It was just a chance encounter over a bottle of bubbly, but it changed my job and my life.
“We’re on our last bottle of bubbly,” said the waiter, “and two tables ordered at the same time. I don’t know who to give it to as you’re both regulars.” Who is the other table, I asked the waiter, as I was getting ready to argue for my bottle of bubbly. I turned in the direction the waiter was pointing, and my life turned upside down. If you were looking at us on that day, you would have noticed the fight leave our bodies the minute we locked eyes.
She was the most stylish woman in the place, and she had the most amazing vibe about her. I was instantly intrigued by her and she later said the same about me. We joined tables, shared the bottle and got chatting. M was the head of the very successful non-fiction imprint of the biggest local publisher. After chatting to me, she said you should not be wasting your time with meaningless jobs, you are capable of so much more.
After three years of being in the wrong profession, I had walked out of a public sector job. I took jobs in reception and office admin just to keep myself alive, and that’s where M found me. Drifting aimlessly. She went on to tell me she had promoted her PA to typesetter. She would be needing a new PA, and I should apply. Spoiler alert, I was the strongest candidate and the panel appointed me. Once I worked with M, I realised she had a higher staff turnover than other imprints.But it was not because she was a “Devil wears Prada” type. She was all about upskilling and promoting people. Her team consisted mostly of women.
The singer Edith Piaf famously said: “When you reach the top, you should remember to send the elevator back down for the others.” M is the embodiment of this. We went on to become really good friends. She is, for want of a better word, my “shero”. When she appointed me, she not only doubled my salary but immediately put me in the pipeline for courses and upskilling. She recognised my flair for languages and communication, as reflected in my aptitude tests and the testimonial from my headmaster.
By the time I was headhunted for the magazine industry years later, M had promoted me three times. Being in her team set me up to hold my own in the publishing industry. She was at the top and she sent the elevator back down for every member of her team.
Nearly 13 years later, it is still the most positive and supportive team I’ve ever had the privilege of working in. M is an incredibly hard-working leader. Her passion for her work and the people she leads is incomparable. She’s the kind of leader who makes you want to come to work. She is always on the hunt for opportunities for her team and anyone who catches her attention. Her famous line – “I was thinking…” – inevitably leads to you being enrolled in a course, or trying something new to prepare for the next step on the ladder. M singlehandedly got me on the career path I should’ve been on since I left school. She is the type of manager I wish everyone has at least once in their lives. She struggled and fought her way through a conservative, male-dominated world, smashing the glass ceiling with her size 5 designer slingbacks.
She started her career in the late ‘80s, when the patriarchy was in full bloom. She saw what was not right and not just, and decided to do something about it. Imagine having to do daily battle with the Ooms in grey suits in the heart of the Nationalist beast, who see you as nothing more than eye candy. Imagine having to deal with a mediocre husband who leaves you and his young son as soon as you become too successful for his liking. My heroine is a trailblazer.
She fought her way to the top and instinctively knew to send the elevator down for the rest of her sisters. And for that M, my forever hero, I salute you.