From Stoops to China for MD

Deborah Smith (nee Sutcliffe). (s)
Deborah Smith (nee Sutcliffe). (s)

A former Burnley “council house kid” who has her sights on the skies is in the running for a top business award.

Deborah Smith (née Sutcliffe) is among eight finalists battling it out to be named Business Woman of the Year.

“I’m thrilled and I have no idea who nominated me,” she said. “It’s an honour, as it’s been a tough road. But it’s not just down to me: I have a fantastic team so it would be a pat on the back for us all.”

The formidable 51 year-old beat back hundreds of entrants to be named among the North-West’s most inspirational women in the Enterprise Vision Awards.

The youngest of seven children born to a family in Stoops estate, Deborah left Ivy Bank High School at 16 with few formal qualifications. Later, in 2007, she joined German-owned company Fennel UK as the office manager.

But when it plunged into administration with a debt of £700,000, customers urged her to take over the reigns.

“When the MD left in 2009, I was left holding the baby. The business would have closed, people would have lost their jobs and I was a single parent who needed to keep a roof over my head," she said. "It was the support of the customers which gave me the strength to carry on.”

Despite having no experience of running a business, she became the owner in 2010 and within six years had transformed the company’s turnover into £1m.

“I went to the School of Life and when you’re the owner you have to dig deep to keep striving. I’ve had to travel to China alone and face major obstacles. It was daunting.

“Business is a male-dominated world. It’s a big deal for a women to be successful in it and you have to grab every opportunity with both hands.”

Only time will tell if the former “council house kid” wins her second award in two years at the glamorous finals on Friday, September 29th. Either way, her head is held high.

“I’m proud of what I’ve achieved,” she added, “but not as much as my dad is.”