Girls Inspired to Find Their Own Way on International Women’s Day
Girls' Division Pastoral

Caroline Plumb OBE, a high-achieving serial entrepreneur and former Bolton School Girls’ Division pupil, returned to her alma mater on International Women’s Day to help inspire the next generation of young businesswomen. Caroline has created and sold a number of successful companies, she has a regular column in The Times covering small businesses and entrepreneurship and is previously one of Prime Minister David Cameron’s business ambassadors.

Addressing a whole school assembly and clinging to the advice of her teenage daughter – don’t fall off stage and don’t be boring - Caroline recalled her days at Bolton School from 1987-1996 with great fondness. She told how she had a wonderful time, developing an interest in Technology, Maths, Engineering and Physics. She also had happy memories of her days at Oxford University, where she achieved a First-Class degree in Engineering, Economics and Management.

Caroline recalled how, upon graduation in 2000, she and a friend scraped together £250 each to start their own company and how she built their first computer from scratch. The company, Caroline said, was called Fresh Minds, which was a consulting and recruiting firm, and was all about connecting smart young people with businesses. She revealed how the enterprise grew rapidly and eventually employed 100 staff. After selling half of the business, she went on to start a software company, Fluidly, which built accounting software for accounting firms and banks. She went on to sell that business too – this time to OakNorth Bank in 2021 - and today, she revealed she is Group CEO of Gravita, a tech-enabled accountancy firm. The company employs 400 people in its London and Essex offices.

Reflecting on her schooldays, Caroline said she always loved business but never thought she would start one of her own – her mum was a teacher and her dad was a doctor and there was little talk of entrepreneurship at home. This demonstrated, she told girls, that you don’t need to worry if you do not yet know what you want to do when you grow up. She recalled how when she was growing up, entrepreneurs seemed very serious – the likes of Donald Trump and Alan Sugar – and very macho. She told the pupils that leaders don’t look like that anymore. Quoting Gloria from the film Barbie, she said: ‘You have to be a boss but you can’t be mean. You have to lead but you can’t squash other people’s ideas.’ Good leadership today, Caroline professed, is not about demonstrations of power but about being a strong communicator, painting a picture of the future with empathy, creativity and passion – characteristics that women have in spades. She also quoted management consultant Peter Drucker who said: ‘the leader of the past knows how to tell, the leadership of the future knows how to ask.’ Leadership, Caroline said, is about being authentic and true to yourself. Offering advice to her young audience, she said that whilst, as humans we need parameters, we are after all creatures of habit, too much blind adherence to the rules can be dangerous, especially for girls. Whilst good often looks like being modest, quiet and obedient, these are traits that don’t always pay off in the long-run, she said. Sometimes, it is good to be spiky. It is good to advocate for yourself and show off your strengths. To support her point, she quoted George Bernard Shaw, who said: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself, therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’ Whilst ‘he clearly meant woman’ said Caroline, the words emphasise that change relies upon doing things differently. Caroline advised that rules can be a barrier to innovation and creative thinking and as Taylor Swift said: ‘It’s all good if you are bad. It’s okay if you are mad.’

In her concluding remarks, Caroline told girls not to think that there is only one way to succeed and not to search for perfection. If the game doesn’t suit you, she said, rewrite the playbook. Whilst it can be great being an all-rounder, you don’t have to stand out at everything, sometimes you need to figure out what success looks like for you - being different is being memorable. Caroline left the audience with a quote from Hermione Granger who said: ‘It’s sort of exciting isn’t it, breaking the rules?’

Caroline then spent the morning visiting lessons and talking to pupils across the Girls’ Division.

You can re-watch Caroline’s inspiring talk through this link.

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