Women in Business Q&A: Margaret Riordan, The Blanchard Collective

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Margaret Riordan

Margaret Riordan heads up the Blanchard Collective, an eclectic group of 18 European dealers, who between them, have a mixed array of 17th to 21st century English, Continental, Oriental and American furniture and decorative items. The idea is to provide a one-stop shop for interior
decorators and private clients alike.

Her journey to this position has been one of mixed fortunes. Trained as a teacher, she taught English in Istanbul for a year before taking up a post in London. A need for change lead to a year as a motorcycle messenger, and then to setting up a cookware business. However, when the opportunity to join an existing antique business presented itself, there was no looking back. Mentored by a dealer with an excellent 'eye', she promoted his business, and then when he gave up the lease, she opened a Collective on her own behalf with his blessing.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
For me, talk of leadership necessarily involves a team. A leader needs his/her team, a team their leader. It is an organic process growing from a breadth of work/life experiences which, approached with an open mind, form the basis for developing sound character judgment.

I started my working life as a teacher, was a motorbike messenger for a year, ran a cookware business. Growing up I was surrounded by antiques because my grandmother was a serious collector and this clearly inspired me when the opportunity arose to get involved in the business and to start building the right team to launch our Collective of 25 antiques dealers and interior designers located just outside the historic city of Marlborough.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at The Blanchard Collective?
There are daily highs and lows in setting up and running a business. For me, the biggest challenge was getting the banks to take me and my business plan seriously with a view to finance. 10 years on the biggest highlight has been the realization that I did it without them! That has been very empowering and I hope will inspire would be women entrepreneurs not to take no for an answer.

On a more general note. The main challenge is not to get bogged down in the very necessary, but time consuming day to day admin which running a business entails. I find it really important to keep looking outward, and to let other interests play a part. Living life in various compartments does not work for me.

The highlights are invariably people related. There is huge enjoyment in establishing a rapport with a client, and getting involved in their project, either directly with them, or, in consultation with their decorator. Bringing together an interior is personal, involving as it does a reflection of the client's preferences and interests, and is immensely satisfying.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
The antique business is not a career decision, it is a way of life. Once it is in your blood you never retire.

Speaking generally though, any career in retailing demands a liking for people, an enormous amount of patience, passion for the product and attention to detail. When it is your own business, the most important lesson is to let your passion carry you forward, and to never give up.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
In my business, work and life are as one. There is so much satisfaction in dealing with wonderfully made & beautiful objects, and in creating interiors with unusual items which can be found in unexpected places. The real joy is in being aware of all manner of outside stimuli which can play a part in your work experience. Whether it be travel, museum & art gallery visits, shopping trips, all experience is a personal investment in the business. My husband John is my partner in life and the business and although we do manage an essential holiday in Italy each year at the same wonderful hotel, our life together is enmeshed in the business.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think that the biggest issue for women in the workplace is an overblown awareness of being a 'woman in the workplace'. Just be yourself, enjoy working out the problems that present themselves, and just get on with it.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship comes in many guises, from friends, workplace colleagues, chance encounters. Just be open to experience, and take from it what is relevant. My most important mentor has been Orlando Harris, for whom I worked for several years promoting his Collective. He was one of the earliest exponents of the 'Dealers' Collective' concept, and the grounding I received whilst working for him has been invaluable in my own business.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern for her controlled enthusiasm, and ability to bring together so may creative minds.

Angelina Jolie who leads by self-effacing example.

Karen Brady for her business acumen.

Theresa May, British Prime Minister for her practical and commonsense approach, and as someone who is not afraid of taking the hard decisions.

The Queen who is always so well briefed, for her dignity and her dedication.