From Queen to President: Debbie’s journey to leading Perthshire Businesswomen’s Network
“What is it that you do?” asked Her Majesty The Queen. “How long have you got?” is how our Marketing Director Debbie Hutchison didn’t respond – but she could have been forgiven for doing so.
Multiple directorships, running a property business, becoming a student again in her forties, martial arts training, continuing to learn new languages – oh, and raising a family – are just some of the things that have kept our bundle of energy busy in recent years.
With so many strings to her bow, it is absolutely fitting that Debbie has just been appointed as President of Perthshire Businesswomen’s Network (PBN).
We managed to secure a few minutes of Debbie’s time to find out about her life and career, and why she accepted the role of President at what may be the busiest time of her life.
Your ‘day job’ is as Marketing Director with The Malting House Design Studio - what has been your career path to that role?
I chose to study a degree in International Business with Languages at Heriot-Watt University to keep my career options flexible. After completing my degree I was delighted to start as one of five graduate trainees (the only female!) with Renault UK in London. I moved around various departments to gain management experience, but it was the buzz of the Communications department, where we organised advertising, promotions and events, that I found the most stimulating and interesting.
A move to work as Events Manager at Nissan GB several years later gave me more experience in this area before I decided to go travelling overseas for 18 months with my then-boyfriend-now-husband. Working in New Zealand and Australia, in various sales and marketing roles, was good to get a more diverse skill set and put the international business expertise into action.
Like many women, once I started a family, I found it really hard to combine a career with motherhood (we have three kids) so we decided that I would adapt my career for a while to be there for them. Despite progress being made, I still think it’s a tricky time for women who want to enjoy motherhood but also keep some form of work life. I think I went through every possible option on paper before deciding to set-up my own business for a few years, hosting children’s craft parties and face-painting at weekends.
Once our youngest was at nursery, I helped my husband to pursue his entrepreneurial dream of setting up an engineering consultancy here in Perth and found myself able to use my business and marketing skills to shape the Merlin ERD brand which provided a notable career highlight – meeting The Queen to receive a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2014!
A stint at college followed as I explored my creative side with an HND in Visual Communications at Perth College UHI. From that experience, I knew I wanted to work in some sort of creative business but needed to be working within a marketing role. A chance meeting with Wendy Maltman, an established and talented graphic designer, at a networking event in Forfar, led to exactly that opportunity and I consider my present role as my dream job!
I believe you have other strings to your bow, too - tell me about them.
Like many women I have several roles: as well as being in business, I’m a wife and mother, a daughter, auntie, godmother, friend, neighbour, colleague and multiple pet owner!
I have various commercial interests and directorships and am also a non-executive Board Member of Perth College UHI; something I was motivated to do after my experience there as a mature student.
I have diverse interests and I’m a big believer in lifelong learning and trying new things. I play the flute, do weekly French lessons and am a (recently lapsed) martial artist – a red tag in Tae Kwon Do – so I know a lot about kicking and self-defence which definitely makes me feel more assertive!
Why did you step up to the role of President of Perthshire Businesswomen's Network (PBN)?
Wendy introduced me to ASB (the Association of Scottish Businesswomen) when I started at The Malting House and I enjoyed the supportive atmosphere of the annual conference, listening to high profile speakers such as Judy Murray. I was also nominated for an ASB award last year and attended their awards dinner, which let me see the support that is there for women to collaborate and the power of celebrating our successes together.
I joined PBN as I thought it might be useful for networking and getting to know people in the area plus through PBN you automatically become a member of the Association of Scottish Businesswomen which seemed a good deal! I attended a few events and felt I’d like to get more involved so volunteered to go on the Committee (I remember mentioning ‘treasurer’!). Then outgoing President Jane Rennie suggested I take over from her and I decided that, although it was more than I’d been planning, I should adopt the adage of ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ and said “Yes!”
I’m delighted to have this opportunity and we’ve engaged a new team of committed local women to take PBN forward with energy and vigour. Every woman who is in any sort of job within Perthshire would get something positive out of PBN and that’s the message we want to share!
What do you see as the strengths of businesswomen in Perthshire?
We are a friendly bunch, with a good mix of those who grew up in Perthshire and those, like me, who came to Perth later.
We know it’s a great place to live and are motivated to make it a great place to do business too!
We have the time to help each other out and to share knowledge and skills and contacts and perhaps due to the size of our cities and towns, we don’t all feel we are all in direct competition with each other.
Looking to a year from now, what do you want to have achieved for PBN by then?
We’re very keen to recruit new members. We’ll be offering various levels of memberships to suit people whether they’re self-employed or an employee, starting their career, in the middle of it or retired. We want to recognise and reward our existing members with many and varied networking opportunities and skill sharing sessions, and to use our business platform to do good for our members and our community.
You have become President of PBN in a time when the business world is facing immense challenges due to the COVID-19 outbreak. What role does PBN have to play in helping businesswomen at this time?
We need to pull together and pool resources, skills and knowledge, especially at uncertain times like these. PBN is working in conjunction with the local Perthshire Chamber of Commerce, Business Gateway Tayside and others to ensure there’s plenty of support out there for women with all sorts of roles and responsibilities. Chances are there’s someone in our network who has faced similar challenges to those you’re facing or can empathise and perhaps offer a different perspective or idea – these are really helpful at this difficult time. Whilst we are focused on delivering value to members, we’ve also offered a number of free online events to a wider audience to take account of these tough times economically.
And finally - why do you think businesswomen in Perthshire should join PBN?
We’re a great forum in which to brainstorm, share and develop business ideas, find contacts and network, learn and develop skills. We also offer emotional support whether that’s a confidence boost when you need it or a good laugh with a supportive bunch of like-minded ladies!
One of our members put it really well recently when she said ‘you were there for networking when I started in business and now I’m established it’s a great place to get support and ideas’.
Thanks to Debbie for a fascinating insight into her journey to becoming President of Perthshire Businesswomen’s Network.