Just weeks after her first daughter was born, Lynne Copp, managing director of The Worklife Company, was confronted with her husband walking out on her. Years later and against the odds, she has now gone on to hold several high-powered positions and successfully runs her own business which she hopes will go global. Here’s her story.
Lynne says that the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ has been a part of her personality since she was a child. Meticulously, she carved out her own career with the aim of seeking as much experience as possible in all areas of business – a move that meant she would be ideally equipped to run her own show when the time was right.
“Every job was a stepping stone,’’ she says. ‘’I worked in process engineering to find out how systems work, I worked in HR to learn about employment law and people development and then I moved on to roles in marketing. The one area I didn’t go into was finance because that would have been suicide for me.’’ She laughs and acknowledges: "Along with my ironing lady, I won’t give up the luxury of my accountant!’’ This deliberate strategy allowed Lynne to understand how every cog in the business wheel turns and gave her the necessary set of skills to make the jump to business owner.
Lynne has always been a working mum and only had four weeks leave when her first daughter was born. “My husband walked out on me just weeks after she arrived and I didn’t really have a choice but to go back to work at four weeks,’’ she says. ‘’ At the time Hewlett Packard didn’t offer the same maternity packages as they do now.”
Despite the tough start to family life, Lynne went on to cherish her girls; she now has two - one daughter is going to university and the other is finishing her final year at school. She has combined her desire to do everything possible for them and forge ahead in her career. Lynne was appointed head of learning development, communications and diversity at Hewlett Packard at the end of her career with them, and, much to her bosses’ dismay, in 1998 she told them she was off. “It was time to start up my own business,’’ she says. "I had no money and my second husband said to me ‘we’ll give it nine months and then if it doesn’t work, we’ll get you back into corporate life!’”
Luckily for Lynne, she never had to look back although deep down she had always been convinced she could make it work. I describe myself as optimistic and a risk-taker,’’ she says candidly. "I’m forward focused.” Lynne’s business, The Worklife Company was born out of her interest in human development. “I have qualifications in that area and I have a diploma in coaching - I understand human behaviour.”
From the outset, Lynne set her sights on influencing those at the top and approached both Tony and Cherie Blair when they were at Number 10. “I talked to them and went on to develop the ‘challenge fund’ for work/life balance with Margaret Hodge.” Through this work, Lynne found that stress was increasingly a big problem and started to retrain staff in how to deal with it.
The Worklife company has been going for over ten years now. During that time, Lynne has seen a great deal of change in the area of work/life balance: “It used to be fairly altruistic with employers wanting to help their staff but now the focus is on doing it in order to retain great talent and to make a profit for the business,” says Lynne.
Lynne works with several big names including Google, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft to ‘create great places to work’. Businesses such as Google, says Lynne, are at the forefront of the work/life balance movement. “I went to a seminar the other day with the managing director of Google and someone asked him if it is possible to get a balance between work and life, and he said, ‘why wouldn’t we do that? It’s instinctive.’ He added that he takes his boys to school everyday and said that no business meeting was more important than that.” In Lynne’s view, the businesses who are ‘doing it properly’ are ‘grown-up’ and are starting to link work/life balance initiatives to other areas, including corporate social responsibility.
Another area of research which interests Lynne is exploring female excellence in leadership. As part of The Worklife Company’s continuing research programme, she is conducting an extensive piece of work this year entitled ‘Lipstick Leadership’ which is looking at modelling behaviours that contribute towards excellence.
“It’s not about comparing men and women,” says Lynne, ’’but it’s about modelling excellence in female leadership. I’ve interviewed about 50 women and I think I’ve found the DNA that makes them rise like stars. Some women are pretty scary but there are others who are amazingly excellent and both women and men love working with them.” The results of this leadership research come out in October.
Lynne is also incredibly proud of her ‘Dancing round the handbags’ concept which includes an inspirational book, workshop, retreat and coaching for women. The aim, says Lynne is to stop women juggling and start them balancing their work and life.
“Women are always juggling,’’ she says."They are the ones that have to buy the birthday card, remember to feed the cat and do a million and one things. But nurturing themselves always comes at the bottom of the list. Yet when you ask women who is to blame when one of the plates drops they say they are. Women believe they should be seen to do it all.’’
The concept involves taking women off the ‘dancefloor of life’ and opening up the ‘handbag’. “The lipstick is the mask women wear, the mirror presents our level of self-esteem (often when we say to women, describe your body they say ‘fat’) and the purse is what they put against finance – women usually see it as the cost of things and what sacrifices they have to make rather than how wealthy they are,” she explains.
The idea behind the workshop is to de-clutter all the items in the handbag and get them to focus on their own development and start balancing their lives. In September, Lynne brings out her new book: “Dancing Round the Handbags.”
Lynne never rests and, as an optimist and a forward thinker, she is always striving for what is around the corner. Lynne also admits she is an incredibly visual person and says: “I have my vision board in front of me with my goals which I review all the time. My teenage daughters are about to go to university and the final year of sixth form, so I now want to take the business international.”
Lynne has built a business up from her own passion to understand how people develop and the way women work and run their lives. She is a glowing example of how to cope when family life doesn’t always go according to plan and how to stay positive and look ahead. As for her top tip to other working mums, she says: “I’d say you’ve got to be good to yourself. It’s an amazing job you’re doing. It’s really sad that recent research said that parents only spend one hour a day with their children – it’s disgusting really and employers need to do more to help families.” Lynne’s aim is to help re-dress that balance with The Worklife Company.