy a challenge and find I am at my best when under pressure. The worst stress for me is boredom. However I do think it’s extremely important to take time for contemplation and quiet. My best ideas usually come on a plane or train.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wasn’t sure. I had no role models to aspire to. I found inspiration within my own family. My oldest sister was a lorry driver. I grew up hearing that my mother worked in factories during World War II. I loved travel and working with tools. As a child, I wanted to do metalwork at school, not cookery.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I really dislike untidiness. I think it reflects very badly on an organisation if the workplace is untidy and disordered and I find it difficult to settle into a job if I’m surrounded by mess. If it’s untidy I tidy it up. Easy resolved.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I see Energy and Utility Skills in a very good place in five years’ time. Since 2012, we have not been dependant on government funding. We have a number of plans that will see us grow and expand our service offering. With the current government infrastructure plan the sector has a massive role to play is in need of the support we give. This is important to the UK as a whole and I see us playing an important part in that.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Be aware that you will only make it if you are prepared to 100% all the time. Always be fair and be decisive. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Don’t be impatient for results, often you need to let things evolve. Be determined but recognise when something isn’t working and act.