Celebrating Inspirational Female Business Leaders on International Women’s Day with Janet Bowden of Woodbank Office Solutions

London, UK | 8 March 2024

By Gemma Lee, Chief People Officer at Konica Minolta Business Solutions (UK) Ltd


As part of the celebrations of International Women’s Day (IWD), which takes place on Friday 8th March, alongside sharing the stories of our Konica Minolta colleagues, we wanted to be able to share the stories of other female business leaders too. I had the privilege of having an in-depth conversation with Janet Bowden, Managing Director of Stockport-based Konica Minolta Accredited Partner Woodbank Office Solutions. Janet has had a remarkable career, having formed the business in 1989, she has grown it into a hugely respected and trusted supplier of office technology.
Still proudly leading the business 35 years later, Janet shares the same belief as Konica Minolta, that people are the key ingredient in any successful business. I was keen to understand what she has done to build her business. During our discussion we touched on her career history and how it felt being a successful female business leader in an often male-dominated industry. We also talked about how Janet has built and nurtured her team and what advice she would offer other people, especially women, about succeeding in business.
Humble beginnings
I asked Janet if she had a career plan from the start and it turned out that her journey was more organic than that. “It wasn’t really planned. I had gone to catering college and passed my City & Guilds, but the jobs didn’t pay well, and I didn’t like any of the roles on offer. So, instead I applied for a job being an underwriter at a bank, which was an amazing experience. When the UK went into recession my role went from lending to repossessing photocopiers and I realised that if I set up my own business to buy these, I could make a good business out of it. I lived in Woodbank so took the name for my business. I soon decided I wanted to sell new equipment, so I approached what was then Minolta to become a dealer and built up my customer base. I still have these customers today which is lovely.”  
Earning respect
Despite her unquestionable success, Janet sometimes found it a challenge to be properly respected in an industry that lacked female leaders. “I wasn't always taken seriously. For example, when we went on a dealer trip someone walked up and shook hands with my husband and wished him well, assuming he was the business leader, and I was just his partner! I thought that was rude. On another trip abroad they clapped me on stage for being the first woman, and I thought that was terrible. It should have been about the fact this person is achieving winning sales figures, not whether you're a woman or a man."
Thankfully we now live in more enlightened times, and Janet now enjoys well deserved respect. "Dealers will now ring me up and ask for advice. A lot of them turn to me and say I've got this situation, can you help, and I love that, I think it’s great that they can now ask me, and I know the answers from my experience. I feel like I'm at a new company every day, I've had a long time in this business, but I don't feel like it is."
Hands-on leadership 
Meeting Janet, I was particularly impressed with her abilities to lead from the front, passionately supporting her team and remaining hands-on with day-to-day activities, whilst trusting the people around her. "I don’t keep it all to myself, I'm not a control freak, I pass things on, but I think I’m also a hands-on leader. I run the company to encourage everyone to be the best they can. You just have to step back sometimes and let others do it. If they don’t do it your way then good, let them do it their way. If they make a few mistakes, you help and nurture them, but they won’t grow unless you let go.”
This belief in the skills and potential of others has enabled Janet to build a passionate and loyal team. “For example, one member of the team started on reception, but I could see so many qualities she didn’t recognise herself. She has been with me for 17 years and runs our whole Accounts Department.”
Creating and maintaining a positive company culture is a passionate topic at Konica Minolta, I was curious to understand how Janet has created and fostered this at Woodbank Office Solutions too. “If you set the right foundations up, everything else will flow. I'm going to say slow and steady wins the race because I know there's companies that have far exceeded me and grown faster. Whilst our growth may have been a bit slower, we are steady and we're strong. We have a great culture based around trust, if your team can trust in each other, then customers will trust you too. At the same time, we soon find out if new people are a good fit. We have had staff come and go and I have learnt that you shouldn't be afraid of that. I employ the best people I can. It's easy to think you don't want anyone better than you, but that's wrong. The people working around me are superb and it is essential for success."
Customer relationships
Undoubtedly excellent customer relationships have been a key part of Janet’s success, something which she readily agrees. “Your customers are the most important thing, and we must have done it right because they keep coming back. I find it inspiring when I drive down the motorway and see a truck or building that is one of our customers.”
Equally, Janet’s tenacity in winning clients that she knows would be a good fit for both sides has proven to be a fruitful trait indeed. "The day we moved into our current building we could smell the hops from Robinsons Brewery across the road. I stood outside and I thought, I’m going to have that customer one day! And 19 years later I got that customer! They came to visit us in our building, looked around and fell in love with what we do. It’s a good relationship, they get the best service they’ve ever had, and have told us that they wish they’d done it years ago."
Moving ahead
In the fast-moving office technology industry, it’s not just the technology itself that has changed significantly, it’s the way in which customers want to interact with their technology partner too. “Twenty-five years ago, you used to knock on doors, you were like a double-glazing salesman. We're more consultancy now, selling yourself and your company rather than selling a machine. We talk to customers about their future with us, and that's what I instil in our team.”
With an illustrious track record, it should be unsurprising that, as a leader of a successful technology business, Janet has her eyes firmly on future growth and evolution “As they say, every day is a school day, I still learn so much and I enjoy it. I don’t sit back and think about it, there is still so much to do. If anyone asked me to retire, they will get a nasty surprise! I do sometimes look back though – this month for instance our turnover is what we did in our first and second years – and that’s a nice feeling. Looking at how I was just doing it for pocket money when I started, compared to where we are today. The recognition we get and the ongoing support from Konica Minolta make a huge difference.”  
Tips for success
Meeting Janet and listening to her fascinating and inspirational career it’s impossible not to ask for her advice which she was happy to give. “I would say, do it at your own pace. Work hard in silence, let success be your noise! I don’t shout about what I do and don’t worry about what other people are doing. Also, whilst good advice is great – early on I met with lots of other dealers to see how they ran their businesses and took the best bits, but ultimately, I did it my own way. You don’t have to be university educated to run a business either, life experiences are just as important. Above all, trust what you’re doing and be trustworthy yourself. Be passionate about what you do – passion is important and if you enjoy it, you will succeed.”
For more details on Woodbank Office Solutions visitwww.woodbankoffice.co.uk
For more details on International Women’s Day visit: www.internationalwomensday.com