International Women’s Day – Meet 13 inspiring figures from the West Midlands’ business community


Dating back more than a century, International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8.

It recognises the work of inspirational women across the world and underpins a movement campaigning for gender balance and social change.

The UK business community is no stranger to criticism over its lack of gender balance in boardrooms up and down the country, from the smallest enterprises to the largest corporations.

In this article, the West Midlands team on BusinessLive profiles some of the most prominent businesswomen from across the region, from self-made millionaires to senior executives in some of the country’s most famous companies.

Left someone out? Why not let us know in the comments section at the bottom.

Fiona Allan – Birmingham Hippodrome

Fiona Allan became chief executive and artistic director of Birmingham Hippodrome theatre in 2015, moving from Leicester’s renowned Curve theatre, where she oversaw the development of a daytime programme of free performances and workshops. Unlike many venues of its ilk, the Hippodrome is entirely independent and receives no public funding.

Last year, she was also appointed by the West Midlands Growth Company to be chairwoman of its Regional Board for Tourism and is overseeing delivery of a £1 billion tourism strategy which launched in September.

Fiona Allan took over as chief executive of Birmingham’s renowned Hippodrome theatre in 2015

Louise Bennett – Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce

Louise Bennett has been chief executive of Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber since 2003 and was awarded an OBE for services to enterprise in 2007. She has a strong interest in youth entrepreneurship and has led the Midlands Young Persons Centre of Expertise for Youth Enterprise.

She began her career in retail before moving into healthcare and is a qualified counsellor and physiotherapist and a qualified Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development practitioner. She is also an approved foster carer and was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of the West Midlands in 2014.

Emma Bridgewater

Pottery designer Emma Bridgewater’s colourful patterns are well known up and down the country. But her decision to base her eponymous business in Stoke-on-Trent has played a major part in helping to revive the fortunes of the city’s ceramics industry.

Emma set up the pottery company in 1985 alongside her husband Matthew Rice. Outside of the business, she is president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and also a patron of the Heritage Crafts Association. She is also the architect of the annual Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival.

Denise Coates – bet365

Billionaire businesswoman Denise Coates is the founder and joint chief executive of the bet365 online gambling operation – Stoke-on-Trent’s largest private-sector employer. She has often been referred to as the UK’s most successful businesswoman with an estimated fortune of almost £10 billion.

In 2012, she set up a charity – now called the Denise Coates Foundation – focusing on education, community and medical research and was awarded a CBE. Denise is part of the wider Coates family, which includes her brother John and her Stoke-on-Trent born father Peter, who is chairman of Stoke City FC.

Laura Cohen – British Ceramics Confederation

Laura Cohen was appointed chief executive of the British Ceramic Confederation, the trade association for the UK ceramic manufacturing industry, in 2009. She chairs the Energy Intensive Users’ Group, is a member of the CBI Trade Association Council and a life member of the Council of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce.

She is also a member of Cerame-Unie (European Trade Association) Directors’ committee and chairs their Environment committee. Laura, who has worked in manufacturing for more than 30 years, was awarded an MBE in 2015 in recognition of her services to the ceramics industry.

Sarah Cooper-Jones – NatWest

In a career spanning three decades with NatWest/RBS, Sarah Cooper-Jones has undertaken a number of senior leadership roles with global and UK remits based in London, Manchester and Birmingham. In 2003, she changed career direction from banking to human resources, working in strategic partnership with the bank’s executives across senior boards in head of HR positions.

In 2016, she returned to banking as regional director for corporate and commercial banking in the West Midlands, responsible for around 3,000 customers starting at £2 million turnover to large corporates. Last year, she was named advocate of the year at the 2019 Women in Finance Awards in London.

Sarah Cooper-Jones has enjoyed a lengthy career with the RBS Group
Sarah Cooper-Jones has enjoyed a lengthy career with the RBS Group

Yetunde Dania – Trowers & Hamlins

Yetunde Dania took over the running of law firm Trowers & Hamlins’ Birmingham office at the turn of the year, succeeding Amardeep Gill after four years in the role. She has spent eight years with T&H and helped to set up the Birmingham base with her fellow partner Rebecca McGuirk in 2011.

