MC Meets: Gill Mitchell, CEO of The Henley Festival

Being in charge of one of the most glamorous events in the UK is no walk in the park. The CEO of Henley Festival, Gill Mitchell, tells us just what's involved in pulling off such a high profile bash.


Describe your typical working day

A walk with my Bernese mountain dog followed by a very large bowl of porridge sets me up for the day. I check emails at home before driving the two miles into work. Every day is different but my favourite time is the two weeks leading up to the festival and the event itself. It’s manic and hugely stressful worrying whether or not everything will be finished on time and then dashing into the ladies room two minutes before the opening with baby wipes and a hairbrush to transform myself from an exhausted, grimy, manual worker to a glamorous CEO in full evening dress.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
No one is indispensable – my dad said it to me on my first day at work and it has stuck with me. You may think you are good, or even the best, but you are always replaceable so keep working hard and never let up.

How did you get to where you are today?
I did my degree in German but then ended up qualifying as a chartered accountant at PWC. After that I joined a very large food company, working my way up to be Financial Director of one of their companies. I then left to set up a food manufacturing company with a colleague – some may say that was a rather reckless thing to do but it was character-forming and taught me more about business than ever before. After five years I sold up and concentrated on consultancy work helping small businesses with their business plans. One day I saw an ad for a bookkeeper for the Henley Festival. Despite being a chartered accountant, I had never actually done bookkeeping but decided it couldn’t be that hard and I loved the festival. So I applied, was offered the job and within six months I was running the whole thing. I was lucky I could afford to take the risk but sometimes you have to take a chance and it certainly paid off for me.

Who’s your role model?
Richard Branson is amazing but I also really admire Karren Brady.

What skills do you look for in new employees?
Passion, determination and the desire to succeed – with a great work ethic.

What have you learnt along the way?
I have learnt that nothing gets handed to you on a plate and if you want things to happen you have to seek opportunities out. Networking is vital as the old adage of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ is still very important. But you do, of course, have to be good at what you’re doing.

How do you unwind after a tough day at work?
In the winter, by snuggling up in front of a roaring log fire at home watching a good programme like Line of Duty. In the summer, by sitting out in the garden with friends, drinking champagne and laughing a lot – it is good for the soul.

Do you count your colleagues as friends?
I prefer to keep the two separate.

We’re always obsessing over our work/life balance – do you manage it?
Hugely. I have however done all the balancing acts of long hours in the name of my career and having a nanny looking after my two boys. The boys are now in their twenties and haven’t suffered at all from having a nanny and in fact have been to stay with her in New Zealand where she now lives. We have a really strong relationship as a family and they have enjoyed the financial benefits of having both parents in good jobs so I think if you asked them they would be glad I was a career mum.

Each year, the Henley Festival is held on the banks of the River Thames in Oxfordshire. Tickets for each glamorous black tie evening are limited to 5,000 per evening. Visit www.henley-festival.co.uk now for tickets and more information.

Looking for more career inspo? It’s not too late to book tickets for Marie Claire’s @ Work Live, in association with Cointreau and Next. A one-day event on 23 April 2016, featuring advice, tips and inspiration from incredible speakers.

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