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In conversation with women leaders - Jenny Hanlon

Oaklin is launching a series of interviews with inspirational businesswomen, exploring their career journeys and providing advice for others aspiring to follow in their footsteps. The aim is to highlight the successes and challenges of being a woman in business so that other women can learn from these experiences. In the series, we will also explore topics that greatly impact working women including work-life balance, and imposter syndrome.

Jenny Hanlon

My name's Jenny Hanlon, Chief Financial Officer at Adnams Southwold.  I see myself as a people person, which has always been very interesting in my time working in finance.

Tell us about your journey so far and what led you to this role today.

I'm currently CFO at Adnams PLC, which is a regional Brewer in Southwold. We produce beer and spirits; we also have a number of shops and have managed and tenanted pubs. We distribute nationally as well as internationally. Working at Adnams is a different place to where I thought I would be! I started out at Ernst and Young, where I gained most of my accounting qualification. I then moved into banking, and also worked for a freight forwarders.

I worked for Greene King for a time. Then I found myself working in insurance, where I spent a large amount of my career. A lot of that time was spent commuting into London, but doing that whilst living in Suffolk proved to be quite exhausting. So, I decided to be brave and make a change and find something that I would like to do closer to home and the stars aligned. The timing was perfect and the opportunity at Adnams came up. I had to ask myself a number of times whether I could do the role before I applied for it because it was so different from what I had been doing in the past. I felt that my skills matched however, so I put myself forward, and here I am today.

What has been your biggest achievement and your biggest lesson?

I joined Adnams during lockdown and worked with the brewery through two years of COVID and we have just endured another year through inflationary pressures. I think it's an achievement to be even smiling today with some of the challenges that we have got through! I wouldn’t say there is any one individual achievement – it’s more about enjoying the journey I've had so far and continuing to look forward as that journey progresses.

I love the breadth of what I've done throughout my career, and I'm not ashamed to say that I like to be interested in my day-to-day job. I give way more than 100% if I am interested and if you start to feel bored, you don't do that.  I've always felt brave enough to say when I have had enough somewhere and I am going to look at something else, without leaving that company in the lurch.

Knowing this has made me more self-aware. During the course of your career, you learn a lot about businesses and industries, but you also learn a huge amount about yourself, where you best operate and how you can create environments to make your work the best it can be.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Realising what the real difference from one role to the next is. My much younger self probably thought more about what the role needed to deliver rather than what people wanted from me. It's a subtle difference, which I now understand, but it would have been nice to have understood that a bit earlier. For instance, in my current role I believe being a good finance person isn't really about the numbers, it's actually about being an interpreter. The role is to demystify, decipher and help other people understand what the numbers mean and how they can help the business. I have always seen finance as a language skill rather than a numbers skill. Helping people understand those numbers so they can feel brave enough to make decisions with them – that’s the interesting part.

Have you ever felt the imposter syndrome, and if so, how did you overcome it?

It's not something I normally let myself think about. I have quite a regimented boxed up mind, so if there's something that I don't want to think about, I manage to separate it from the task I am supposed to focus on. I am quite organised with that type of thing! I guess the fact that I am a mother of two has helped with this mental exercise. When it comes to imposter syndrome, I just decided not to focus on it and think about what I am delivering at work instead.

How do you balance this with your work and personal commitments?

I do a lot of exercise and that really keeps me sane. I like activities that are all consuming. A tricky yoga class is great because you can't think about anything otherwise you just fall over and hurt yourself! The same goes for a good run. It is like a mind focus exercise. I can't say I've ever been consciously aware of doing it. I put it down to the fact that I actually think I’m quite selfish, and by being selfish it means I focus on the thing I'm wanting to do right now.

In terms of time management, I put everything in my calendar. If I want to go for a run at lunchtime, I put the time in my work calendar. It’s something I have always done and I don't mind if someone looks in my calendar and sees I am going to yoga. I've got a yoga class and I don't apologise for it. That’s because you're going to get much better work out of me this afternoon because I went and had a break in the middle of the day.

What advice would you give to women looking to take the next step in to leadership?

Try to decipher whether or not you are feeling challenged in your role. If you aren’t, then you're ready to go to the next step. If you are challenged in your role, that means you're trying and that is the only way you measure it. Don't measure it on what anyone else is doing, or what they've said. Do it on your own internal view as to whether you're feeling challenged. And if you're not feeling challenged, it’s probably time to step up, progress and go after new goals.

This series is a part of the Oaklin Women's Network. Visit the Oaklin Women's Network page to find out more.