A property specialist, she has 25 years of experience advising on residential landlord and tenant disputes and non-contentious matters with a particular focus on representing social housing sector and private sector landlords.

She is also on the advisory board of Common Purpose and the Care Leavers Covenant and is passionate about increasing the diversity and inclusion of the legal profession. Last year, she was named Lawyer of the Year by Birmingham Black Lawyers.

Liv Garfield – Severn Trent

Liv Garfield has been chief executive of Coventry-based Severn Trent Water since 2014. She joined BT Group in 2002 and held a number of senior roles including group director of strategy and regulation, managing director of commercial and brands and chief executive of BT’s Openreach business.

While there, she oversaw the £2.5 million rollout of fibre broadband to two-thirds of the UK. At 38, she was the youngest female chief executive of a FTSE company and listed at number ten in Fortune Magazine’s hottest rising business stars. A Cambridge graduate, she resigned from the board of Tesco in 2015 to concentrate on her Severn Trent role.

Linda Jackson – Citroën

Linda Jackson is the chief executive of French car firm Citroën and is acknowledged as one of the most powerful figures in the global automotive industry. Last year, she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Institute of the Motor Industry and in 2018 was given the Sue Brownson Award in recognition of outstanding leadership in the automotive sector.

Originally from Coventry, she began working her first job in the auto industry in a temporary position as an accounting clerk at Jaguar in 1977 and went on to hold several positions at Rover. She joined Coventry-based Citroën UK in 2005 as finance director and became managing director of Citroën UK and Ireland five years later before taking on the global CEO role in June 2014.

She is the first English woman, and only the third woman ever, to run a major car company.

Coventry native Linda Jackson is only the third woman ever to run a major car manufacturer
Coventry native Linda Jackson is only the third woman ever to run a major car manufacturer

Carol Shanahan – Synectics Solutions and Port Vale FC

Carol Shanahan set up fintech company Synectics Solutions almost 30 years ago with her husband Kevin – a company which employs almost 400 people in Stoke-on-Trent.

Since then she has gone on to establish a catering and hospitality business, called Summit Hospitality, and The Hubb Foundation charity which supports school children and their families across North Staffordshire during the school holidays. In May last year, Carol finally sealed the deal to buy Port Vale FC and now sits on the board of directors as chairwoman and co-owner.

Katie Trout – Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP

Katie has worked for Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership since its inception in May 2011, initially as an executive manager and then as its director for the past four years. Her role sees her being responsible for the day-to-day operational management of the LEP, liaising with senior figures in business, politics and civic leadership to promote the West Midlands as a place to invest.

Before joining the public/private body, she was executive assistant to the chief executive of Birmingham City Council and before that a cabinet support officer. She has a masters degree in history from the University of Edinburgh.

Jane Whitlock – Deloitte

Jane was appointed Midlands practice senior partner for Big Four financial services firm Deloitte in November 2018, taking over from Pauline Biddle after almost four years in the post. An assurance and advisory partner, she is in charge of both of the firm’s offices in the region, a payroll encompassing almost 1,000 staff in Birmingham and Nottingham combined.

She had previously led Deloitte’s audit practice in the Midlands and advises listed and multinational corporations as well as smaller, privately owned and private-equity backed businesses. Her career with the firm spans almost three decades and she was promoted to partner in 2004, specialising in energy, utilities and consumer business and counting big-name clients such as National Grid, Boots and Severn Trent on her roster.

Jane Whitlock (left) took over as senior partner for Deloitte's Midlands practice from Pauline Biddle in 2018
Jane Whitlock (left) took over as senior partner for Deloitte’s Midlands practice from Pauline Biddle in 2018

Sara Williams – Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce

Sara Williams was appointed chief executive of the North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce in November 2011 and oversaw the creation of the Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce. Prior to her role in Staffordshire, she was director of enterprise development at St Helens Chamber.

She has also worked in marketing, community development and in museums and galleries. Sara has a wealth of experience of working with the private sector to develop services in response to their needs as well as representing and lobbying on behalf of the county’s businesses. She is also a board member of the Soke-on-Trent City Centre Business Improvement District.d

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