Introducing… Ann Hunter
Written by Tracey Duke, Photography by Pip Andersen
Ann Hunter; the woman at the heart of In Exeter, the city’s business improvement district, is one of the city’s newest recruits. Heading up the dynamic organisation that gives a voice to over 640 businesses in the city, she draws on over 10 years’ experience, her most recent role seeing her as Chief Executive of Ealing’s Business Development Programme.
Attracted to the region by the city’s sought after work/life balance, along with its vibrancy and energy, we caught up with Ann, at Hotel Du Vin, to talk challenges, pushing your limits and living an extraordinary life.
Ann, thank you so much for your time this morning; it’s great to meet and welcome you to the city. I know that you bring a wealth of experience and passion to your role as Manager of Exeter BID, so as always, we’ll jump straight in and get talking…
What is the one book that you’ve gifted most often; the one that’s had the most impact on you?
It has to be Chrissie Wellington’s biography; A Life Without Limits. She is an extraordinary woman in the fact that she is so driven and passionate about what she does. She studied at University, took a job with DEFRA and worked in international development. She took part in a couple of triathlons during that time and really found herself and her true passion. She actually took part in her first triathlon on a mountain bike; no gear but all the idea! She had no equipment & no experience, but that drive within her to win and to succeed at her sport took over, becoming a 4 times Ironman winner; just extraordinary! That internal drive to succeed is just something else; you have to be so dedicated to a sport like that.
I think that whether it’s sport, life or work; it’s the same. You have to be passionate about your cause.
How has a failure or an apparent failure set you up for future success?
When I was at Standard Bank; the South African Banking Group, I joined their graduate training programme; it was a fantastic experience, allowing me to spend 6 months in South Africa with the South African graduates.
I then came back to the UK and worked in their international development team. I enjoyed it, but I was having to question whether this was the right route for me, or did I want to get back to the core of banking; the reason why I joined the bank.
So I made a decision and fought really hard to join the International Trade Finance Department, which would lend well to my degree in Chinese. It was a big leap; a completely different department in which I had no experience. I fought hard for it though, because I felt it was the right thing, eventually joining as a real junior.
Shortly afterwards, in 2007/2008, the bank went through a restructure and it was last in first out. Unfortunately, I was made redundant.
Part of me thought that if I’d stayed in the development role, it wouldn’t have happened; I was building quite a good career in that aspect of banking, but being made redundant, in trade finance, where I’d really fought to be was very hard to come to terms with; it was an internal fall from grace. But, after doing some soul searching and then joining Paddington BID, I realised that that was where I was meant to be after all. I found success and I really love what I’m doing. At the time it was a struggle, but looking back it was absolutely the right thing; I know that it was what was meant to happen, to get me on the right path.
Now, as Manager of Exeter BID; talking to and listening to business owners and staff across the city and working with them to support and help their businesses thrive is incredible, I know that if you don’t know why you’re doing a job, you have to question why you’re doing it.
Sadly though, many people will avoid asking the question why, because it will take them into unknown, overwhelming, territory. For many, it’s easier not to ask the questions but that will never lead you to a life of fulfilment.
If you had a gigantic advertising board with a message to thousands of people, what would it say?
Say yes more. Seize opportunities and push yourself to achieve.
What’s the most worthwhile investment you’ve made in either money, time or energy?
Investments in friendships and relationships are so important; my peer group have become my mentors. That close group of university friends that you made; invest in them. Understand what they’re going through and help them through it; you’ll get that support back when you need it.
We have a small WhatsApp group that we share and it’s really lovely to have that support. You may not be able to share long emails between each other or manage to speak very often, but it’s that group of four of us who really help and support each other that means a lot.
When you’ve got a lot on, personally, relationships can fall aside, but you need your friendships; keep communicating. Success means nothing without friends to share and celebrate with.
Do you have any daily habits in place?
No; I possibly frustrate a lot of people by being slightly too relaxed! Whenever I have to pack for a holiday, or if we’re going somewhere, most people will be organised and will have washed, packed and know what they’re bringing. I will do that a couple of hours before the flight or when we have to leave, but I will still somehow manage to get to the airport with everything I need. Perhaps I’m a little too relaxed though. For me it’s fine; I’m there when I need to be there, but to other people that can be a little frustrating at times. It’s something I’m working on!
In the last five years, what new belief, habit or behaviour has most improved your life?
Making lists. Being slightly more structured with lists and having a focus on goals has helped enormously. Whether it is short-term goals for today or longer term, keep referring to them and reminding yourself that you need to be thinking about them.
We’re at the start of a New Year, but we know that most people will let their resolutions fall aside by mid-January. I think it’s such a negative thing to set yourself up for changes and improvements and then feel that you’ve failed come 12th January. That’s not a great mindset to start the year. It’s better to regularly think about where you’re headed so that you can start the new year without the pressure to do something different.
I find regular reflection useful and to evaluate at the end of every week. What worked? What didn’t? What can I do better next week? That way you’re always on top of your goals.
What advice would you give to a smart driven college student about to enter the real world?
I would say to follow your heart and do what feels right. Don’t always compare yourself to others; make sure you’re following your own skills and passions. Make sure that what you’re doing feels right for you; don’t feel under pressure from other people or your peers to follow a certain route.
In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?
I don’t actually say no to much. My role is one in which I have to, and very much like to, say yes; I’ll always come and meet someone or get involved and help where I can. Friends I always say yes to.
Those close to me have said that I try and put too much into a day and that perhaps I should start saying no to invitations and not feel guilty about declining things, but I still tend to say yes and squeeze as much in as possible.
At the moment, where I am career, family and partner wise, it works for me. Saying yes works. Perhaps I do need to become better at saying no though.
I suppose that saying no tends to happen internally; so answering work emails on a Saturday, that’s a ‘no it can wait until Monday’. So I guess it’s less of a public no and more of a private no.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed or have temporarily lost your focus, what do you do to get back on track?
I get up, I leave that environment and go for a walk; headspace and fresh air.
Moving and getting some exercise is so important in shifting up a gear. I love to exercise; I’ve done a couple of half marathons and cycling events and I’m super passionate about it. I believe in what it does for you as a person; it enables that headspace and gives clarity.
I do love a challenge and I’ve actually signed up for the Monster Race in Exeter this March. There’s something about succeeding in the extraordinary; that personal satisfaction that you’ve pushed your limits and you’ve done it, is amazing! Doing something that isn’t part of normal life is the most incredible feeling.
I remember doing a 47k trail run in the Dolomites in Italy a week after doing a half ironman in Norway. I hadn’t really trained for it, and I found myself on this plateau at the top of the Dolomites. I just burst out crying because I was on my own and completely out of my comfort zone. I was probably about 30k in, thnking ‘Oh my goodness! Why did I say yes to this?’
I remember finding the strength to push on through and when I eventually crossed the finish line, a close friend, found me, hugged me, handed me a beer and said ‘Shall we sign up for next year?’ Even after all that pain, I said yes. Overcoming the fear and panic and finishing something that has pushed you beyond your realm of what you feel possible, is just unreal. That was the point that I knew I could do anything I set my mind to.
When you’re standing alone, in the middle of a race, there’s nothing you can do; it’s just you and the elements and you have to dig deep and drive through. It’s incredible what that does for you and how it takes you to the next level.
Thank you so much for your time Ann and all the very best for your new role. Good luck too for the Monster Race; sounds like a lot of fun!
In Exeter has an exciting lineup of events and activities planned for 2018. Visit InExeter.com or follow @tweetinExeter
Find out more about the Monster Race challenge at www.monsterrace.co.uk