Julia Kitchen talks to brand ambassador Trudy Martin about the workplace industry, portfolio careers, working wardrobes and wedding dresses
Julia How did we first meet?
Trudy We met more than ten years ago through Martyn at Colebrook Bosson Saunders. Our first proper opportunity to talk was at one of the Mix north parties in Manchester. We realised we had some common interests and could collaborate and support each other on projects. I instinctively knew we were going to be able to work together.
Julia We certainly knew very early on that we could rely on each other at work and that we had some shared interests. One of the things I wanted to talk to you about today is the working wardrobe. We both like clothes but neither of us have a lot of disposable income to spend on clothes so we both have to be quite creative.
I love seeing you Trudy because I am always interested in what you are wearing. When I worked in conference and banqueting for a big hotel chain, every day I wore a navy blue skirt suit, a cream blouse and navy blue court shoes. It wasn’t prescribed by my employer but it was just what people in that sort of job wore in those days.
I was in my mid twenties but I look back now and think how absolutely boring. The minute that I set up on my own more than twenty years ago I thought I am never ever wearing a navy blue suit again and I never have. I think about what I wear – if I am pitching to a new prospective corporate client obviously I am going to be a little bit more corporate looking than usual but I never go down the navy blue suit route. I think as women of a certain age it is very easy to look dowdy and as if you have had your day and I don’t ever want my clothes to say to people: “I’ve had my day, that’s it now, downhill all the way from here”
Trudy I was very privileged working at CBS for 10 years. The work I was doing put me in front of lots of different audiences right across the industry. I didn’t want to go to work in a suit but I also didn’t feel I could wear jeans and a t-shirt either. There was a middle path – you want everyone in the meeting to feel comfortable, you want to be respectful of your audience but also you want to feel confident and to be able to celebrate your own style.
I invested heavily in going to a personal stylist and she tore my wardrobe apart and pointed me in the right direction. For a good six months I would pop in to see her on a Saturday saying “I’m not buying anything today” but a glass of champagne later I would walk out with several items all of which looked fabulous. She got me. She understood the work I was doing, she knew that I was no longer 21 and that I needed to have a grown-up look that is not exactly sexy but nevertheless celebrating being a woman – not the navy blue suit if you like. All of those basics are in my wardrobe now and I mix them up with items that are a little bit more “high street”. She refocused my eye on clothes in the same way that our eyes are focused on furniture, fabrics etc. She persuaded me to be brave about what I wanted to wear.
Julia I am glad that you sought the help of a stylist and that it was such a successful collaboration. We all have certain skills and the wisdom of experience but we do need help or advice sometimes. With this blog for example I know I can write, I know interesting people in the industry for interviews but what I can’t do is the technical or graphic design side of it so I need to partner with someone for those skills.
For me that is something women are generally better at than men. They are better able to identify what their weaknesses are and what they need help with. Some men would perceive that admission of needing help as weakness whereas for me that is strength
Have I ever told you my story about hiring a purchasing manager?
Trudy No, I don’t think so
Julia For me it showed the difference between men and women at work. In the days when I had a proper job I needed to hire a purchasing manager. It boiled down to a choice between one man and one woman. The whole remit of this position was the ability to negotiate a good deal for the company in all sorts of different arenas. Nothing to choose between these two people – both great, lots of experience, both perfect. I asked them both what sort of salary they were looking for and the woman said £25,000 and the man said £45,000. The salary band for the job was £35,000 – £50,000. She massively undersold herself for that role. I wanted to give her the job but I thought I can’t in all conscience give someone a purchasing job if she can’t even negotiate a good deal for herself. I gave him the job. The woman rang me about two weeks later and asked me why I hadn’t given her the job so I told her. I guess she didn’t make that mistake again.
This story for me summarises the difference in general terms between a man and a woman in the workplace – generally a woman will under sell herself and a man will over sell himself. One of the things I like about being a woman – there are lots of things I like about being a woman, I’d hate to be a man – is that women have so much more freedom and creativity in designing how they look each day. I enjoy thinking about what I’m going to wear, which shoes, which ear-rings etc – for men it is so narrow for them
Trudy There are some beautifully dressed men
Julia Yes, there are. Everyone I meet, man or woman, I always look at what they are wearing – maybe I should have gone into the fashion industry
Trudy I think that you come from a generation where there were limitations – we were not encouraged to be creative or ambitious. These days there is much more freedom. My attitude now is that you can do anything. You might have to work harder than somebody else but you can do whatever you want. Even if it doesn’t work out how you want other doors will open. It is all about the mindset
Julia The university careers officer asked me whether I wanted to be a teacher or a secretary. Thankfully I did not go down either route.
