WOMEN IN BUSINESS – Karen Skerratt and Kim Glover
Written and photographed by Joff Alexander-Frye
There is an old adage that says ‘before you judge a man, you must walk a mile in his shoes’.
So, when I recently sat down with Karen Skerratt (Owner of Exeter Gin) and Kim Glover (Founder of the Exeter PA Network and Executive P.A to the Managing Partner of Michelmores LLP) I was interested to discuss their morning walks that I had started to see pop up on LinkedIn, as well as their burgeoning working relationship and friendship.
Little did I know that I was in for an hour of laughter and inspiration and that I was also going to make myself two new friends!
Good afternoon Karen and Kim. Thank you so much for your time and for agreeing to meet with me. I’d love to find out a little more about both of your backgrounds but, first Karen, tell me about these beautiful bottles of gin in front of us?
Yes, these are three of our gins, our original Exeter Gin, Granny Garbutt’s (inspired and named after my Granny) and our new Ivaar the Boneless (described as Navy strength at 57% proof). We are in the process of re-designing some of the labels and we’re incredibly excited to announce that Waitrose have just agreed to stock some of our range, which is fantastic. It has been such a fast-paced, exciting and positive journey since we launched just 8 months ago and we’re just trying to keep up with the demand and positive reception from our growing customer base.
I think Grow Exeter and Exeter Gin started at around the same time. Very exciting indeed! Tell me a little about your background and how you came to start Exeter Gin then?
I grew up in the North-East of England and did the usual office jobs early in my career. We moved to the South West due to my parents buying a hotel and I stayed here into my adulthood and got married. When that relationship broke down, I decided to focus my attention on studying for a two-year business qualification, after which I went on to achieve a degree in Law and Politics. I should have focused on my studies much earlier really, but better to do it eventually than not at all. At this point I had a very young daughter who contracted a rare bone condition called Perthes Disease which meant that she was confined to a wheelchair for several years.
It sounds like a hugely testing and character-building time in your life?
I was recounting to Kim on the way to meet you that I remember giving talks to younger students at University and my daughter being with me in her wheelchair, on her prescription drugs whilst I lectured and did Q&A sessions. It’s crazy to look back at those times really. I was determined not to fail and to prove to myself that I could improve both my life and my daughter’s.
That’s profound Karen. How did you stay focused and keep going?
I had no choice really. It was just the two of us and I was willing to do whatever it took to turn what had been a very negative end to my marriage into a more positive future for us both. I moved quickly into business banking for a short time before getting a job working for the Yellow Pages where I ended up being recognised nationally for my success in my role. I earned a lot of money and learned a huge amount in my ten years there. I have been involved in a variety of successful ventures since then, particularly on a consultancy basis for various commercial landowners. I worked closely with the Guildhall Shopping Centre for five years in 2012, including being a judge for ‘Find A Foodie’ when the centre was recently renovated.
I also ran Exeter Innovations Market, established Exeter Street Food events and, more recently, ran a Gin Palace in Bath and Exeter where we had 100 Gins available. This is where people started asking for bottles of Gin and, after working out that it was very difficult to turn a profit when buying and selling other people’s gin, I decided I might as well make my own! I’m a firm believer that you are your only real obstacle; the only person or thing that can actually stop you from doing anything. So, I took the plunge and started Exeter Gin!
Fascinating stuff Karen. What a journey! And how about you Kim, talk me through your story?
Well, my story is a lot more straightforward! I was born and raised in Exeter although I also lived in Bahrain for some of my upbringing due to my Dad’s job in construction. After school I went to college to study A-Levels but left after about a year as I didn’t get on with it. I went and got a short-term job and returned to college later to gain a secretarial qualification which I then used to get a role in the motor trade locally. After a few years doing that, I had a workplace issue which I needed to take some legal advice on and a friend suggested I go to Michelmores as her daughter worked there.
It was during this process of receiving legal advice that my friend’s daughter suggested to her boss that he interview me for their secretarial vacancy, which he did and I was successful in securing. And I’ve been there for 22 years now! I’ve always worked for Malcolm [Dickinson, Managing Partner of Michelmores] and have journeyed with him throughout his progression in the firm. When I joined the firm, Malcolm and I were the only members of the Company Commercial team but, as the team grew and more secretarial staff joined, I oversaw them, to the point that I became Head of Secretarial Services for the whole firm, managing eighty P.As in total across our three main offices.
Malcolm has been incredibly good to me over the years; from supporting me whilst I dealt with my partner being badly injured at work (and some lengthy litigation afterwards) to allowing me the freedom and time to set up the Exeter PA Network. He has been an amazing boss and mentor.
So, tell me a little more about the PA Network?
Well, we are a professional networking group that exists to support admin support professionals from any organisation. We offer them tailored training, advice and networking opportunities that they might not have been given before. Essentially our aim is to make our members the best that they can be in their roles. It has grown steadily over the last few years and I’m excited to see what will continue to happen with it as I leave my role at Michelmores at the end of May.
I’ll be focusing on growing the PA Network as well as working on a private property investment portfolio with my business partner and also exploring what working together with Karen might look like.
Ooh, very exciting! Could you tell me a little more about how you both met and what the future holds for you?
KAREN: Yes, we met about 9 months ago at an event at the Exeter Golf & Country Club. Kim had been given a gin tasting experience as a present and guess who was providing the gin? Me of course!
We hit it off instantly and have become best friends since. In fact, Kim has recently told me that, in her younger days, she was given the nickname ‘Gin Glover’ due to her love of all things gin-related. I suppose our friendship was always meant to be!
Because of my background and life experience, I value trust incredibly highly. It’s so nice to have met someone that I know deep down I can trust and work closely with. Having someone that you know will be completely honest with you (even if it isn’t what you want to hear) is vital in business. Kim is that person to me and I’m very thankful for her.
We’ve got some offices that we have recently signed for in Teignmouth which we will utilise together. At first, we’ll both hot-desk from there as we’re keen to mix with like-minded people to explore some ideas and collaborations. There’s nothing quite like working in a relaxed environment with a variety of different people who are knowledgeable or skilled in different areas. I think that’s where really exciting projects start.
Is that at all related to your joint morning walks that I’ve been seeing on LinkedIn recently?
KAREN: Not directly but that could well be one by-product of opening a collaborative working space in the town, yes.
KIM: Our morning walks have been so much fun and so productive too. We meet at 6am ready for a one-hour walk and we love the sea air and the sea views. I’ve found that, after the walk, I feel energised and get so much more done; not least because I’ve set out my goals for the day and I know that Karen will hold me to account for achieving them on our nest day’s walk!
KAREN: We talk about the day ahead, our aspirations for the future, challenges we are facing and how we might overcome them. We end up helping each other to work out where we should be focusing our energy and attention. It’s like we can walk off any stress or anxiety that we’ve woken up with before the working day has begun. I’ve found it a very liberating experience.
KIM: Me too. I can’t imagine starting my day any other way now!
It seems that, even though you’ve only known each other a relatively short amount of time, that your connection and friendship is very strong?
KAREN: Yes. I truly believe that, both personally and professionally, you choose who to go into battle with and I’d choose Kim any day of the week! She is very supportive, positive and kind and kindness is a real strength, not a weakness.
KIM: It feels like a real partnership. I’m very excited to see how things develop in the coming months.
Me too and I, along with the team at Grow Exeter, wish you all the best as you explore your friendship, existing business ventures and future business dreams in more depth. Thank you both for your time. Anyone for a G&T ?
To keep up to date with Karen and Kim’s adventures, follow them on Twitter @Exeter_Gin , @ExeterPANetwork and @KimGlover16 .