Helen Haddow will certainly be known by many in the jewellery trade, but this industry is not where she started her career.
After qualifying with an honours degree in accountancy, Haddow joined Ernst & Young and gained a qualification as a chartered accountant, and worked in the accountancy profession for 13 years, progressing to senior audit manager.
During this time, however, she became somewhat disillusioned working in an organisation that didn’t make allowances for the flexibility required for working mums. Being a parent of two children, this was a critical need. As a result Haddow left Ernst & Young and became self-employed for a few years.
2000 proved to be a life changing year for Haddow when, through a connection at EY, she was invited to provide consultancy services to Houlden Jewellers and after only a few months of this arrangement, the Group’s founder, Stuart Laing, persuaded her to join as a part-time finance controller.
“These reduced hours were still valuable at this point in my career, with my children being 5 and 11,” shares Haddow. “In the same year my husband took on a new role, which meant that he could assist with the school run and that allowed my position to evolve into office manager on a full-time basis, and the rest, you could say, is history.”
Haddow’s role then further evolved and expanded to administration executive, followed by finance director and now chief executive officer.
“I have been with Houlden now for 20 years and have seen significant changes in the business, and my responsibilities in this time have grown as the organisation developed,” says Haddow. “I often look back and think myself very lucky as what started as a job has turned into a vocation, as it’s something I love and I am hugely passionate about and for that reason I wouldn’t call my position a job.”
As the need for flexible working hours led Haddow to the jewellery industry, she works hard to create a positive workplace culture at the Houlden HQ.
She explains: “Developing the Houlden culture has been a big focus of my tenure as CEO, as I believe any good leader has a huge influence on this. I have spent the time putting my stamp on this and I like to think that in Houlden we have a nurturing culture, where everyone is encouraged to contribute and grow to their full potential.
“We have a high staff retention rate and have a few employees celebrating 19-and-20-year work anniversaries this year, which I think is testament to our culture. These long serving employees are also mothers and we have always accommodated their needs, and the needs of all of our employees, to encourage a solid work life balance, that encourages flexible working options and an agile environment that allows them to flourish both in and out of the office.”
Outside of the Houlden HQ, Haddow says she has been seeing changes to the attitude towards women and diversity in the wider trade.
She shares: “My experience comes from my connection with the family independent jeweller, where there tends to be a heavy bias towards males in position of principal and owners, perhaps due to a tradition of the business being handed down to sons, which does have an impact on the diversity of the industry as a whole. However, we are gradually seeing a shake up with this on the retailer front, and have two females on the Houlden board – making up a third of the representative – and both of whom are there on merit and not gender. We also have a range of ages on the board which encourages us to be diverse and inclusive.”
She continues: “It’s also pleasing to witness the success of female designers, and to see many more talented females emerging across many aspects of the industry, with more women in influential positions, which is reflective of the developments in the wider aspect of work — not just jewellery industry.”
Personally, Haddow is motivated by an aspiration to be the best version of herself and to work hard to make an impact and a difference.
And for those wondering the best piece of advice this inspiring trade professional has ever received, that would be: “Always believe in yourself and your ability — don’t be your own worst enemy by putting limits on your potential, and don’t be afraid to fail — use the mind set First Attempt In Learning.”