Board Talk: Building your top team – Carolyn Pearson’s story

22 Feb, 2018

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Board and mentors makes business plain sailing for female travel network

Three layers of leadership have kept travel network Maiden Voyage on course for the past ten years.

Founder Carolyn Pearson’s board of two is backed up by a leadership team and a huge group of trusted mentors, though future ambitions may see others embarking on her business journey in the future.

“We started off small and it’s not gone much bigger but I’ve got the benefit of a massive group of external mentors from large organisations I can tap into as opposed to giving them decision-making power,” Pearson says. “That’s worked for us because I know they’ve got my best personal interests at heart because they’re not looking to make a fast return.”

Leeds-based Pearson set up the network for female business travellers after finding herself on a lonely business trip to LA. Today, 12,000 women from 100 countries are registered with the network, which allows them to connect with other travellers to swap room service for sightseeing and meals out.

The website also offers e-learning modules on safe travel and guides on women-friendly hotels and destinations, and there are 80 ambassadors around the world offering advice to travellers.

The business took £500,000 in investment in 2016 from business angel Tony Rice, who joined the business as chairman. A finance manager was later replaced by a finance director as Pearson realised she needed more strategic input to scale the business, and they are also backed up by other senior leaders.

There have also been advisers offering input and Pearson has found she has not had to look far to bring people on board.

“We’re well connected and we’ve got a great brand within the industry so I find I can reach out to somebody and say ‘can we meet for a coffee’ and 99 per cent of the time they say yes,” she says.

One mentor came on board after she was shortlisted for an award and offers a challenging sounding board while Rice approached  Pearson after hearing her speak at an event at Cranfield University.

Before the investment, Pearson says she was living ‘hand-to-mouth’ and having the money and Rice’s input meant she could concentrate on projects that took longer to complete but offered larger returns. There was also the chance to build up a team and share out the workload, and that meant looking at her own abilities.

“My skills don’t lend themselves to detail. I’m a blue-sky inventor, so we brought in a detail-orientated operations manager to cross every I and dot every T,” she says.

Gender split

The board and leadership team are almost fairly evenly split between men and women, which Pearson believes brings a different perspective.

“It’s very stereotypical to say that guys are better at finance but I like the dynamic that our finance director brings to us,” she says. “When he’s talking numbers it’s a weight off my mind. I can be quite emotional because the business is mine, but if something’s not going quite the way I want it to, the chairman is a lot more relaxed about it because he’s got a lot more years under his belt in business.”

Maiden Voyage is currently in scale-up mode with big new clients in the pipeline and the potential to grow its hotel database 50-fold during 2018.

“We’ll probably need experts in the hotel industry and in sales joining us going forwards and I’m toying with the idea of setting up an advisory board,” Pearson says. “The challenge is that we’re Leeds-based and the kind of people we would want are in London so the question would be how we do that.”

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