Having been on the judging panel of the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award for a number of years, I have watched the award evolve as the world has changed. There used to be only one award for the top business woman of the year, then three years ago we decided to shine a light on the community of female entrepreneurs aged 35 and under with the New Generation Award.
This year, for the first time, we also introduced a separate Social Purpose Award. Our first recipient is Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, and I could not think of a more deserving winner.
The hugely impressive Alice Bentinck, co-founder of Entrepreneur First, took home the New Generation Award this year (more on Alice’s amazing achievements from Stephen below).
I was particularly delighted that Whitbread CEO Alison Brittain received the main Business Woman Award at the reception on Tuesday night and was proud to have nominated Alison for the top prize.
Since joining Whitbread from Lloyds Banking Group in January 2016, she has stewarded the FTSE 100 company and owner of Premier Inn and Costa Coffee into its next phase of growth and set a wonderful example for any woman aiming to reach the very top in business.
Her role at Lloyds Banking Group was as group director of retail banking with responsibility for the Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland retail branch networks. She has also held senior roles at Santander and Barclays and has been a non-executive director at Marks & Spencer since 2014.
“It’s a tremendous honour to be following in the footsteps of Madame Clicquot and all of the brilliant and fabulous women of this award” Alison Brittain, CEO, Whitbread
What always struck me about Alison is how down-to-earth and approachable she is, but at the same time strong and determined. Although the formative years of her career were in the banking sector, Alison is a retailer at heart who is passionate about customers. She was part of the team that rebranded Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley as Santander in 2010. Brand awareness went from less than 2% to 100% on her watch and she oversaw the development of 1,300 new shop fronts on every high street in the country over a career of four years with the bank.
I also love that Alison has a natural curiosity and interest to learn. After Santander, one of the next big things in her career was launching mobile banking at Lloyds. She has a brilliant grasp of omnichannel retailing and how a store or branch can work seamlessly with digital channels.
Of course, Alison is now achieving great things at Whitbread and tackling a complex array of issues such as Brexit, which may have an impact on the company’s workforce. In particular, I love how Alison prioritises people development at Whitbread, including through apprenticeship programmes, and her passion for retaining and developing young people within her business.
Alison is Whitbread’s first ever female CEO – indeed she is one of the only female CEOs of a major leisure or hospitality business. It is a joy to see her thriving in the role at a time when women are striving for more representation in the boardroom.
During her superb acceptance speech, Alison paid tribute to Divine Chocolate CEO Sophi Tranchell, who was also nominated in her category. Her praise and advice was gracious and heartwarming, and even extended to Alison declaring that she would like to work with Sophi to bring Divine Chocolate products to Costa outlets. It was the perfect example of female entrepreneurs supporting one another to achieve great things in business.