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Interview with Angela Pedder

The Ashfords Networking Group for Women - Guest Speaker

Angela Pedder (OBE) is the Chief Executive of the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust. She began her career with the NHS in 1975 as a management trainee. In 1987, at the age of 29, Angela was appointed to her first Chief Executive role as Unit General Manager, Community Services in North Hertfordshire.

In 1991 Angela was appointed Chief Executive of St Alban's & Hemel Hempstead NHS Trust before taking up her current post at the RD&E in 1996.

In the 2007 New Year's Honours List Angela was awarded an OBE for services to the NHS.

Ashfords LLP had the pleasure of hosting Angela as guest speaker at the firm's Arabella Group, a networking event for women, where Angela gave an inspiring talk about her career and journey within the NHS.

Below Angela talks about the stand out moments in her career and gives her advice to people looking to follow in her footsteps.

Interview questions?

When you first started your career with the NHS, did you have any idea that it was going to be as successful as it was?

Like a lot of 18 year olds I wasn't really sure what I was going to do. My mother saw a job advert and suggested I might like it because it was quite general, and I haven?t looked back. I think it is really important that you don?t, everybody needs to understand that it can be very difficult to make decisions and have certainty around it, so you have to go with what you think and feel is right.

Do you have a particular stand out moment that defined your role and career with the NHS?

I have been fortunate that with my career in the NHS it has covered acute care, learning disability care and mental health. It is probably in the mental health and learning disabilities sector that you can really see the impact you could make on individuals lives.

Do you feel that a female approach to business is different to a male approach? Have you experienced any challenges or obstacles in progressing in your career from being a female?

In a span of around 40 years, society's expectations and views have been changing, but I have never considered myself anything other than me. It sounds strange but I do not think about 'am I male or female?', I am just doing the job I love so I have never felt excluded, but I am a personality type that wouldn't let that happen anyway.

I think there is a spectrum of styles and ways of working within people who are in these sorts of roles. There are some male characteristics and there are some female characteristics, but I actually think that the most well-rounded leaders you see are capable of covering a full spectrum. We all have preferred styles and preferences, but actually it?s the those people who can think holistically and consider 'how can I get the best out of this situation?', and I don?t think that?s a male or female dominated place.

However, my career goes back a long way and I have been in interviews where I have been asked if I plan to have children and my only response for them was not during the interview. I still got the job, but we can look at it and think that?s dreadful, and yes it is, but actually at that time if that question was in somebody's mind there was nothing to stop them asking that question so it was better that it was out and asked and talked about than actually that being used against you without the dialogue.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to follow in similar footsteps to yourself?

You have to lead through others and you have to think about what leadership style you want and how you can lead through empowerment, particularly in the service I am in, and actually recognise if you want somebody to frequently say that you do a brilliant job, then this isn?t the job for you.

It is also about being very clear with where your own standards and values sit and to be guided by those around you and to hold yourself to account for your behaviours because it is very easy to normalise what others are doing around you but actually the only person you can hold into account is yourself.

What are your views on the up-and-coming generation of business people? Have they changed much from when you first started out in your career?

Society and people's expectations change; the calibre, the qualifications, the skills people are coming through with are honed, but actually in many ways we hone peoples technical skills far more than we hone their personal skills. I think to be really successful and to be resilient, probably more needs to be done in terms of helping people to be comfortable in their own shoes and to be able to articulate why they are doing something beyond a technical process. That richness and that roundness comes with experience and experience in multi-sectors is more difficult now. People become siloed?and specialist quite early in their careers and that?s great but actually you need holistic thinking in any business and the question for me is 'where are those well-rounded people really coming from?' They are there, but how do you help new graduates coming in, specialising early, to see the big picture.

You have already achieved so much, but where do you see yourself in 5 years' time? What plans do you have for the future?

I have always had thoughts in terms of things I might like to do, but I have never really planned my career in terms of what I was going to do because I don?t think you can be as structured as that. For anything to be successful there is always an element of opportunism and luck. What you need to be clear about, and what I am clear about is the sorts of things you are interested in doing and equally as important the sorts of things I wouldn?t be interested in doing. So I think for me it is seeing the big picture and being clear about general direction of travel and what are the sorts of things that when you finally retire and you are looking back you would say it is a real shame I didn?t do that.

For me, I am interested in the charitable sector, the wider aspects of health and wellbeing and I am really interested in empowering self-esteem with mental health and learning disabilities. It might be strange for someone who has largely been in the acute service but actually those elements are important for every aspect of care but there is that element as a society of what sort of community do we want to live in. That spans the public sector and private sector as a business conversation alongside a society conversation because they are the communities we live in and the communities our children will grow up in. It's not somebody else's business, it is our business and we have to engage in the conversation.

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