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East Midlands Chamber News

East Midlands enterprising women: Jillian Thomas

From legal and finance to logistics and housing, a wide range of sectors in the East Midlands are blessed with an even more diverse set of female talent in senior positions. To celebrate International Women's Day 2021 on 8 March, East Midlands Chamber profiles the inspiring stories behind 10 of the region's top enterprising women throughout the week.

The average financial planner in Britain is 58 and male, while less than 2% of the nation’s financial planning practices are owned by women – despite research showing that firms with at least one female board member perform 45% better than all-male set-ups.

It means Jillian Thomas, and her 11-strong team featuring nine women at Future Life Wealth Management, stands out from the crowd.

She’s happy to play the “pied piper” role in leading the way for other women to break down barriers, but Jillian is keen to point out she just wants to give young people the opportunities they may not otherwise get.

“Irrespective of gender, I take people who are looking for a career, and am prepared to invest in people who are prepared to invest in themselves so they receive the opportunities they deserve,” says the managing director, who spends more than £20,000 on training costs every year.

“The only boundary to success is the desire to achieve, so to me the most important thing I can do as a business owner is to be supportive so my employees are in a situation to get the best out of themselves.”

While Jillian admits to have been on the receiving end of some “shocking” comments from male colleagues during the outset of her career in the 1980s and has often been the only woman when walking into a room, she has made a habit of turning bad situations into a positive.

Jillian Thomas set up Future Life Wealth Management in the last recession

Her company was set up in 2009 at the height of the banking crisis – “people told me not to set up a business because there was a recession going on, but my response was that I decided not to participate in the recession” – and turnover has grown by about 20% per year on average, with funds under management now standing at £400m.

And while the Covid-19 pandemic initially sent shockwaves, cutting the value of those funds by about 25% between February and March 2020, the Future Life team rallied to find opportunities for clients in undervalued funds.

A caring approach was also taken to investor relationships – Jillian would call several vulnerable clients every lunchtime to check on how they were doing during the first lockdown and the company sent mince pies from a local bakery at Christmas – resulting in a flurry of referrals for new customers.

“The one thing that was absolutely essential during the pandemic was to think outside the box,” says Jillian. “It’s about taking something bad and converting it into good.”

Such has been the mantra adopted in her role as a beacon for women just starting out in the industry. She’s been only too happy to watch team members including technical operations director Samantha Williams, operations director Keeley Woodcock and independent financial planner Emma Baumback – recently recognised by an industry publication as one of the top 35 “next generation” – grow as people in their time at the firm.

With a word of caution, Jillian adds: “The reality is that in anything, you need someone who’s prepared to break that glass ceiling and go through it for others to follow, and I’m proud to have done that.

“But while I’m keen to support women in business, the greatest returns I’ve ever had are when I’ve stepped out of the gender-specific environment and competed with others as an equal – so we have to be careful not to silo ourselves.”

 

This story features in the March edition of Business Network, which has a special enterprising women theme. To read the magazine, click here.

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