Chief Executive of software company Penrillian, Joanne Thompson is not fazed by being the lone voice of dissent in high-level board meetings if required.
She attributes this confidence the the experience of Lancaster university tutorials underlining the validity of her own views.
Recently named in the Cranfield University FTSE 100 Women to Watch list and North West Insider magazine’s Women 100, Joanne was not always so self-confident, but her tutorials changed that. She says: “We were challenged in seminars and tutorials to understand that our opinions mattered and that if you could support your argument it was important and valid, even if no one else agreed with you.
As a female CEO in the technology sector, she is acutely aware of the barriers and inequalities faced by women pursuing careers in board level roles and does not underestimate the contribution of her three years studying Politics & International Relations to her career.
Joanne, who was brought up in Newcastle, chose Lancaster from her several offers because of the strength of its politics course, its proximity to the Lakes, the campus structure and a desire to stay in the North of England. She arrived at university to study politics with active experience going back to the age of 13, of taking part in political rallies, marches and petitions and already a member of the Labour party. She had a passion for politics which she still has today.
The first term was a steep learning curve for Joanne, as she quickly decided she did not like living on campus, so bucked the first year trend by moving out by Christmas to live in a house with third years, who soon helped her find her feet socially on whole-house trips to the newly opened Sugar House. She says:“That was probably the first major independent decision I had ever made.”
The course, however, completely suited her, particularly war studies with Martin Edmonds. She says: “He completely changed my outlook on life. I remember learning about asymmetric warfare, when he asked what you could do if you were not making any progress in opposing a regime or engaging in guerrilla warfare. I was the only one who said ‘Join it’. It was an epiphany that changed my whole outlook on how to get things done.” Professor Edmonds even bought her a pizza on one occasion whilst she was doing her dissertation, because she had needed an extension because she was too hungry to concentrate.
Her social life was centred off campus as she moved to a flat in Morecambe after her first year with her boyfriend from school - now her husband of around 30 years. After graduation they moved to Dalton-in-Furness where she joined the local Labour party.
On leaving university she went from a job as a researcher at the BBC TV News in London to the the Civil Service, before going into tax consultancy first with Coopers and Lybrand and then Arthur Anderson. Once working inside client businesses, she found the organisations she was advising more interesting than the tax implications, so decided to study for an MBA at Cranfield School of Management in 1992, in order to make a general life change possible.
Since then she has had a string of high-level roles including Managing Director of Serco’s Transport Technology division, Senior Vice President of BT Europe and European Director of Professional Services at Equant. She has also found time to stand for election to the European Parliament for the Labour Party in the North-East and to campaign for Labour during the 1997- 2010 Labour government.
She joined Penrillian, based in Penrith, Cumbria, in 2015. Under her leadership it is in the process of changing from developing software to client specification on a project-by-project basis, to a company which uses its expertise to produce its own products sold under licence to give the company more stability and open up new global markets. Her days are full of variety - marketing, skills analysis, talking to partners and potential customers as well as taking part in ‘shopfloor’ discussions with colleagues to keep abreast of what works and what does not.
Until going to university Joanne claims she was introverted, but she says: “I took from my time there an ability to get on with a wide group of people and to be comfortable with people who were very different from me. This has really stood me in good stead in my career involving a lot of selling, networking and negotiating.
“I would never have imagined that I would become a director of a FTSE 100 company. I continue to believe that being true to your own beliefs and behaving in an ethical and responsible manner is no barrier to success in business.”