This week we are delighted to introduce the 8th feature in our ‘Inspirational Woman Series’ – how time flies! We have had the opportunity to speak with the fabulous Louise MacLean, mother of 2 and director at the Signature Group. Louise works incredibly hard within her job and has years’ worth of experience in the hospitality industry. Not only is she an inspirational worker and mother, but she is also incredibly strong. In 2020 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost her father to terminal cancer in the same year. It has been incredibly tough but she has not lost faith and continues to fight. It’s no surprise that Louise was given the ‘Inspirational Woman of the Year’ award in 2020 by a licensed trade body. She is a remarkable lady and an inspiration to us all.
In the interview, we find out a bit more about Louise’s background – how she was working in a predominantly ‘man’s world’ at the beginning of her career, but this did not hold her back. We also discover how she celebrates her wins, who inspires her, as well as Louise’s tips on staying motivated.
One part that stood out to us was when Louise referred to her reasons for staying motivated - “Succeeding is my motivation, from beating cancer, to having a happy home, to leading a strong team and I’ll work hard to achieve that.”
Q - Can you give us an introduction into who you are?
A - Hi I’m Louise MacLean – mum of 2 boys (11 & 9), wife and Director at Signature Group. I am originally a Dundonian but moved to Edinburgh in the late 90’s to continue my career in the drinks industry.
Q - What is your personal story?
A - My first job after university was running Fat Sam’s – a well-known nightclub in Dundee. However whilst I loved it, it was quite a punishing lifestyle. My mum saw an advert for a role at United Distillers & Vintners (now Diageo) and suggested that I applied, reckoning I could sell Smirnoff, Gordons and Jack Daniels to publicans. I was fortunate enough to be offered the job, and from there a career in the drinks industry beckoned.
I worked for Molson Coors and Tennent’s, with the latter company giving me the support and career opportunity which allowed me to join Signature. This is where I developed my role and grew as the company expanded. I joined what was then a “man’s world.” I never felt that my gender held me back, but it also didn’t open many doors. I learnt my trade and worked hard to get promoted, through strong results and capabilities.
Q - How have you gotten to where you are today?
A - I have no idea! Luck, right place, right time, loyalty, work hard, play hard. Like many women, I am constantly doubting myself with low self-esteem (those that know me will doubt this!) I struggle with “imposter syndrome” where I don’t believe I am as competent as others perceive me to be, whilst portraying an extremely self-confident exterior. But relationship building is something I find easy and to be successful in sales, being able to relate to people is a vital skill. I don’t believe it’s one that can be taught- it’s an instinct, an interest in people that leads to developing equally beneficial relationships.
No one knows what the “new normal” will resemble, so flexibility, adaptability and remaining open-minded will lead to success. I read articles and stories, I listen to podcasts, I talk to people with opposing views and I’m a sponge for information, especially relating to hospitality. I constantly think of ways to innovate within Signature and come up with ideas that will benefit the business. I am not scared to share and implement these ideas – courage of conviction!
Q - What do you love most about your job(s)?A – First and foremost, seeing customers have a fantastic hospitality experience. That’s where I get the “highs” – reading reviews, hearing first hand tales and listening to the teams in the venues telling animated stories about customers’ wonderful experiences. I love travelling and researching places to visit, to be able to see incredibly interesting bars, ideas and bringing that innovation back to Scotland for our bars - be it design, service, food or drink.
Q - How did you end up becoming a marketing ‘goddess’?
A - I’m really not! I’m just a sales person! I aim to hit sustainable sales targets and want to generate profit to allow the business to develop. To do that, you have to understand and connect with your consumer and target market – and that’s what I understand. ‘Know your audience’ is my life’s motto, which I don’t always get right!
I wish that I had studied psychology at university. I find the psychology of decision-making and personality traits fascinating! I read books and try to attend courses to teach me the theory and garner insights. Constant learning is vital to remain relevant to your audience.
Q - Can you tell us about your life achievements to date?
