When I think of inspirational women, I am not much minded to focus on traditional, patriarchially-defined parameters of material success and prefer to look at people I know and admire for who they are and what they have achieved in terms of their consistent imprint on those around them. I have to say, I do find it particularly inspiring when people have created a positive version of themselves from an inauspicious or challenging start. That takes guts, drive and above all, a positive attitude. When that is married with warmth, wit, ethics and spirit, you know you’re really onto something.
Meet Liz Finan, MD of Amberoc, who embodies all of the above. I caught up with her to ask her the who, what why and a few other (hopefully) thought-provoking questions.
Born to mixed race parents in Harrogate, North Yorkshire in1959 Liz spent her first five years in a children’s home in York. She left home at the age of 16 with 3 O’levels and at the age of 35 she was single again and had two children, aged 14 and eight, at which point she became the first female executive in Skipton Building Society, responsible for the Society’s Operations. In 1997 she became Operations Director for Legal and General Bank and obtained her MBA. She held two other Board appointments in the financial services sector, after which she left corporate life in 2004, to set up her own management consultancy firm and to become a non-exec director for a group of residential care homes. She also bought a failing children’s nursery in 2002 and sold her shareholding in 2010, having grown the business to a 102 place nursery with a large waiting list. She became a non-exec director on the Paradigm Housing Board in 2009 and retains that Board position. She founded Amberoc in 2010.
So, Amberoc is a completely new venture for you, Liz. What inspired you to start it up?
I founded Amberoc in response to having to source real hair wigs for myself, to give my wayward afro a rest from using harsh chemicals to straighten and tame it. I soon identified that ethically sourcing real hair was very difficult and my operations background was ideal for managing the logistics of sourcing human hair and importing human hair wigs for the hair loss industry.
Why didn’t the recession put you off?
I realised that there was a need by those with hair loss (either genetic or medical) to have excellent quality hair whether there was a recession or not. Particularly for a woman. Hair loss has huge social stigma and hairloss has a crippling effect on a women’s confidence and self-esteem.
In one sentence, what is Amberoc’s key ethos?
To ethically source human hair, through a valid commercial exchange which provides economic empowerment for women selling their hair, for the benefit of those suffering from hair loss.
What are your aspirations for it, in terms of scale and impact?
There are some sharp practices within the hair loss industry (shaving the head and using adhesives when this is not necessary thereby ensuring the client becomes fully reliant on a hair system and the clinic). This sector of the market is not Trichology and is run by individuals who are often not trained Trichologists and there is no governing body nor formal training for this very personal service. In addition, made-to-measure human hair systems are sold to clients who are vulnerable and desperate, at hugely inflated prices. Plus a lot of human hair for sale is not good quality (the cuticle is not in the same direction and so the hair in the system will mat and knot quickly), which means the money spent on having a bespoke, made-to-measure system has been wasted. I want to change that experience for all women.
I have three key objectives:-
a. Train: Trichologists (so they have a final option if medication and surgery are not effective to address a client’s hair loss); Hair Stylists (in-salon if they have the right environment for client consultations and fitting systems) and Mobile Hairdressers (so they can provide an at home service for those too ill or lacking in confidence to go out to clinics or salons). This will open up the market and give hair loss sufferers options other than expensive hair clinics. The existence of a training course to standardise practices should ensure sharp practices disappear from the industry and the technical expertise for how to design a full hair system, based on the client’s medical or lifestyle needs and not on what will make a lucrative client, will improve the range of options available to hair loss sufferers.
b. Through a network of mobile hairdressers or hair salons, offer real hair systems to the NHS at a price at least 50% of the current price charged by existing hair clinics, for those patients who cannot wear a synthetic system, thus providing savings to the NHS budget
c. make crown extension/volumisers available to women with thinning hair (genetic or as a result of menopause or child birth) through their hair salon/mobile hairdresser, rather than having to go to hair clinics, in order to de- stigmatise thinning hair in the crown area.
How do you find and hire good people?
I work with people who share my values around wanting to make things better for those with hair loss. In addition, I have specific projects for which I commission women who have left corporate life to start a family, who really want to take on a challenge, but who need to work around school times, after school activities and school holidays. I will package work up into projects that have clear outputs and these projects are then delivered to a fixed price within a given timescale.
You rise at 5am, you run a global business, you have a husband, children, dogs and a grandchild. You are a ludicrously glamorous granny. How do you define yourself?
Driven, with a desire to achieve what I set out to achieve. I can zone in to the task at hand and work hard to make things happen. I asked my family and friends about this question and they said I have a clear vision and cut through complexity, love a challenge but will not compromise my ethics and move at a thousand miles an hour!
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Loosely. I am passionate about equal opportunities for women and women’s rights, but I do celebrate the role men play in society and the symbiotic relationship between the sexes in all walks of life.
What is the trait you most value in other people?
What is the trait you most deplore in other people?
Do you have any regrets about your life?
No. I see regret as completely counter-productive. My favourite sayings are is “it is what it is” and “we are where we are”. My belief is to reflect on what has happened with the sole purpose of learning from the situation. Any regrets would mean I would have done things differently, but then I wouldn’t be me now as “I am the sum total of my experiences” and I like my life now at 53. I am comfortable with myself, I wasn’t always, but that’s all part of growing up.
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
To complete my counselling degree and become a counsellor (but it will have to wait until I am in my 60’s as I want to see Amberoc achieve its potential.
What did your childhood teach you?
It taught me to hope and that nature/nurture is a reality and where you are born and your parentage can be either a hindrance or a help but at the end of the day it is the individual and their dreams and desires that makes the most difference to where you end up.
Who has/have been the most influential people in your life and why?
I have been privileged to have some amazing people come into my life, who have seen something in me (even when I didn’t believe it was there). The list is really long but the three most influential people in my life were John Goodfellow (ex CEO of Skipton Building Society) who gave me my first break and appointed me the first female executive at Skipton Building Society) Cherry House who advised me to have counselling to deal with issues from my childhood and finally, Ian my husband who makes me want to be a better person.
What would you like to say to your 16 year old self?
Enjoy the journey because you will get there
What is your favourite song and why?
Earth Song by Michael Jackson. I think it should be a hymn sung in churches up and down the country because it says all there is to say about what we have to do to sustain mankind, the animal kingdom and our precious planet.
Is there anything about yourself you wish you could change?
I would like to find it easier to let people get close to me
Are you optimistic about the future? Do you think life will be tougher or easier for your grandchildren?
I believe life will be tougher for my grandchildren, both economically and environmentally. However I do have faith in mankind to try to make things better and the ingenuity of the human race will at least give them a chance.
What never fails to make you smile?
Music, sunshine and a beautiful view, either singularly or together.
Check out Liz’s latest venture at www.amberoc.com
Interview by Clare Logie who herself is a truly Influential Woman and who is regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.