My Biggest Mistake: It's a learning thing

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The Independent Online
Fiona Wishart, 30, studied at Strathclyde Business School and went to work for Procter and Gamble. She ran the company's European systems projects, before joining Status Meetings in 1995 to head up Inside UK Enterprise, a DTI programme that builds contacts between sectors of British industry. She became managing director of both companies in January.

THERE HAVE been no major disasters - the mistakes I have made are ongoing, things that I'm learning all the time - for example, realising how best I can delegate.

When you have progressed very quickly through an organisation, as I have, you have your finger in every pie. I know every single detail of what's going on. My team was very small - just five people - but now I oversee 38 people, all working on very different things.

It's hard to stop myself getting actively involved in every area. I have to trust people'sdecisions and come back to them at regular intervals.

Part of the difficulty comes from outside forces. Clients are used to dealing with me but it's important to make sure that they communicate with the people actually doing the job.

On the other hand, it does engender a respect: clients know that when I ask something, or when I have got a vision, I come from a position where I know what everybody is doing.

I trust my team, but I need to keep telling them that. A couple of times I've had to sit people down and say: "I trust you. What that means is that I'm expecting these things." Then you sit there, biting your nails.

As a managing director, you move very quickly through different priorities within the organisation. What you would associate with having a really productive day changes. It takes a lot of adapting, but it's not as if I woke up on Monday morning and everything had changed; it's an evolutionary process.

I have never really had an assistant before: I do everything for myself and in the computer age that's normal. But I have realised that I do need more help.

We have just appointed somebody in that role: the reality is that you need that level of communication. People need to understand what you are doing, where you are and how to communicate with you. In one example, someone didn't feel they were able to interrupt me. It can be difficult to see where there's a window of opportunity.

The job specification said my assistant was to be a "buffer". I said: "I don't like that word. I don't need a buffer. People can come to me whenever."