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Why you need to have a happy workforce

27th June 2024

Meet the Mentor: Rara Plumptre

We meet Finito mentor and founder of AECS communications Rara Plumptre

 

Tell us a little about your early life and education. Did you have mentors growing up who altered the way you are today?

I was taken to South Africa on the Union Castle boat to Cape Town in the 50’s at six weeks old by my nanny; my parents were living in Durban. My early life started in a rabbit hutch as I adored animals – and still do. I loved the outside world: sun, sea and sand.

My education didn’t start until I was five years old, where I went to a convent in Durban. Personally I wasn’t the most conforming of children – to say the least. Ten or so years later, at the age of 16, I ended my schooling with one GCSE: I had climbed out of, or been expelled, from most schools. Thankfully my education finished, much to my delight: the only thing I missed was sport. My mentor was my nanny, who for all my faults loved me and wanted me to achieve in life, and perhaps she found my truancy less troubling than my parents did.

My first job altered my whole life: at 17 years of age I was taken on as an au pair and cook for an Italian family in Florence, which I stayed in for a year and a bit, having opened the liquidiser on gazpacho soup on my arrival: I was still picking soup off the ceiling when I left! Once I was back in England, I walked into a job with Stephen Marks, founder of French Connection. At 19, I had become a manageress of his first shop in South Molton Street.


Knowing what you know now, what would say to your younger self about the world of work?

I would say it’s important to stay true to yourself and to be grateful for every day. I’ve also come to learn that business never goes straight, and that it’s vital to have mentors from an early stage.

Of course, the world has changed hugely. When I was growing up, we were more outside than in – rain or snow. We were freer and lighter with troubles, and we had less to worry about. We had a choice of one tomato, not 30 when we shopped: you could certainly say that life was much simpler – and perhaps what we need to do is cultivate that simplicity. When I first flew to Africa from England you couldn’t fly direct: we had to refuel in Entebbe in Uganda or Kinshasa in the Congo. My father gave us coins to buy stamps since he was a great stamp collector. When we landed in the above, we would buy the stamps we liked, and arrive in Johannesburg with them. He was thrilled to bits possibly not about seeing us – but the stamps he loved! I suppose I have wanted to preserve something of the old way of life in my own career.

 

You are obviously extremely passionate about helping the next generation. Can you talk a little about your experiences of working with the young. What’s the best way to help make a difference?

 

Life for the young now is very different than it was when I was brought up. We only did face-to-face interviews: nowadays online applications are the norm. I think that can be soul-destroying as often a mass of applications for a job can have not one single reply. In the future, my thinking is that as a society we need to rotate the young with mentors at a young age, bringing them up with two or three people who will help them right through their later stages of school, and build for their careers ahead. If we do that, then they will always have someone watching their back in life.

 

For deeply personal reasons, homelessness is obviously of huge importance to you as an issue. Can you talk a bit about this area, and how we can all help to tackle this problem?

 

The reason I became homeless was through divorce. I now work pro bono helping in that area. I arrived in London where some wonderful friends took me in. I slept for three days with the emotion of packing up a seven-bedroom house with animals which we had also to find homes for. My CV read that I had only been a mother for 20 plus years – so getting back to work was difficult, especially as I hadn’t lived in London for 28 years.

I remember I was in Clapham, in a haze, and trying to recover from the grief of being homeless. I walked into a gift shop in Abbeville Road. I liked it there and, on and off, I spent my days in the shop because I felt safe. The owner of the shop eventually said to me: “You seem to be in my shop rather a lot, and never buy anything. Why?”

I told her my story: I had arrived in London with five pounds in my pocket. She retorted: ‘Do you want a job?’ which I jumped at. So for £100 a weekend, I started to earn again. And the rest is history.

Issues like homelessness and immigration remind us that the gap between rich and poor keeps getting deeper. This inevitably means that more and more people will be found on the street. Fortunately, there are wonderful charities like Under One Sky, and CEO Sleep Out in England in existence. I am passionate about helping to make a difference in people’s lives and trying to lobby the government to make a bigger difference to housing and the homeless.

 

You love to make connections between people. Can you tell us a bit about how personal relationships can transform businesses and individual careers?

 

Personal relationships are hugely important in transforming businesses, and networking is key to the future, as technology
takes over our day-to-day lives. To have personal discussions is vital for the young and old. In that I personally feel that one should never stop working, if one enjoys what one is doing. The old can mentor the young through good times and bad. There is a long time to sleep one day. Why waste time with your feet up?

 

I’ve noticed that kindness runs through everything you do. It seems as though success in business can sometimes be about doing the small things well. What tips would you have for young people in relation to this?

 

I was taught a long time ago that adversity brings you two things, a lesson and a blessing – and they normally come in that order. Kindness and trust are invaluable: if you have people draining your energy try to ‘realign’ and find ways to create new structures of positivity. When you are drained or low, start the day with three good deeds, and in that, your day will automatically improve. Having been homeless and sofa-surfing ten years ago, my family and my friends have got me to where I am today. But most of all, every single person I have met in those years has got me to where I am today, and for that I am truly grateful.

 

For more information about Rara’s work go to: http://aecs-connections.co.ukhttp://underoneskytogether.com, and http://ceosleepout.co.uk

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