Yvonne Thompson, CBE, has been described as Britain's first black self-made woman millionaire. She is managing director of the marketing and PR company ASAP Communications, a former director of Choice FM radio, and president of the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners, whose annual awards take place on 26 October (www.efbwbo.net). She recently took part in the Channel 4 programme Millionaire's Mission.
What did you want to be as a child?
What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?
A nurse, because as I grew older I realised I didn't see many non-white doctors; they were all male and pale.
Did you go to university?
No, I left school at 16 and went to Croydon Polytechnic to do a pre-nursing course; I then got a job as a data processor at Natwest. The pay was good, but it was so boring.
How did you get into PR?
When I was 20 I went to an agency and got a job at Phonogram Records as PA to the contracts manager. And then I found my calling, which was PR. I moved to Warner Brothers and then to CBS, but I was a rarity, being black and a woman, and I realised I was never going to get anywhere. When I was refused promotion for the third time I went to the loo, cried my eyes out, and resigned.
How did you set up your own agency?
I got desk space at the Independent Record Labels Association. At that time there weren't companies serving hard-to-reach audiences, unlike in America where if you wanted to reach Hispanics or black people, you went to a PR company run by them. I adopted that approach and it's worked well for me.
Do you consider yourself successful?
I don't get up and think I'm a success, I do what I do, I have a target and I go for it.
But don't you look back to being in tears in the CBS toilet and think how far you've come?
I don't often think about it. When I left, they said, "You'll be back; you'll never make it on your own." But the more people put me down, the more I fight back.
What's the best decision you ever made?
While I was at CBS I wrote for Roots, the first black monthly glossy magazine. The publishers applied for a black music radio station licence and my best financial decision was to go in with them and start Choice FM (since sold to Capital Radio).
What's your single biggest regret?
Not going to university. If I've done this much without a university education, how much faster would I have done it if I had?
What are your interview tips?
You need to be able to talk about yourself and how your skills are relevant to the company. If you're going for a management role, talk about the budgets you've handled and the money you've raised. And show you can be tough if necessary.
What are your CV tips?
People either boast too much or don't bring out the best in themselves. Write down your experiences and qualifications and give this to someone else to write your CV.
Who are your heroes?
Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey. I can't think of any British role models.
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