A lightbulb moment

Deirdre Critchley took five years out of her City career to set up a business and spend time with her children. She’s now back in the City thanks to a unique Returning Talent programme.



Deirdre Critchley was on a career break for five years before she decided to take part in a unique Returning Talent programme which has landed her a senior job back in the City.

Deirdre had worked for a number of years for banks such as JP Morgan, BNP Paribas and Citibank as a sales and relationship manager, selling security services into large US and European banks. She was working at Citibank when her first son was born 15 years ago. “There was no part-time or flexible working at the time,” she says. She returned for around nine months before her husband was posted to the US. When the family came back around four years later she was pregnant with her second child. Through a friend, she at BNP Paribas, initially covering maternity leave, there for around three years, working four days in the office and one from home.

She decided to leave, however, as her husband started to travel a lot with his job.  A close family member had also died. “I had to travel for my job too and I would be in Paris while my husband was at the other end of the country. The children were young. No-one was having any fun. Our attention was skewed in the direction of work. I wanted to spend more time with the children and have a less complicated life,” says Deirdre.

She had plans to run her own business, Jammy Cow Limited, based around her passion for making preserves. Her decision to step down coincided with the recession so it was fairly fortuitous timing and she says she learnt a lot from running her own business. However, it soon became clear that making jam was one thing and selling and marketing it at a profit was entirely different. “The reality of standing at a farmer’s market on a cold day when I thought of what I could be earning became clear. It was a hobby and I realised it was not doing anything for my personal development,” she says. “It was not just about the money. I had always worked in teams. Working by yourself and only having yourself to bounce ideas off is lonely. Also your relationships with your children and husband change if you are at home all the time. You find yourself devoting most of your time to the service of others. There’s very little sense of progression.”

She missed her former life. “You learn to value what you are good at and I realised that there are things about working for big corporates that I thrive on,” she says. Nevertheless, she has kept the company name and trademark and adds that she could pick it up again when she retires. In addition to running the business, she also ran the school PTA “like a FTSE 100 company”. “If I had raised any more money it might have lost its charitable status,” she laughs.


She started looking around for work, but it was the middle of the recession and she wondered who would hire her.

She was looking locally as the family had moved out of London, but there was no huge interest in her cv and she was applying for jobs which were below her skills level. “I realised that if I wanted to work I needed to look at financial services where people would understand what my background and experience was all about,” she says. She had kept in touch with some of her old City colleagues and one of them sent her information about the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Returning Talent programme.

She says going into the bank to take part in the programme was quite “a lightbulb moment”. She had come into the building many times to meet clients in her former jobs and it felt very familiar.

“It was the missing link.  The programme gave me an insight into what it would be like to be back at work again and reminded me I have skills,” she says.

By the end of the second day she was sure she wanted to go back to work and she knew that the programme was offering her a big opportunity which she grabbed with both hands. She spoke to Bank of America recruiters directly and one of the HR managers offered to review her cv. She had downloaded information on the bank’s global vacancies and within a short time she had secured a post at the bank working as director of banking services, on the opposite side of the fence from what she used to do. Deirdre made sure she caught up on any knowledge gaps she might have by reading the trade press, talking to colleagues and taking advantage of Bank of America Merrill Lynch training programmes.

She admits the first six months back were hard as the whole family had to adapt to her not being at home. Deirdre works full time and her job involves some travel, but she says, unlike when she was working in banking when her first son was born, it is fairly flexible and there is some homeworking. Plus her husband helps out with childcare.

She says she could have come back part time, but she had to be realistic about the kind of role she wanted. “If you take time out and you want to go back to what you did before you have to find a way to do it over time. I felt the onus was on me to come back up the curve and make it happen, that I had to get from A to B via C and D,” she says.

She adds that when you are at home everything revolves around you so it is difficult shifting things back and being “a bit selfish”. Her advice to others thinking of taking similar steps back to work is not to be scared.  She says: “Your skills are not as out of date as you think.”

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