working girl: yvonne thompson, branding consultant (uk)

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Hailing from the picturesque South American country of Guyana, Yvonne Thompson has been described by many as Britain’s first Black, female, self-made millionaire. With over 30 years of experience in the PR industry, she shares with us how difficult it was to create a name for herself as a woman of color and why she decided to “hustle” for success anyway.

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Name: Yvonne Thompson

Age: 60 (this year) & sexy (so my husband says)

Location: Edgy – Brixton – south west London

Profession: Marketing Communications & Personal Branding Consultant

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How did you get started?

After having my daughter at 20, I worked in the music industry for nearly 10 years before deciding to go out on my own.  In those days, there weren’t many black people in the administration side of the music industry. I started my career in copyright and contracts, then moved into the marketing & PR departments, which is where I got my training and came into my own.  However, after being at the same company (CBS Records) for 7 and a half years and being overlooked for promotions in the company, I decided that if I could do it for them, I could do it for me, and my only way to move up was to move out!

So after my third rejection [for a promotion], I had a good cry in the ladies toilets, came back, handed in my notice and left 3 weeks later.  I never looked back.  The world was and still is my oyster. I started my company and I was also doing freelance journalism. Through my music industry and writing experience, I was invited to be part of the founding groups for Choice FM radio, now known as Capital Xtra.  The rest is history!

What’s an average day like?

My days are never average.  Working for yourself – if you did not work – you did not get paid, so most days was what you might call a hustle, in the nicest possible way.  I was meeting new clients, attending to and still courting the old ones.  I might be interviewing artists, lunching with editors, or dining potential clients.  With a small staff and a range of freelancers on call, I built my company from my living room to offices in the West End (until prices got out of reach) and then in Brixton where I have been for the past 21 years.

Why do you do it?

I am a free spirit and I like to be my own boss, the master of my own destiny, and know that if I make it on my own it’s down to me. If I don’t, I can’t blame anyone else.  I want to enjoy the ride, take in every breath of the journey and make every day count.  If I am not doing something every day with passion I feel like I have wasted the day.  There is a saying – some people know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I am at the stage where I know the cost of everything and the value of everything.  I just wish I found out a lot earlier.

Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:

Being your own boss – every day is a challenge. But I wake up knowing I have a challenge to face, and that makes me passionate about life.  Apart from the usual things you face being black, being female and having the audacity of hope that one day I will be judged by the content of my character and not by the color of my skin or the length of my skirt… hey, life is a breeze and I enjoy every gust of it.

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Your greatest achievement so far?

I have what I consider a few – first and foremost – my wonderful daughter, my grand daughter and grandson. Being able to say I started the first Black PR company in the UK (according to industry bible PR Week), being a founding director of the first black owned legal radio station, starting the first black women in business network (European Federation of Black Women Business Owners) meeting Nelson Mandela, being invested by the Queen Commander of the British Empire (CBE), receiving two honorary doctorates, publishing my first book – “7 Traits of Highly Successful Women On Boards.” Last but not least – holding out for my hero, one of the best black men I know, my life partner.

What might be next for you?

There is still so much to look forward to and so much of life to enjoy. I enjoy sharing my experience with others who may benefit from it.  Working with young people helps to shape more lives for the better.

But this age is where life really begins. Travelling is one of my big things. Being the adrenaline junky that I am, for the past few years I have become a Formula 1 fan – big time – sometime soon I would love to take a year out and follow the F1 circuit to their 24 destinations. Maybe live in another country for a few years.  I enjoy change.

What are your top 5 go-to hair tips?

  • Get back to basics of natural hair
  • Treat it with the respect and love it deserves and it will look after you.
  • If you can live without chemical processing of any kind, do so.
  • Give it a rest… as often as possible.
  • Last but not least, embrace the politics of grey when you get there – I’ve found it amazing. It gives authority, credentials, gravitas and beauty according to the many compliments I’ve received since doing so.

Fun Fact: During my time I have met many artists including Michael Jackson (I worked with him when he was at Epic records), Billy Paul, Anita Ward and many more of the 70’s/80’s era. I’m an adrenaline junky and some other things I have done include hot air ballooning, flying a plane across the Channel, sailing, swimming with dolphins, deep sea diving… amongst many others.

Things I would still like to do include seeing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland, parachute from a plane, go on a safari and lots of traveling.  In other words, just have lots of fun!

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