Talking to Janette Withey it’s hard to believe she was once a shy schoolgirl who was expected to settle down and start a family.
“If my parents had people round I would hide in my secret alcove,” remembers the director of Docklands recruitment firm Quay People.
In a career spanning 40 years, she has become a pioneer in the creation of Canary Wharf, is chairman of East London Chamber of Commerce (incorporating Docklands Business Club) and has just been named a governor of the University of East London (UEL).
Her expertise will also see her help judge this year’s Wharf Innovation in Business Awards and she said: “If there is one thing I have learnt having my own business it’s that there is no one to pat you on the back and people running businesses need that acknowledgement.
“I want to encourage more people to say they are proud of what they have achieved, to enter the awards and tell the world.
“People tend to be very reluctant to praise themselves and I totally understand that having been on that side of the fence myself.”
Growing up in Surrey Janette loved sailing, skiing and golf from a young age but said she was not particularly academic.
“It wasn’t expected of me that I would go on to university, it was more about getting married and having children.”
Instead, in a story akin to Hollywood film Sabrina, she went to live in Paris for a year as a nanny and came back with a glamorous new wardrobe and “attitude”.
“It instilled in me that I didn’t actually want to have children but that I liked the nice things in life and was going to have to work for it.”
Plans to become an air stewardess fell by the wayside and after a brief stint organising educational visits for international students she landed a job at Brook Street.
In six short months she became their youngest ever branch manager aged 19 and then worked her way up to divisional manager, working with the company throughout the 70s, 80s and early 90s.
“I took to it like a duck to water,” says the 59-year-old.”This industry is about people and I have taken that throughout my career. If I’m known for anything it’s my ability to get the best out of people, my energy and drive.”
Janette says her triumphs came from the motto that “failure is not an option” and when Brook Street decided to quit the Docklands and as she was running the franchise she took over ownership in 2001 and renamed it Quay People.
“My passion is turning failing businesses around to profitable success.
“When I first came to the area in 1992 the skills were not here to fill the jobs – a lot of people had never touched a computer so we had to train them.
Janette has seen her business thrive thanks to her use of networking skills and straight-talking attitude and she looks forward to seeing Canary Wharf double in size.
“I have grown more confident with age. I don’t see when this energy is going to run out and while I have got it I’m going to use it.
“We get a huge number of people from Europe who want to use their skills, and want to work in Canary Wharf and east London because they see the kind of community it is. It is becoming even more diverse.”
She believes tenacity is the key to succeeding in east London and said: “I’m so proud of this area and admire the hard work it has taken to see London moving east and I will fight to make sure there is the infrastructure, such as river crossings so business have a chance to develop and prosper.”
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