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Mrs Moneypenny revealed.

03 September 2013

Heather McGregor fell prey to the UK based executive search company Taylor Bennett at 23 years old. The experience was so wonderful she kept in touch with the organisation long after she’d moved on from PR and marketing, completed her MBA, and become an investment banker.

In 2000, at 38, Heather quit investment banking. She wanted to go into business and she wanted to own the business. Taylor Bennett was her object of desire, which she purchased in 2004 following four years of working for the organisation.

“I looked at what I could do. Investment banking doesn’t train you for very much at all but I’d lived around the world and done a lot of deals. I’d met and knew a lot of people, so one of the things I had put together was a pretty strong phone book,” says Heather across the phone from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Heather is in the Scottish capital putting on her comedy show, Mrs Moneypenny Returns.

The show is based on Heather’s life as portrayed in her weekly column for the Financial Times - a column she has been writing for 13 years under the pseudonym, Mrs Moneypenny. The show’s form takes its inspiration from Australian comedian Fiona O’Loughlin.

“I didn’t ever think I could be as funny as her [Fiona], but when I saw her I thought, she’s talking about her life and that’s what I do in my column every week. Why don’t I try and do it on stage?

“I’ve actually brought two shows to Edinburgh this year [Heather’s Mrs Moneypenny show debuted at the 2010 festival]. I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment.”

“Glutton for punishment” might very well be the recurring theme in Heather’s life. Certainly, glutton-for-punishment is how she got herself an alias and ‘two lives’.

In 1999, the Financial Times was looking for a column about ‘being a woman in a man’s workplace’. Someone mentioned to the paper that they knew of a ‘girl living and working in Japan for a bank, and that she could write’.

The ‘girl’ was Heather: “I had a full time job and three children, one six months old. My husband had a very big job and in my spare time I was trying to finish my PhD studies. I really wasn’t all that enthusiastic when they asked me to do the column. One of the various reasons I gave them for not doing it included the possibility the bank I worked for might sack me. They promised to give me a pseudonym and tell no-one who it was… and for a long time nobody knew Mrs Moneypenny was me.”

Mrs Moneypenny has gone on to spawn an industry, one that includes books, a TV series in the UK called Superscrimpers, and Heather’s stage work.

One of her Mrs Moneypenny books deals with what it’s like to be a working mother: “You have to make choices. You can’t do everything and people who expect to be able to will be massively disappointed. Even if you are a full time manager of children in the home and you are in the fortunate position of not having to go out to work, if you have three children and they are all playing sport on Saturdays, who are going to watch? You are going to have to say ‘no’ to somebody.”

Saying ‘no’, regardless of whether you are in work or not is a critical way of rationing your time, according to Heather, who also thinks, to the extent that you can, you should try and include your family in everything you possibly can. She terms it the “integrate and suffocate” model.

What, then, is Mrs McGregor’s life like?

Not all that dissimilar to Mrs Moneypenny’s.

“I recommend spending an hour a week on personal financial planning, which includes checking your direct debit, paying household bills, keeping credit in control, setting budgets for holidays, etc. Part of that hour should also include taking stock of your financial finishing line. On that line are the big ticket items you want to achieve and which you also need to have costed: what constitutes a properly funded pension plan, what is it going to cost to buy a house, educate your children… that sort of thing.

“Most importantly, that financial finishing line must not involve or depend on someone coming into your life and bringing assets. If someone does come into your life bringing assets, then that is a bonus.” 

Mrs McGregor has another very interesting skill: she shoots. Something she learnt predominantly for business.

Game shooting in the UK is a sport that “a great many business leaders engage in. If you want to spend time with business leaders, it is quite a useful sport to learn,” explains Heather.

Talk about a different take on the Saturday golf game, something Heather believes you can seriously impede the enjoyment of people if they play golf and you don’t or can’t very well: “Shooting is quite different. When you’re shooting it doesn’t matter if you’re not very good. What matters is that you are safe. As long as you’re safe and good company then it works for everyone.”

Gun toting also led Mrs McGregor to flying. The UK may not be a big place but the country roads were built for different times and getting to some of the shoot venues could rather spoil the fun.

In 2007, having accepted a lift to a shoot in a small plane, that all changed.

“I travel around now in my own small plane,” explains Heather, having trained and sat her pilot’s licence. “It goes at about 90 miles an hour, but because you’re travelling in a straight line without obstacles it is so much quicker.”

Mrs McGregor’s and Mrs Moneypenny’s lives brim with skills and actions that are absolutely not what people would expect.

About six years ago in the UK, Heather’s company, Taylor Bennett was, from her own admission, “under a lot of pressure to produce short-lists that were more representative of the ethnic make-up of the UK working population, which is about 15 percent ethnic minorities”.

Taylor Bennett’s short-lists were less than 1 percent minorities, which, as Heather points out, stemmed from the fact that the company deals in senior roles in the communications industry and most ethnic minorities in the UK are not encouraged into communications careers in the first place.

“If nobody’s there in the job at 22, then you’re not going to find them at 37,” Heather points out, continuing: “In the end I set up the Taylor Bennett Foundation to deliver a training programme.

“We now hire black and ethnic minority graduates into a training scheme that lasts 10 weeks. The Foundation pays the graduates a salary and we support them to get their very first job in communications. We’ve done this for five years now and that’s meant investing a very large proportion of the profits of the business into the programme.

“Nobody in their right mind in a publicly listed organisation would be able to do this. I only have my husband to answer to when I don’t have the dividend stream I might otherwise… and possibly my bank manager,” explains Heather of her rule breaking behaviour.

Taylor Bennett Foundation now has well over 100 young people working in the communications industry in the UK and while not all of them will make it on to Heather’s short-lists in the future, she and her company have single-handedly addressed the talent issue, building a pipeline that’s getting larger and larger.