FROM driving HGVs for the British Army, to building dams in Chile, via an accountancy degree and stints at Pricewaterhouse and Hewlett Packard.
To say that Debbie Miles’s road to business Mecca was a varied one would be an understatement.
“I have never planned my career but I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have done,” says the mum-of-two.
“I have had a very varied and fulfilling career, which I managed to combine with having my children and being home enough to support them when necessary.”
Debbie acknowledges that being able to work from home when her children were young was a real blessing and she now devotes her working life to helping other women achieve their full business potential.
When we first meet, the last thing I expect to hear is that she spent more than a decade driving HGVs for the Territorial Army (TA).
Born and brought up in Bromley, Kent, Debbie went to school in Dulwich before heading to Bristol University to study economics and accounting.
Here she joined the Officer Training Corps, which became a ‘turning point’ in her life.
“A simple comment from somebody can affect your life in such a way,” she says.
“The colonel there said I should be an officer so I went through the process and went to Camberley and got my commission.
“I learnt how to drive a truck and got my HGV licence. The OTC gave me a lot of confidence going forward and I stayed in the TA until I was 33-years-old.”
The first job that Debbie got after graduating from university she says she didn’t like, but she soon joined the John Lewis Partnership as a graduate accountant in the Oxford Street store, having worked for the company as a student.
After a year in London she moved to the Southampton store, where she qualified as a management accountant.
But after a couple of years she says she felt ‘a little bit restricted’ in the role so took a job as an accountant with IBM back in London. At IBM she was asked if she would move into sales, which was a big change but one that she relished.
“I liked the numbers but I also like working with and helping people and that’s what I saw sales as,” she adds.
“I managed the team for about three years, which was very challenging and hard work.
“But I then decided that I wasn’t the person I wanted to be anymore, as it had made me very money-orientated.”
A very brief stint at Pricewaterhouse followed, before Debbie took a sabbatical and travelled with the army to Chile, as a team leader.
“It was a fantastic experience,” she says. The team of 20, which was boosted by Chilean marine conscripts, built a small dam in the uninhabited south of the country, worked at an orphanage and built pathways.
After that she returned to England, which she says was ‘quite difficult after such an adventure’, and started a job at Hewlett Packard as an accountant in the financial services side of the company.
It was while she was there that she had her daughter, Hannah. After her maternity leave finished Debbie had another change of career direction, when HP offered her the opportunity to move into marketing. She jumped at the chance and added a host of marketing qualifications to her CV.
In 2000 she had a son, James, and soon afterwards was offered a job in HP’s worldwide marketing group.
“At that stage they had started to encourage home working and that worked really well for me with the children,” she explains.
But then her father fell ill and, although she was fortunate to be working from home which allowed her to spend time with him, she still found herself under a lot of pressure to perform.
When he died she started to look for ways to rebalance her life and took redundancy from HP.
It was at this time that her cousin introduced her to the Athena Network – an international networking and development group for women in business.
“I went along to a meeting in Maidenhead and I was very impressed by the idea of helping women run their own business,” she says.
“I admired the women who were self-sufficiently running their own business, so I bought the franchise for West Berkshire. “I started with just one group in Newbury, which worked well with my mother, who was ill at the time. It allowed me to manage my work and home life.
“I now have four groups in Newbury, Thatcham and Hungerford, who all meet once a month and a fifth group that meets just for coffee.”
Debbie says that the Athena Network has allowed her to meet ‘some wonderful women, in a whole mix of different professions’.
“It is a very supportive environment and a lot of the businesses have grown while they have been members,” she adds.
And just as she is leaving Debbie imparts that she wasn’t quite content enough with her wide array of skills and professions, so recently began teaching English as a foreign language.
“I really enjoy it as I get to meet people of all different cultures,” she says. “I got my TEFL qualification at 30-years-old, but didn’t start using it until I was 52.”
It leaves me wondering if she may turn full circle and start driving HGVs again any day soon.
More details can be found at www.theathenanetwork.co.uk/DebbieMiles/newbury/