A career built on helping others
Trudi Ryan has built a career on helping others achieve their goals.
Trudi Ryan has built a career on helping others achieve their goals. She is one of the UK’s top executive coaches and consulting entrepreneurs. Many of the UK’s FTSE executive teams have benefitted from her strategic challenge and leadership coaching. Not keen on following the rules, she has shown that the workplace can be built to suit all.
“There was no big masterplan, I just knew I wanted to be successful.” Trudi Ryan, founder of Wondrous People and serial entrepreneur, says as she admits that she spent much of her early life feeling like an outsider, as a mixed race first child born to immigrant Irish and West Indian parents. Nevertheless, for her this was always a source of motivation.
She breezed through the local comprehensive Collingwood Girls School as prefect and then head girl. Her entrepreneurial ambition manifested early when at age 14 she landed a weekend job at a local tennis club. She soon realised hungry tennis players liked a little cake with their tea, so she started buying cake and re-selling it - and later making and selling it. “It became a little business”, she says.
Trudi graduated knowing she was interested in people and business. Retail offered a natural calling so she started on the prestigious Marks & Spencer graduate scheme.
Progressing quickly through the ranks, she spent six years with the company when it was at the peak of its success. She readily admits a few of her bosses suggested she wasn’t very good at following rules when she hadn't made them herself but that trait didn’t hold back her progression.
She was also handed some tough jobs: “A number of the stores were closing. Up to that point, M&S had never closed a store and had no policy in place for doing so. The people side was huge,” she says, citing her experience when taking on the unenviable job of leading on the first store closures. She then went on to complete the transformation of M&S’s first foodonly store as well as its big Marble Arch development in London’s West End.
Trudi’s first executive role was with a smaller entrepreneurial business – Coles Menswear, which was a cutting-edge men’s fashion retailer in the 1990s with some 35 stores across the UK. She was appointed HR Director, working directly with the controlling family and the company’s Board. In doing so, she became a bigger fish in a smaller pond and got her first real taste of shaping business strategy. At the same time, Trudi completed a post-graduate Diploma in Psychology and began to look at ways to incorporate this into her business life. She came to realise her passion was in aligning people and business strategy. Her mantra? Put your people first and they will put your customers first!
Meeting Martyn Dawes, founder of Coffee Nation, nudged Trudi into her next career move. She explains: “It was obvious he was an entrepreneur in the making. I said ‘I’ll back you’ in committing to support them financially for the first year as Martyn set about starting his fledgling consulting business.” More about Martyn’s story can be found here. In spite of the challenges of becoming – eventually – a husband and wife team, the pair made a great success of the business called Dawes Ryan Consulting (DRC). As a business, its focus was squarely on leadership coaching and change. Her first big client was the Burton Group and others such as USA Today, Sandvik Group and even M&S quickly followed.
When Martyn moved on to launch Coffee Nation, DRC blossomed into an all-female consultancy business. “I am an ardent feminist. I believe the workplace has been designed by men for men. I wanted to design an organisation that worked for women. Ultimately, a FTSE 100 bank asked us to create an executive coaching service for them. This became an outsourced managed service business called ‘Coachmatch’.”
So what did an organisation designed for women actually look like? “It acknowledged that we don’t have lives that are only focused on work,” Trudi explains. “We would recontract with every member of the team each year. We would engage in activities that demonstrated that work wasn’t just about careers. We could talk about and accommodate our childcare responsibilities, our ageing parents, our continuous professional development without the fear that we were going to lose our jobs.”
Most of the people involved in those early days are still in her consulting network today. She felt it was vital to show there could be a whole variety of approaches to being in the workplace. “We met as humans, not just as business colleagues. I didn’t have a desire to build a big organisation. Instead, I wanted to give people flexible and rewarding careers.”
Trudi and her co-founder Angela Rutterford-Adams merged DRC and Coachmatch in 2014 and, to reflect the breadth and diversity of the firms’ capability, the business was renamed Wondrous People two years ago and has grown to more than two hundred client organisations across the UK, Europe and beyond. Wondrous is designed true to Trudi’s core principles and values and is committed to changing the world of work forever, creating inclusive cultures, as she explains, where people flourish so that business thrives.
Wondrous is now itself a high-growth company. Her excitement at the future is palpable. ”There’s a golden age coming of rediscovering the importance of people as central to the success of all organisations.” She adds: ”I know we have positively improved the leadership experienced by thousands of people in hundreds of organisations across Europe, Asia and the US over the last two decades and we are only just getting started.”
“Today, we have new challenges. Changing the world of work for black people and people of colour is something Wondrous is committed to delivering.” Trudi opines that people still face many of the same challenges in society and the workplace today that her parents faced in the 1960s. How can this still be the case she often asks herself.
Many people talk about profit and purpose but Trudi is someone driving genuine change in the workplace by embodying her values and espousing them fearlessly to others. It would be no surprise to see Wondrous People help many more people and organisations flourish for many years to come.
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