Mary Chadwick

Mary runs her own social enterprise and says that, when setting up your own business, having the idea is not enough: "It is not what you want to sell that is important, it is what people want to buy. I’ve learnt this over life – it’s not about you, it’s about the customer..."

"I have always loved history, and did an undergraduate degree in the subject at University College London. I had an interest in British political history and, although I was a bit disillusioned with always having to assimilate other people’s opinions from books, I told myself that, if I got a first in my degree, I would be good enough to go on and do a doctorate! I came from a family of teachers anyway, so this seemed quite the natural step.

"On finishing my doctorate, I made the decision that I didn’t want to stay in academia. A lot of it felt as if it was quite divorced from ‘real life’, and a lot of academics I met didn’t inspire me. So I joined the banking sector, and I was a successful banker for a number of years – becoming Executive Director of a small firm of bankers focusing on marketing products to high net-worth individuals. I loved the lifestyle, regularly jet-setting around the world, and enjoyed the mental challenge.

"I’ve always been something of a maverick, getting involved in all sorts of things outside of work, and I got to the point, after we were taken over, where I realised I wanted to do something to wake me up and inspire me. I liked the idea of setting up and running a business, and was invited to join a career transfer agency I had signed up to.

"The social enterprise is called Prime Timers, providing business and recruitment solutions to third sector organisations. We do this through a talent pool – those from the private sector who want to put something back while applying their skills and knowledge. We also help third sector organisations with governance issues and reviews.

"We started out with the help of Community Action Network, who incubated us. They paid my salary for a long time, and we were very grateful. It is a very lonely business setting things up, and they made us feel we weren’t alone. The biggest challenge was realising that it takes a long time. There is no overnight success. Other challenges include never knowing which of your efforts is going to pay off in terms of marketing, and restraining yourself from doing things which are clearly not going to lead you anywhere!

"Some of the projects I have been involved in – such as receipt of grant funding for a feasibility study for a university of civil society – have enabled me to marry perfectly my previous interests at doctoral level, such as doing things in depth, while also marketing the organisation. My doctorate taught analytical skills – I can read a legal document quite easily now! You’ve got to manage large amounts of information, and be able to write it up.

"My key message to other doctoral graduates would be that having the idea is not enough. It is not what you want to sell that is important, it is what people want to buy. I’ve learnt this over life – it’s not about you it’s about the customer!"