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Saying thank you.

Wonderful Kerners, after a short hiatus, I’m delighted to announce that we’re officially BACK! And what better day to come out of our brief hibernation.

Before we crack on with reigniting the KTG whirlwind, I just wanted to take a pause on this International Women’s Day, about saying thank you. And this is something of a personal blog. As a very special thank you to someone.

Penny Keetch was the first woman boss of mine that I ever remember identifying with. She was the Marketing Director of the group of newspapers that I was a field sales rep for, and she took a punt on me to be the promotions manager for 5 newspapers when I was just 24. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but threw myself into it with trademark gusto, encouraged by a woman who had nothing but utter faith that I could do a knock-out job.

And so, two years of Baby-of-the-Year-Santa-Roadshow-village-fete madness began. If there was a calendar event, no matter how spurious, we’d find a way to make it sell papers. Honestly, I can still barely look at a donut (national donut day, anyone?).

I’d had a couple of women bosses before, but all they had taught me was the kind of woman in leadership I never wanted to be. Competitive with other women, and channelling the behaviours of the men they’d had to beat to get to their positions, I’d admired their achievement, but just couldn’t see myself in them.

Penny was different. Warm, kind, human and funny, she showed me that you could be a normal person and still hold a room with your presence. Having gained her marketing MA after having her family, and raising them on her own, Penny proved that there was nothing a motivated woman couldn’t achieve. And far from stepping on anyone to get there, she had brought everyone she met on the journey with her. As such, I wanted to learn all I could from her, and she became my first mentor.

Sure, like ungrateful wretches, we her team of 20-somethings thought we knew better than her or anyone else in authority – and she never, ever corrected us. Just steered us to our best, and let us believe we were invincible. Championed the best ideas with everything she had, and gently let the rubbish ones wither. Our confidence and careers remained firmly intact, she built a team that all went on to senior leadership roles, and are still friends some 15 years later.

But above all things, Penny taught me that you could be a friend anda leader. She seemed to find bottomless amounts of time for each of us, and I adored her company. Even when I packed up my belonging into a hanky and headed off to the bright lights of London, she was my number one cheerleader, and remained a champion of my career and achievements.

Penny was diagnosed with a brain tumour last summer. Whilst it slowly ravaged her short-term memory, she somehow managed to save a precious fragment to remember that I was interviewing for my first CEO role, swelling with pride and hungry for every update.

I received the news of her passing as I was getting dressed for the big, big presentation interview. I sat on the bed with only 12 minutes to process it before I had to run for the train, and wracked with sadness searched for something to get me back on my feet. In the quiet I heard only a singular, familiar voice saying to me “you’d better pull yourself together, girl. You’ve got a job to go get”.

I’m not sure how I compartmentalised the crushing loss that morning, but I do know I was determined not to let her down.

This IWD, I encourage you to reach out to your own mentors. Let them know how they’ve changed you, what they’ve taught you, and how grateful you are to them for all that they’ve given you. This is my thank you to Penny’s family, David, Amy and Matt, for sharing some of the precious time she had on this earth with me. I want you to know how much it mattered.

And to Penny – somewhere, somehow, I just feel you know that I only bloody went and got that job. What you might not have known is that I quite literally couldn’t have done any of it without you.

For Penny. My Boss. My Mentor. My friend x

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