'Aviation is a man's world and it's tough'

Penny Stephens is creative director of the Jet Centre, a private aviation company based at Stansted airport, whose customers include Rod Stewart, Sir Alan Sugar and the Spice Girls.

What did you want to be as a child?

A wife and mother.

What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?

Something secretarial. I went to private school where we had to choose between O-levels and a shorthand-typing course. I chose the shorthand. But then I left school at 16 and went to college to do O- and A-levels and ended up running the canteen.

How did you manage that?

It was a mess and there was no one to sort it out. I was only 17 but I was always the type to get stuck in. After college I went to work for Gardner-Merchant Catering, then for a building refurbishing company. But I was a strange young person – I worked and I went home and that was all, and my mother wanted to get me out of myself so she sent me for flying lessons.

Why flying lessons?

I have no idea, but I loved it. I found aviation and I thought, right, that's it. I joined Thurston Aviation doing secretarial work but as it's a very hands-on industry I also operated the tower, refuelled aircraft and occasionally co-piloted. Then I met my husband and he's very traditional so I left work, stayed at home and looked after our children and was quite content.

What made you go back to work?

Once the children were in school full time I was bored. My husband had bought an aviation maintenance company by then and I wormed my way in. Eventually I became operations director.

What are your interview tips?

Do your homework on what the company is all about: so many people come for an interview and have no idea what we do! Be well-presented – jeans don't do it in a service industry. It's good if you've worked in an airport environment, but I'd rather just have someone who is prepared to learn.

And your CV tips?

Make it short and sweet.

Do you consider yourself to be successful?

Yes. Aviation is a man's world and quite tough.

What motives you?

The job: it's exciting and so many things happen. I can be dealing with an air ambulance, an aircraft breaking down, or with pop stars.

Who are your favourite clients?

I like them all but Sir Alan is very loyal to us, he's not the gruff type you see on TV, and Rod Stewart will come in and lie on the sofa in the crew lounge and watch football.

Who are your heroes?

Margaret Thatcher. She did a fantastic job and never lost her femininity. She was one of the most powerful women in the world but she still kept her home life together.

What's the best perk of your job?

Working in a very male-dominated world.

That's a perk?

Well, I wouldn't want to work in an office full of women; I find working with the guys better.