More from this series

Pamela Permalloo-Bass

Meet Pamela Permallo-Bass Head of Equality & Diversity at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

In Conversation With…

Alison Jameson

Here is our interview with Alison Jameson, the dynamic and groundbreaking owner of Hair and beauty PR agency AJC. Alison's story is an inspiring reminder that leadership doesn't have to be complicated and that following instincts can help you to enjoy your vision.

Alison, please give us some insight into your background: eg childhood and parental influences, motivations, inspirations. What did you dream of becoming when you were growing up?

I've always been interested in clothes and when I was growing up I always wanted to look my best. My Mum was very stylish and still is at 80 and my Dad loved clothes too and would always say to me, better to buy one good thing and have it for ages than buy lots of bits. I visited London for the first time when I was 15 and went straight to Harrods (this was in 1974) and went to the section that they had called ‘Way In’, which I had only read about in magazines and bought a top and some jeans. 

At the age of 15 I started working in a newsagents in town and every Friday I'd spend my wages on records and clothes. The first stop was always a shop called ‘Bus Stop’ (similar to Biba) and then the record shop. Clothes and music were pretty much interlinked in the 70s as they are today but it was an amazing era - platform shoes, David Bowie, maxi dresses - the lot! 

I wanted to become a hairdresser and against the advice of my teachers I left school at 16 and started to work in what was the best salon in the city. My parents supported my ambitions and at 19 after finishing my training I moved to London. I'm not too sure what my parents thought of that decision but they supported me and encouraged me to be the best I could be. 

When did you start your business and what motivated you to take the leap?

We have just celebrated our 20th Anniversary - which I can't quite believe. It really does only seem like yesterday. I moved from London back to Edinburgh when my son was two. I couldn't find a job that I loved (I’d worked for Trevor Sorbie for eight years and that was a hard act to follow), so I decided to start up on my own. Carol Hayes who has an agency was a great help and I shadowed her for a while and learnt so much. I started working from the under stairs cupboard, with just one client in Aberdeen and slowly built up my client base over the years. We still have our first client today!

Are there any key defining moments in your career/ life?

I have a few - my first job in London with Wella taught me so much, then working with Trevor Sorbie in the 1980's was fantastic, it was such a creative time: next was the birth  of my son, and then returning to Scotland and starting my own business. We had tried for many years to break into London and people always said - 'you are based in Edinburgh it's too far away.' Eventually one client took a chance and that really opened doors for us. We now have more southern based clients than Scottish!

When did you realise that you were a leader?

When I moved to London I worked for Wella the hair product company and I was a trainer in their studio. I quickly learned on the job and found that training other people there had to be a leader and that was my role. I think I've always been very pro-active and sometimes a little bossy!

Did you choose leadership or did leadership choose you?
I think a bit of both - I fell naturally into the role.

What particular qualities do you have, that you believe make you an effective leader? What is your leadership style? How do you engage and motivate your employees?

That's a hard one to answer. I think I am fair - which is very important. I also believe in sharing information and communicating with my team. I like to treat people the way that I would like to be treated myself. Every day is different and I hope that each day the team are motivated to do their best. We have an Achievement of the Month Award and the person with the most achievements within the year receives a financial bonus. The team get an additional day off for their birthday and we have good nights out at Christmas and when we are working away from home.

From what you say, it sounds like you practice “nearby leadership", would you agree?

I would. We have daily morning meetings when everyone goes through their list for the day and if they need any help with anything it's flagged up first thing and not left to drag on and possibly become a problem.  We also have a weekly team meeting when we go through everything. I'm big on communication both internally and externally in the office.

With all of the talk in the press about women and the 'Glass ceiling', 'board quotas' and 'having it all' ......do you think that there have been big changes in women’s roles in business etc...?

I do think that there have been huge changes. When I had my son 24 years ago it was quite different and many people didn't go back to work for quite a while, but on the other hand we were one of the first generations of career mums. At that time most of my friends worked full time and had children, managing to keep all the plates spinning. Now as I'm older I think it is more difficult to have it all - sometimes things have to give, but as you get older you become more adaptable.

What would say to young women who are planning their careers?

If I were advising someone on planning their career, my advice would always be:  be financially secure, save for a rainy day. Take risks but make sure that they are calculated risks after all you never want to say ‘if only’. Also don't be afraid to say NO, but always be able to back it up. I also think it's important not to let situations or circumstances grow. If something's not working recognise this quickly and act upon it - don't wait and think it will get better - the chances are it won't and fixing it then may be more difficult in the long run.

Yours is an all female organisation...is that by design or by accident? Are there any benefits to this?

Not really by design - we have had some male employees but I do think the job is more suited to a female - but if the right man came along and we had a vacancy the job would be his.

Are there any leaders that you find inspiring?

Yes, many people from many different fields. I love reading about people like Diana Vreeland and Liz Tilberis, both inspiring for different reasons. I love watching business focused programmes. I think Deborah Meaden is a good example of a great leader - she has a wise head on her shoulders, but equally she's shown a fun side to her personality by appearing on Strictly Come Dancing.

Have you had mentors or do you have any mentors? 

I have had a lot of people who have influenced me. Carol Hayes is a very old friend and helped me so much when I started. I've tried to learn from many people I've worked with. I worked with Trevor Sorbie for eight years and learned so much from him. My mantra is to learn something new each day - it doesn't matter how small it is.  I like to believe I mentor my team and encourage them to develop their skills and continue to learn new skills.

What makes you jump out of bed with energy, no matter how little sleep you may have had? What motivates you?

Various things - I like when I have spent time in the office and I'm up to date with everything and I have my day planned and I'm looking forward to getting on with it. I also like to travel and the thought of a nice long haul flight or a trip to the highlands of Scotland would make me jump right out of bed.

If you had to change anything that you did or didn't do in your life or career what would it be?

Nothing really - I've learned from my mistakes and I've had a great career. I probably would have liked to have spent more time with my son when he was little, but I was a single Mum and had to go out and work.

Alison, what would you say is your most marked characteristic? What would your friends & family say it is?

Not sure about this - I would hope a generous spirit and a good Mum. I am a very proud Mum and having my son changed my life and always for the better.

Do you have a motto or quote that you always refer to?

Not really - I have lots of sayings I use in various situations, but probably treat people   as you would like to be treated yourself.

Thank you Alison