A - I’ve been fortunate in my career and have been awarded some wonderful accolades. This year I was presented with the “Inspirational Woman of The Year” by one of the licensed trade bodies and that was a huge honour and surprise. I’ve worked hard this last year; to understand the ramifications for the industry with the restrictions to trade and the lockdowns. I have pivoted our business, McLarens on the Corner to be a fantastic “one stop shop” for community and take-away in the southside of Edinburgh. Written lengthy reports and lobbied to be heard amongst politicians, shouted loudest to be able to host the First Minister at Cold Town House last July whilst she supported the safe opening of hospitality but right now my greatest achievement are my 2 wee boys. They crack me up, drive me nuts and bring smiles to my face on the darkest of days. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2020 – in the middle of the “COVID tunnel of chaos” and my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer 6 months previously, so 2020 was a desperately sad year for us, but I found my work and my kids a glorious distraction, a primary focus for good and triumph in the face of extreme adversity.
Q - How do you celebrate your wins?
A - A work “win” – I celebrate the way all hospitality staff celebrate – by drinking irresponsibly, visiting nightclubs I’m too old for and trying to sing with the cool kids! A personal “win” will be a night away with family or friends somewhere like Gleneagles – my spiritual home, or a lovely dinner out, where inevitably we end up in Fingers! This year, I’ve celebrated small “wins” by buying leggings & leisure wear – how times have changed!
Q - How do you deal with the losses?
A - I had the saddest loss 6 months ago when my lovely dad died at 75 and I’m not sure I’ve dealt with that at all yet. I’m getting wonderful counselling from the Maggie’s Centre in Edinburgh, due to my own challenges with cancer. When the time is right, I will address the death of my father but right now, I’m in warrior mode, fighting whilst remaining positive no matter what is thrown at me. And it’s surprisingly easy when you’ve got an awesome support team and I consider myself the luckiest girl alive with my quite incredible support.
Q - How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
A - I call myself an 80%-er. I’m 80% a good mum, 80% a good wife and 80% a good employee and that is the best that I can do! I can’t give 100% to each role but I try my best hoping that most of the time I score. I sometimes feel I let my friends down while I’m busy concentrating on other more demanding aspects of my life and I hate that. I absolutely loathe letting people down and during lockdown and the hell of this last year, it’s my pals I’ve really missed; the ribbing, the banter, the silliness, the irrepressible laughter that allows me to forget my responsibilities for just a little while.
Q - How are you coping with lockdown?
A - I don’t know anyone that’s found it easy but we’ve made the best of it. March 2020 meant lots of walks, some home schooling and never ending Zoom calls. I worked hard to establish how best to support Signature’s 600+ staff, maintain connections with our customers and reduce costs to the business, whilst learning what operating within the new guidance would mean for profit/break even and stymieing losses. We managed to open a few units for a few months, but Edinburgh city centre was desperately quiet and the bars struggled whilst our more “community” venues thrived. Second lockdown was more challenging with all staff on furlough and that was a long boring winter, wasn’t it?!
Q - How do you motivate yourself ? Whether that is after a really tough day or having to cook a meal for the family at the end of a long lockdown day? What are your coping strategies?
A - I was never particularly career driven, I just wanted a job to keep me out of trouble and allow me to have a relatively stress-free life with no delusions of grandeur. But I found an industry that I loved and a job I could do well and easily – it’s basically talking to people – and I love talking and I love people! So I’m self-motivated because I want to please people. If I am given a task, I will do it to the best of my ability. For example, chemotherapy – my oncologist gave me advice of how best to get through it and I have followed her guidance, almost obsessively. I have stayed fit and healthy – I ran 230 miles during chemo, drank lots of water and hydrated my skin topically. I ate healthily and avoided alcohol for 6 months to give my body the best chance to expel the toxins and let the chemo do its job. Succeeding is my motivation, from beating cancer, to having a happy home, to leading a strong team and I’ll work hard to achieve that.
Q - Can you tell us which incredible women have inspired you and why?
A - My mother; giving my quite a liberal and idyllic childhood and going on to become my best friend and chief supporter. She is resilient and straight talking and has taught me to keep smiling even on the dark days. I’m also lucky to have an incredibly strong mother-in-law who I hugely admire, for her positive and adventurous attitude. A very cool lady called Catherine Conaghan employed me into Diageo and she was my mentor throughout the first few years of my career, teaching, coaching and developing me. I am in awe of female entrepreneurs from Sheryl Sandberg to Kylie Reid because I think so often, success has taken them by surprise, and they’ve jumped on board for the ride and that’s a wonderful thing!