After Yvonne Thompson was refused promotion at CBS where she worked for the third time, she went to the ladies , cried and afterwards handed in her resignation. She left to go and set up her own public relations company. Some tough and hard working years later, Yvonne came to be described as Britain’s first black self made woman millionaire.
About Yvonne Thompson
Born in 1955 in Guyana, Yvonne came to the UK with her mother in 1961. Her father was already in the UK. Yvonne who left school at the age of 16 went to Croydon Polytechnic to do a pre – nursing course. When she was young her ambition was to be a doctor but over time she felt it would be more realistic to become a nurse since most doctors at the time were white men, a barrier to ethnic minorities interested in the medical profession at that time. From Croydon Polytechnic she took on a data processor job at NatWest and when she was 20 went to work as a Personal Assistant to the Contracts Manager at Phonogram Records where she discovered her passion for public relations. From there she went to work for Warner Brothers and then CBS.It was at CBS that she hit a roadblock. While she could change jobs at the same level moving up was almost impossible. The challenge was that as a black woman she was an exception in the PR industry. In the end after being passed over for promotion three times she cried about it and walked away from her job at CBS. What she did next was an act of pure courage. She got a loan of £2500, secured office space at the Independent Record Labels Association and set up her own PR company. The first PR company set up by a black woman in Britain. Yvonne carved out a niche market by building a business to reach black and minority markets, a segment no other PR company was interested in at the time. It was a concept already common in the US where organisations would hire a PR company owned by a person belonging to the same ethnic group they wanted to reach. Fortunately for Yvonne it was a concept unheard of in the UK. By adopting that strategy Yvonne became a pioneer in the industry. Yvonne commented that, ‘I adopted that approach and it worked well for me.’
Yvonne’s business named ASAP communications set up in 1983 won her an award in 1996 for ‘outstanding achievements’
as a black female entrepreneur in 1996 from the National Federation of Black Women Business Owners in Washington DC, US. Yvonne would later open a similar organisation called European Federation of Black Women Business Owners (EFBWBO). The magazine PR Week once ran an article looking for black owned PR companies, the only one they could find was ASAP Communications. Years have gone by since Yvonne dried her tears on the toilet seat at CBS and her enthusiasm for acheving is still going strong. Apart from her business she has been involved in other ventures which has made her stand out.
Snapshot of key achievements
- As far back as 2007 Yvonne was described as Britain’s first black self made woman millionaire.
- She was the first black woman to set up a public relations company in Britain, ASAP Communications which she has been running for over 20 years.
- Yvonne set up the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners (EFBWBO) in 1996, an organisation dedicated to promote businesses owned by black women. Yvonne was influenced to set up EFBWBO after she was given an award for her outstanding achievements in business by a similar organisation in the US called National Federation of Black Women Business Owners.
- Yvonne was a founding member and former director of Choice FM, the only legally owned black radio station. She also played a very important role in the sale of the station to Capital Radio.
- She has been involved in many community and government related initiatives such as being a board member of the London Development Agency, Observer on the board of Business Link for London, and a member of the UK Department for Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Small Business Council. She has also been involved in chairing the DTI’s Ethnic Minority Business Forum, the London Central Learning and Skills Council. Yvonne has also played key roles in the Foreign and Common Wealth Office’s Public Diplomacy Strategy Board and served a four year term on the Economic and Social Committee in Brussels. Yvonne supports these committees with her knowledge and experience on small business, minorities and women.
- Yvonne is also involved in public speaking and has spoken at the Said Business School of Oxford University’s Business Entrepreneurs Network annual conference.
- Yvonne has also taken part in Millionaires Mission, a channel 4 series in which eight successful British business leaders are challenged by development agency World Vision to improve the living standards of a remote Ugandan farming community.
- Yvonne also raised her daughter as a single mum while succeeding in business and being involved in numerous other initiatives. She counts her successful daughter as her biggest success.
Nobody achieves what Yvonne has without having gone through some major challenges. For her the greatest challenge was being black and a woman and trying to succeed in an industry where there were no ethnic minorities and little or no women. This was particularly difficult for her because she had no role models to follow or learn from. During an interview Yvonne stated that at the time she started in business a woman running her own business was unheard of and no doubt being black made it tougher. She also said that trying to convince businesses as a woman to take on her PR services was very difficult.
Earlier on in her business career Yvonne revealed that she didn’t have any British black role role models or any like minded black women she could network with. It wasn’t until she went to the US where she met women from the National Federation of Black Women Business Owners that she was able to develop some like minded networks.
Another key challenge Yvonne faced was raising her daughter who is now well over 30 as a single parent and at the same time running a business and maintaining an extremely busy schedule.
Learning from Yvonne
Following are a couple of lessons we can learn from Yvonne’s experience:
- Certain challenges in life such as prejudice against your race and colour are a reality. It is important that you understand this and you don’t let them make you bitter and angry to the point that you don’t attempt to move on and do something with your life.
- Success in anything requires some degree of risk. Yvonne left her job to set up ASAP Communications. It wasn’t easy. If you intend to succeed in anything substantial particularly business you will have to take risks.
- Don’t be afraid to do what others haven’t done before. When Yvonne started her business nobody else in the country had started a PR company that dealt with ethnic minorities. Just because others haven’t done it before doesn’t mean it is wrong or it won’t work. You might as well be the first to try it. If it worked for Yvonne there is no reason why it can’t work for you. Yvonne also demonstrated the same trait of being a pioneer when she started EFBWBO. Since there were no strong business network groups for black business women in Britain, she started one.
- Develop business networks, find role models and build relationships that can help you. As the saying goes no man is an island, networking with key people who have a similar mindset as yours is crucial. You can learn and get support from them, and of course you can help them too.
- Running a business and at the same time raising a child as a single parent can be tough but Yvonne offers this advice: Be flexible, have support mechanisms, train your children well, be ready to put in long hours and be prepared for emergencies. Develop good relationships with members of your family so they can support you. Yvonne had the support of her family in raising her daughter particularly her mother.
- Be ready to start small. Although Yvonne would eventually move into some office space, she started her business with a second-hand typewriter on the floor of her living room at home.