Nowadays Trudy you have what is known as a portfolio career doing different things. Would you like to fill us in on what you are doing?
Trudy I am still coming to terms with it. I spoke to my accountant a couple of weeks ago and he gave me a financial review for my year trading since I left PWC. He said I should be really pleased with how that year has gone given that at the start I wasn’t sure how I was going to establish myself in the marketplace. I had lots of different ideas but wasn’t sure how to move forward
If the client has an interest in having someone like me involved in their business I want it to be very clear on both sides that I can bring value to the table. I want to make sure that I can deliver and that we have a proper understanding of what I will do. Those initial negotiations are often where women won’t talk themselves up. I feel very lucky to have the relationships across the industry that I have as those have helped me enormously
Julia Exciting but frightening
Trudy Overwhelmingly frightening. You think – what is the worst case scenario? You have to eat cheese sandwiches all week and we’ve all had to do that. I have two clients at present – I am still working with Bisley as their brand ambassador and have the pleasure of working with Colebrook Bosson Saunders, again, as brand ambassador
Julia Great job title!
Trudy Yes it is. It is about understanding architects and designers and how they work and what they need to be able to do that work. We need to join up all the dots and ensure we’re getting the right message across and are not wasting people’s time telling them things they already know. The A&D community already know the brand and the reputation of the company. It is about bringing something to the table that helps them do their job
Julia Is this a broadly similar role to what you used to do at CBS?
Trudy Yes – broadly, but at CBS I was a technical consultant with the focus on taking the subject of ergonomics to interior designers and having that conversation with them. That’s really where I cut my teeth. I enjoy collaborating with creative people. I am very lucky things have gone the way they have
Julia Do you think this is a role that sometimes is not valued or recognised by manufacturers and suppliers in the workplace industry?
Trudy I think it is more recognised today. The majority of manufacturers/suppliers have a team or a key person. Newcomers to the role have the opportunity to build their career as part of a business development team. Established ambassadors/A&D consultants offer a wealth of knowledge in their field with an understanding of the market. For me, the focus was always to give good advice, share knowledge and identify solutions
Julia Did you know Christine McKay at Kinnarps?
Julia She was brilliant at the brand ambassador role
Trudy The success of it depends on a person making that role their own and it takes many years to establish your reputation. We live in such a fast-changing environment right now where decision-making is going in all sorts of different directions. It is not just speaking to the architect or designer. It is important to maintain that relationship, keep the education going, share information, respect the work they do and collaborate with them for a good outcome. I’m probably more serious than I should be when delivering the role
Julia Conscientious I think. You’re really good at seeing the way forward and making connections. I’ve seen you in action on that – like a heat-seeking missile, straight to the heart of the matter
Trudy I think it is about understanding the industry
Julia Do you think the industry has changed?
Trudy Yes, just by association with the people who work in our industry – manufacturers, specifiers, FFE specialists, service providers etc – the very important role of the dealership. The younger generation entering the industry – it is constantly evolving. However, fundamentally in order for manufacturers to have the trust and relationship with designers and end user clients – it is about understanding the design process and treating it with respect – working together side by side as a team
Julia Business for me is all about finding people you can work with and who are easy to work with. Business is all about people – the products and services are secondary. To me your role is about making it easy for the design community to work with you.
Did I hear that you were doing BREEAM* stuff as well?
Trudy: Yes. It came about because I saw that there was an underlying block in people’s mindsets about what BREEAM truly entails. If a design team are working on a project and they have a responsibility to their client to attain a standard such as BREEAM then manufacturers have to know whether products comply.
Internal sustainability teams might know but the knowledge doesn’t always go right across the manufacturing organisation. If asked and you hesitate – you will not make the short list as the design team can’t take that risk. It could be something really simple and 99% of the time they are meeting the requirements it just may not be known by those who interact with the design team. It is about defusing this blockage and getting those manufacturers to the point of being able to say confidently “Yes” – and show that they, as a global company, are working to best practice.
Julia BREEAM is another string to your bow – another part of your portfolio career
Trudy I am going to continue with it. I was very happy to be able to work with Long & Partners on BREEAM
Julia Would you say you were looking for other clients?
