Written by Dotty Winters


Glass Ceiling Smashers: Cool Cat

Dotty Winters caught up with Paycircle pensions platform founder Catherine Pinkney to talk about ‘distracting the boys’ in sales meetings, disruptive change and reinventing business culture.

Cat Pinkney - PaycircleYou’ve had an unusual journey to entrepreneurdom. How did you end up where you are today?

Years ago my brother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to wear a nice suit and talk a lot.

I went to art college. I’ve always had a creative streak but it was years before I used it. I fell into a sales job and discovered I had a talent for it, and from that into recruitment.

I met David Hart, my current business partner and cofounder, when I was recruiting sales people for his team. He didn’t like any of the candidates I found; he didn’t think they were ‘salesy’ enough, so I said: “What about me?” I was interviewed by his team. It was a very male and academic sort of culture.

They reported back: “We can’t have her. She’ll eat us alive.” He hired me. I grew the customer base of the business sevenfold over two years and David and I went on to launch a new business together.

Have you smashed any glass ceilings on the way up?

The culture of the business I went to work with was pretty old school. The chair of the company said I wasn’t allowed to come to sales meetings as I’d ‘distract the boys’. I was the sales manager.

Things like that would make me angry, but I’d laugh it off; I knew that attitudes like that were about his sexism not about me. I knew that I was having an influence and he was threatened by that.

“We aren’t building a business driven by short-term profit; we want to make real, disruptive change.”

Ultimately lots of behaviour like that is about someone’s insecurity. He was demonstrating that he shouldn’t be there, he wasn’t moving things forward. I just got on with showing them how it was done. My attitude is: ‘Respect me, or get out of my way.’

When we started our own company it was incredibly refreshing to be away from that culture and away from bureaucracy and to build a team with a fantastic culture and shared vision.

Do you have any role models?

I’d say my business partner is my role model. We are both really different and each do the things that the other can’t. He calls me the right brain to his left brain. It’s a very respectful and trusting partnership. We’ve learned a lot from each other and we both keep focused on what we are trying to achieve.

We aren’t building a business driven by short-term profit; we want to make real, disruptive change. We want to make the world better for the entrepreneurs we serve. Our strategy is always about building long-term value and relationships. We were desperate to move away from the previous culture and we knew right from the start that we needed to work on building the right team.

What is the best advice you’ve been given in business?

I can’t remember who said it but you have to enjoy what you do. We hear so much about rules. People tell us that you have to have rules for your team or they’ll run amok. I don’t see it like that at all. A master-and-commander structure wouldn’t work for us and it wouldn’t be as much fun.

Our team is fantastic and they are all really focused on getting the job done and supporting each other. Working like that makes people deliver better stuff. People who don’t share the vision, people who are wrong for the team, stand out and hold you back.

What advice would you give to other people?

You should be as fussy as you can be about the people you work with. Always, always interview the person who is interviewing you. I’ve always done this. And success doesn’t come overnight. You need to be prepared to wait for it and work for it. But you shouldn’t wait to get started. If you have a good idea, find an environment where it can happen.

Paycircle is a cloud-based, jargon-free payroll and pensions platform, enabling small businesses to run their own payroll and auto-enrolment for pensions. paycircle.co.uk

Meet more of our Glass Ceiling Smashers here.


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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.