SpiritSmith's Owner, Pippa, on Finding her New Super Power
September 15, 20236 min read
SpiritSmith's Owner, Pippa, on Finding her New Super Power
Philippa, our owner and founder talks about a big change in career direction and how she has needed to find her new superpowers.
I am used to being the only girl in the room. At school I loved Maths and Physics. I was your top nerd! I loved applying these subjects even more and it was a straight forward decision for me to follow a career in engineering. So all through my degree I was the only girl, and almost all the way through my career until recently too.
I started my career as a project engineer, designing and commissioning equipment for the food and confectionary industry. I designed equipment for the likes of Cadbury, Mars and Thorntons. My main claim to fame is that my first project was to design the machine for George Romney’s Kendal mint cake. A story I bore my kids with on every possible occasion that we head to a gift shop in that neck of the woods.
If engineering wasn’t male dominated enough, I then moved on to work for Ardmac, an Irish company wanting to increase their brand in the UK construction sector. I worked as a technical sales engineer for their pharmaceutical division and I thrived there. I devised my own strategy and used to gain exposure for the company by delivering knowledge share technical presentations to their clients engineering and architectural departments.
You’d see a lot of the engineers in the room switch off when I walked in, obviously assuming I was in marketing and it was going to be a sales pitch. However, when I started my presentation, you’d see their body language change, they realised I might just know what I was on about and they would sit a bit straighter in their chairs and listen and learn. It used to amuse me and I never took it to heart. It was like a little hidden superpower and made me memorable. By the end of it you could see them being relaxed in asking questions, knowing I was just really one of them, a geek, just in a skirt. Some of these people are now really great friends.
Things were going great with Ardmac and I was thrilled when the CEO spoke to me about expanding my role to look after the whole of Europe. It was the opportunity I had dreamed of and worked so very hard towards. However, it came with a very large, deal breaking ‘but’. It meant I would have to be away from my family 2 to 3 nights a week.
Luckily, I had the sense to remember a particular incident when my daughter was young. I had been away for two nights and I was so excited to get home to see her. I had it all worked out. My meeting would finish at 2pm, I would be able to pick Harriet up at 4pm, give her tea, have 2 hours of playing at the park and then be able to read her a story and put her to bed, my favourite part of the day.
Unfortunately, the M6 had other ideas. I came to a standstill. I got off the motorway at the nearest possible junction, but all the side roads had snarled up too. My sat nav told me I’d be home for 6pm, I’d missed picking her up from nursery. Body blow, but its ok, as long as I’m home to spend some time with her before bed. The sat nav then jumped to 7pm, then 8, then 9pm.
And that is when I had what can only be described as a ‘major meltdown’.
I pulled my car over, silent tears were pouring down my face, I was struggling to breath, and I sat like that for an hour unable to move. I genuinely couldn’t think how I was possibly going to get home and was considering ringing a member of my family to tell them they needed to come and collect me. I didn’t realise at the time but in hindsight, it was a panic attack induced by a lack of control and an urgent need to be with my family.
Getting home for bedtime was a non-negotiable. I had to say no to the best career opportunity I had ever been given.
I stand by the decision I made, but nevertheless it left me with a considerable amount of dissatisfaction. I had declined the job I dreamed of and I felt like I was letting down the 18 year old geeky girl, with all the big plans. I had so much respect for the CEO and the company, but I’d provided myself with a self-induced career plateau.
So, I set up a side hustle and here arrived SpiritSmith. I had seen first hand a lot of corporate gifting, and on the whole, it was done pretty terribly by most companies. I used to put my own gifts together for my clients, because I knew them well enough to send them a gift I knew they’d appreciate and for the gifts to land when they’d most appreciate them too.
Most customer facing employees understand the value of building relationships and the best customers become friends. So why do we gift so differently to them than we would our friends and family. I knew there was a market gap.
SpiritSmith was brilliant for my mindset. It challenged me and scratched the itch of dissatisfaction I was feeling.
Being the risk averse engineer type I am, I hedged my bets for a while. A toe in each camp, playing it safe until … In October 2022, I pulled up my big girl pants, hung up my hard hat, boxed up my steel toe cap shoes and made the jump to live and breathe SpiritSmith full time.
Now, I may have worked in construction too long, so pardon the phrase but I was ‘bricking it’.
Comfort Zone – gone
My engineering knowledge as power – gone
Girl in a boys world niche - gone
I threw myself in to learning. I love to learn and you will see me at any seminar opportunity where I can pick up knowledge from inspirational people around me. I watch every instructional you tube video. Knowledge is power and in this challenging new industry, I needed to pedal fast and learn quick.
Things were going ok, but I had these ever intrusive voices. ‘What the hell are you doing this for?’, “Are you sure this is the right move?”, “Have you got what it takes Philippa?” and the loudest, clearest voice “You’re an engineer Phil, what are you doing not using that in your career”
Then came a well-timed call from the glorious, Karen Tems of business network central east Lancashire. She had been asked to call me by a friend of a very good friend. I was heading South after delivering hampers up in Edinburgh and Karen rang and invited me to their Christmas gathering ‘Sparkle party’. Well bloody hell, if my comfort zone wasn’t gone before, it was now. 120 inspiring business owners all nattering away. The noise in the room!! I wanted to hide, but I wasn’t allowed to. I soon realised that every person in that room felt like they were willing me on. I looked a bit nervous so they opened up their conversations to me and asked me supportive questions. People were genuinely interested in my business and I very quickly got the vibe that everyone I met wanted me to succeed. I describe networking (in the right groups) as a hug with a gentle but firm nudge in the right direction (credit Pam Allen of NetworkIn)
We have a little saying and its up on the wall in our office and I now hand out postcards with a little message on for whoever needs to hear it. ‘What if I fall? Oh but my darling, what if you fly?’
If you know someone who suffers from these intrusive voices (gremlins in their brain) but you know that person is great, let me know and I’ll send them a postcard on your behalf or I’ll pass you one next time I see you. We all need to have each other’s back.
So no pressure guys, but my network is my new superpower. So if you’re reading this, thank you for being that support, friendship and for being so bloody inspiring that you make those horrible gremlins so much quieter.
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