Trudy I don’t know where my next client will come from or what they will want me to do. You’re probably like me you can walk round Clerkenwell and bump into people you know – which is great. Last week I met someone I hadn’t seen in years – he said can we meet up and talk about what you’re doing
Julia Companies are always looking for good people with experience who they can use on an “as needs” basis as opposed to directly employing – people with experience, good interactive skills, people who are organised and presentable
Trudy I recognise that the range of experience I have across the workplace industry and the arts can help and support companies where they don’t need someone full-time. They might just want to tap into something you have – another piece of the puzzle for them as a business. You bring a different perspective that can influence their way forward. We both, along with other stalwarts in the industry, bring that to the table
Julia I like the idea of being a stalwart
Trudy You need to look at what you know and who you know and steadily build a platform – a platform where you can add value
Julia I think the future of work, the way we will work in the future is all about there being significantly more self-employed people offering different services to different clients – sometimes regularly on a part-time basis, sometimes occasionally.
For companies that is ideal – they can pick and choose which knowledge or expertise they want to tap into but for us, the knowledge providers, it is great because we can work on different things like we do – I’m doing my project management, my workplace consultancy, change management, this blog and the new business Studio 59. I can fit all that around family, social life and travelling. I can take time off and plan my own life without constraints – a good work/life balance – much better than I would have if I were directly employed.
I am surprised that companies are still hiring people at the rate they are hiring people. Yes, you still have to have your core staff but other than that surely human resource flexibility would be a good thing. The number of furniture suppliers who have their own in-house project management team never ceases to amaze me when there are good freelance furniture Project Managers available on demand. Why don’t they use a freelance PM who is suited to that job and pay him or her for that job and then they are done, with no further requirement financially or otherwise? Companies must always either have insufficient in-house resource for the workload or too much work for the in-house team
Trudy They have a responsibility to feed the business, people to support – a huge responsibility. The refreshing approach would be to say “You’re the best in the business, that’s why you’re here – we don’t want to lose you. What we want is for you to set up your own business – we are going to be your number one client. We will help you get started. We guarantee you X amount of business and we will mentor you the first year and we will help you flourish. You will be able to win more clients”
Julia Self-employed people are good at what they do – they have to be or they would not survive. An HR manager once told me that it cost twice someone’s salary to employ someone – on that basis if you earn £50,000 it costs the company £100,000 so if you become self-employed you can still earn £50,000 or more but the company saves £50,000 and the company has more flexibility
Trudy As a freelancer you get up in the morning, you deliver what you have said you will deliver….
Julia You work in your own time – we’re all agile now
Trudy We’re all agile now
Julia There are times when I am so busy I will work 60 or 70 hours a week. I try not to make that the norm. There are many other weeks when I go travelling or take time off for family and friends – weeks that I might only do 5 hours work. This way of working has enabled me to bring up four children more or less single-handedly, it has enabled me to do the travelling I want to do – it has given me a much more interesting life. People say to me I would love to go somewhere with you but I don’t have enough holiday left……
Trudy The reality for me in the last year, my first year working like this, I haven’t had much time off
Julia You need to sort that out!
Trudy I’m about to take my first two week holiday in 28 years. I am committed to growing into my new style of working – it does take time to grow into and I’ve come to it late in my working life
Julia Let’s talk about the wedding dresses
Trudy What wedding dresses?
Julia Your wedding dresses. How many wedding dresses do you have?
Trudy I have one that never got worn because the marriage didn’t happen.
Julia Have you ever worn it?
Trudy Only for dressing up
Julia You dress up??
Trudy I have a wardrobe that is like something out of Narnia. 4m wide floor to ceiling. I cannot believe you’ve asked me this. The first wedding gown I had and still have – is a traditional Moroccan duchess satin and silver and gold thread gown
Julia I’m planning a big birthday party later this year – you could wear it to that
Trudy No I couldn’t! I was about 22, the marriage didn’t happen – but I kept the dress in a battered suitcase like Paddington’s. I put it in storage for a while. I did not open that case again for thirty years – it is now in my wardrobe
Julia And the other wedding dress?
Trudy It is beautiful and also now in the wardrobe. I’m thinking I could cut it down to a cocktail dress – with wellingtons or Doc Martens, it could be rather cool
Julia We all look forward to seeing that
Trudy Martin is a brand ambassador for Bisley and CBS and does consultancy work around BREEAM. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
*BREEAM is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master planning projects, infrastructure and buildings https://www.breeam.co
Thank you to the Senator Group for allowing us to use their wonderful Clerkenwell showroom for the interview and for photograph of Trudy