Lorna Billinge took a career break and worked on her family’s business for six years before restarting a career in retail. Nineteen years later she has been appointed a global manager and was recently given an award for her achievements. She is keen to inspire other women.
Lorna started her career in retail, but says she had to leave after being attacked in a retail environment. This meant she was out of work for a couple of years and stayed at home looking after her children. Her husband was then made redundant from his job and started his own business in the building trade.
One of his biggest challenges was paperwork. Lorna started doing all the administrative work, teaching herself about tax and other issues. She worked on the family business for six years, but says it became quite challenging. She had ideas about how the business should be run which often differed from what her husband thought.
“There were lots of discussions at the dinner table,” she says. “Work was biting into family life.” She decided it might be a good idea to find a job outside the home. Her children were 13 and nine at the time.
She joined the shopping channel QVC as an inventory data entry clerk and is still there 19 years later. “It was a young company at that stage so you could get involved in lots of different areas,” says Lorna, who is from Liverpool. “It gave me the ability to learn the business.”
Over the years she has worked her way up from inventory data entry clerk to returns manager to head of logistics for the UK to overseeing Supply Chain Operations on a global scale. Her current role is Vice President of Global QA and Supply Chain Operations.
Lorna’s drive for results and diverse skillset meant that she was given responsibility for the challenging areas of Quality Assurance (QA) and shipping. In this role she has streamlined the QA process to ensure greater efficiency and reducing the ‘dock to stock’ process from six days to one day, resulting in a reduction of 70% of resource with an annual cost saving of £250k.
She has also changed ‘freight forwarder’, resulting in an improved service whilst making an annual cost saving of £600k. Her achievements resulted in global recognition from QVC’s President and CEO.
They have also led to her being named a 2015 Specsavers everywoman in Retail Ambassador.
Around three years into working at QVC, Lorna became pregnant. She thought this might hinder her career, but says that instead she found the company very supportive, understanding and flexible. “They knew if they gave me flexibility they would get it back ten-fold,” she says.
For Lorna, lack of confidence can be a problem for women, particularly those who have taken time out of work. However, she believe she has been fortunate. “I have worked for good people who have stretched me as an individual,” she says.
She took just 11 weeks off on maternity leave before returning full time because she wanted to get back to work, because maternity benefits were less generous at the time and because her husband was able to be around more. “I had a lot of support from my family, including my mother in law.
I had the best of both worlds,” she says, adding that she thinks it is important for working mums to take advantage of any support offered, to be able to delegate and to prioritise what is important to your children. This might be different to what you think is important.
Lorna says she was able to progress in her career because she was able to learn from others and take on their feedback. She had good mentors too, many of them men. She may not have agreed with everything they did, but she learned a lot of positive things and values from them, she says.
The world of logistics is very male-dominated and Lorna says that never phased her. Nowadays, more women are coming into the field, she adds.
In her current role she manages a team of 381 people in seven countries and travels quite a bit. “QVC is on air 15 hours a day and has additional channels now as well as the web.
That’s a lot of products to get in and a lot of travel,” she says. Many products come from the Far East and she admits the travel has been tough on her family in the first months of her global role. At one point she was in the US when it was her youngest son’s birthday and she rushed back to be with him. She thinks it will settle down eventually.
Her team is vital to her and she has met them all. “I think it is really important to connect with them all at a personal level. It’s important to show them that I have the same challenges with work life balance as they do,” she says.
Her two older children are now grown up and she has a grandchild. Her youngest son is 16. She says that being a working mum has helped them to become more independent and to realise the importance of a strong work ethic.
She hopes the Specsavers everywoman award will help inspire other women, particularly those who have taken a career break. “They need to be able to see the transferable skills they have as a mum and realise they have a lot to offer.
They run their family, they are in charge of household bills, they coach and mentor their children. These are all transferable skills and they should be confident and realise how much they have to offer,” she says.