Interview - Anna-Louise Gilhooley

Posted on | Types: Inspirational Women | Topics: Business, Charity/Philanthropy, Fashion

Anna-Louise Gilhooley

Anna-Louise Gilhooley is founder and CEO of Dress for Success, a Manchester-based charity supporting unemployed women.

Anna-Louise is a successul entrepreneur with a passion for supporting enterprise and women. She started her career in the corporate world working for The Automobile Association, British Gas, and Centrica. Following Centrica's acquisition of The AA, Anna-Louise played a key role developing and integrating a customer relationship management system and strategy to provide 'a single view of the customer' and multiskilling staff to deliver annual savings of £15.4m.

While at British Gas, Anna-Louise established a new centre, transforming a shell into a fully operational office employing more than 1,000 staff that handled 37,000 more customer calls every week. After leaving the corporate world, Anna-Louise became a management and HR consultant before launching her own businesses in 2007.

She is now managing director of The Rejuvenate Group, a company that provides broad management consultancy to support high growth enterprises. The group also publishes the quarterly North West fashion and lifestyle title, STYLEetc Magazine.

In addition to her commercial interests, Anna-Louise is a member of the Women's Enterprise Forum, a volunteer group of women with a passion for encouraging enterprise. She is now ready to make a difference in the Manchester community and support women achieve economic independence and provide them with the chance to succeed and thrive.

Anna-Louise, can you tell us how you got involved with the charity Dress for Success?

I first heard about Dress for Success just over a year ago, via the Bobbi Brown (make-up brand) team in London who felt I would be a perfect fit. I have been working with them for a number of years through my publications, WorkLife and STYLEetc Magazines, and often we catch up about other businesses I own, such as my Business Consultancy (Rejuvenate Your Business Ltd).

After sharing with them our latest project which was to encourage enterprise through education as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, organised by The Kauffman Foundation - a $2bn US charity focused on developing enterprise - and explaining how I thought we could position Bobbi Brown products through my contacts on the Women's Enterprise Forum (of which I am a board member) they told me about the great work they were doing with Dress for Success!

I already support many women through my work in enterprise, education and by sitting as a board member for the Women's Enterprise Forum. I am also a director and board member of a company, which is the North-West's largest learning provider, where we offer training and apprenticeships to improve skills and employability. Through such experience, I have been fortunate to meet some inspirational individuals who have worked hard to gain employment even though they have had disadvantages to contend with.

For example, in 2010 I was asked to join The Women's Enterprise Task Force, which was established as a national body championing women's enterprise. It was set up by Gordon Brown to increase the quantity, scalability and success of women-owned businesses in the UK. We focused our work on five key areas in order to achieve a strong pipeline of high growth, women-led businesses: gender-disaggregated data; women-friendly business support; access to finance; supplier diversity; and strategic influencing. My role enabled me to meet and mentor ex-offenders who were unable to find employment after being in prison. However, with the right help and support network, they, like many others became successful in a self-employed career that allowed them to help others.

Inspired by the people I met and helped as part of The Women's Task Force, in 2011 I worked with local government and councils in Salford, Manchester, to provide jobs for 148 unemployed individuals by setting up a Future Jobs Fund project known as the Community Postal Team. The project was established to support residents in the North-West, primarily with employment focused training for disadvantaged and marginalised groups.  It provided entry level vacancies for unemployed residents of Greater Manchester. The aim of the Community Postal Team was to provide a communication vehicle for local businesses to communicate their service to residents of the area thereby improving the health and wellbeing of the residents and contributing to the improvement of the local economy. The team worked with local councils, NHS services, and the BBC amongst many other organisations to support delivery of their 'message' to the community. Many young people benefitted from this scheme, providing much needed work experience and a large proportion also gained an NVQ qualification and secured permanent employment.

What appeals to you about Dress for Success?

As a successful businesswoman, with strong relationships in the local Manchester community, together with a vast array of fashion and retailer contacts and already established relationships through my magazine titles, I believe I am able to drive Dress for Success, Manchester UK, forward in a way which will positively impact on the local economy and improve the employability of women.

I have years of experience in the corporate market, employing thousands of women (and, of course, men), and through my own consultancy business we already provide HR, training, coaching and mentoring to improve confidence, skills and employability. I am passionate about helping people return to work and also establish their own businesses.  I've worked on a number of projects providing encouragement and inspiration to people around these subjects.  I know how demoralising it is when you are out of work, how easily confidence and motivation is lost and how hard it can be to get that back. I know that if people had the right support and someone who believes in them, the sky is the limit and anything really is possible.

Who has been your inspiration/role model?

I have a wealth of inspiration around me every day at home and in work. My sister is an inspiration for being such a good mum! And in work, I meet fantastic  entrepreneurs and women in business everyday who make a difference. I was lucky enough to meet and interview Michelle Mone, the founder of lingerie brand, Ultimo. Her story reminds us all that anything is possible and women need to feel confident on the outside and on the inside to achieve their ambitions. And I think Margaret Thatcher was a truly inspirational woman.

What do you find most challenging about the job?

As the charity has only just launched in Manchester, there are the many challenges you would expect to find in any start-up operation, and a personal challenge for me is finding time to do everything! Currently I face the challenge of engaging a brand new board of trustees and ensuing they are adding value and are ready to roll their sleeves up. And everyone is so supportive in Manchester, we are already receiving so many offers of help and requests to volunteer that it's sometimes difficult to keep up with the demand!

How do you find balance in your life?

I think it's really important to find time to relax and wind down away from the office or your laptop. So I try and find the right balance between work, family, exercise and fun! I don't always get it right but I make sure I make time for all four aspects in my life.

What would you say is your greatest vice and your greatest virtue?

My greatest vice would be designer handbags and Louboutins! My greatest virtue would be that I love my job as 'Auntie Anna'. (I have a niece called Eva who is 4 and a nephew called Max who is 1 and I love to spend as much time as possible with them).



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