Throughout this Women in Business series, we look to share our stories of the many remarkable women that make Voyage Control run as smoothly as it does today. Our last release in this series focused on our Full Stack Developer, Lisa Manukyan, in which we learned about her extensive experience in cyber security and technical development. We learned how the events of the September 27th, 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenia-Azerbaijan) war resulted in her realizing that technical development and cyber security is the industry that she is highly passionate about. This latest release of our Women in Business series focuses on the story and experience of our Operations Director, Deborah White.
Deborah White was born and raised in a small community town within the county of Essex, called Tilbury until she moved to rural Lincolnshire three years ago. At the age of 17, Deborah decided that college and the academic route were not for her and so she decided to look for jobs that were being offered in her nearest job center. Since Deborah decided that studying at college wasn’t something she wanted to continue, she was determined to find herself a career - “I always needed a role that had progression and a route [rather] than a fixed standalone role”. This is where she accidentally found herself the job that would evolve into her now 20-year-long career.
With Deborah’s determination to find herself a suitable job she can nurture into a longstanding career, she was lucky to find a small job advert looking for an Office Junior at a small boutique law firm in the West End, London. Little did Deborah know that at that moment, this boutique law firm would set her on track for an extensive career in the legal field - “They said they’d train me up as a legal secretary - which is actually a really difficult field to get into in the UK because it is especially quite technical”. Deborah described this as a lucky find as she’d go on to learn numerous aspects of the business including working within an office environment, reception, the switchboard, working as a personal assistant, the post room, and much more. These skills and experiences provided her with a great knowledge base of business and of how companies run in all aspects of the business, not just in the areas where people do client meetings or conduct sales. She states that “I got to see such a variety and I really understood what I liked doing because, at that point, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I left college without any ambition, as such, and no clear path or avenue. I think that was such a great first step for me in what turned out to be a 20 or 30-year career really”.
During Deborah’s time working in the legal industry, she got the chance to work for a number of large law firms in various roles. None more so than towards the end of her legal career when she was working for the Head of the Directorate. During this time, she got the opportunity to travel a lot as she visited the other offices and as she states, it was a really full-on role, and she really enjoyed it. However, she then endured a traumatic six months as “I had my daughter extremely premature and spent weeks in the hospital doing really poorly, and then 4 months later I lost my Dad”. All of a sudden, this life that Deborah created for herself, the 20-year-long career she built from the ground up to a really high level became irrelevant because it didn’t fit with what she needed her life to now look like.
Due to these traumatic six months, Deborah decided to take a year off from work to learn and decide what was important to her family and herself both personally and professionally. She knew for certain that she didn’t want her 20-year career to go to waste, but she understood that her professional life as it was wouldn’t suit what her life had now become. This is when Deborah went back to the metaphorical drawing board to rediscover what she liked doing and how she’d be able to apply it to a new career. Her priorities stood solid on the grounds that she needed to be able to apply for something she genuinely enjoyed doing. Deborah needed to have the time to be a present and active mother for her daughter, while still creating a successful career - she needed to work on her terms.
When talking about what Deborah’s next career move was, she explained how she first got in contact with Voyage Control. Interestingly, Deborah has worked for Voyage Control twice throughout her career after pivoting away from the legal industry. In 2020, Deborah was working for a business consultancy where she was contracted out to various companies, which is where she came into contact with CEO James Swanston of Voyage Control. In 2020, Deborah was contracted to Voyage Control to help provide support in business operations for eight months - “unfortunately, I got a promotion to an Account Manager which meant I would be stepping back from everyday clients and start overseeing the business unit and the 30 people who were contracted out”.
Deborah remained working for her business consultancy company for three years before catching wind that Voyage Control was looking for a new Executive Assistant. After completing her work with the company two years prior, she always felt that ‘it wasn’t a goodbye, merely a see you soon’ before returning to the brand. As Deborah stated from the start, “I always thought I’d end back up at Voyage Control. I’ve always been on board with James’ vision and drive and kind of the way he works. I feel like I bring a lot of value to him every day”.
Despite spending 20 years working in very established law firms, she also loves the start-up world and getting involved in all aspects of the business. Deborah goes on to explain that working in a law firm, it’s very predefined, very structured, and that was that - you knew what was expected of you every day. She explains that the startup world is so different, that you don’t know what you’ll be doing until the work day commences. “You’ll have a to-do list and then something will happen and that to-do list will go out the window.” Even though originally, Deborah said that the company was looking to hire her as an Executive Assistant, her role has evolved into being the Operations Officer where she works on all internal operations for the company. She goes on to explain that she’s responsible for overseeing finance, contract procurement, HR, Customer Service, and process creation.
Now that Deborah has the ability to work remotely, she has been thankful to spend more time with her family, and is now studying a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Business Management - which she is also working on remotely and part-time through the University of Essex. She states that it’s “quite a big commitment, so it’s easy for me to do that right now, because being in this role, I’m being exposed to everything that I’m learning. I’m getting so much on-the-job experience that I can put straight to my degree”. This is why she is much happier going back to university now, rather than 20 years ago when she had no experience and no real understanding of what that means in real life.
Throughout this series, we like to ask what everyone’s ultimate professional role is. For Deborah, it’s having a seat at the table, not in the sense of being a CEO - “I don’t think what I want is to be a CEO for sure, I don’t think I want that, but I want to be next in line [...] I want to be a driving force in a business. I want to make a difference, I want to inspire others”. This is much like how Deborah’s role models have inspired and influenced her professional career. For her, there are two distinct people who have played an incredibly influential role in her life, both personally and professionally. For Deborah, her partner Scott and her old boss Gemma Osula are the two biggest role models in her life.
Deborah and her partner Scott have been together for a few years now. They originally met through work, as many people do. She recounts how Scott has been an incredibly supportive person throughout many difficult and happy points in her life while encouraging her to chase her dreams. Scott is a veteran and has managed to build up a fantastic career in building management in London where he commutes 2 hours a day, each way, in order for them to maintain their countryside lifestyle. She remembers how Scott will take their daughter out for the day so that Deborah can have the time to dedicate herself to her studies at home, distraction-free. “He’s so selfless with that, he doesn’t think about himself. He’s always wanted to do an engineering degree and he’s like: “we can’t do it both, you go for it. You get your degree”. That’s just the kind of guy he is”. Deborah wholeheartedly believes that women can go out and do whatever they want, “but I also think that they need support to do that too. It may not be a partner, it could be a friend or a family member, but without somebody who 100% has your back, and lets you chase your dreams, I don’t think you can achieve it.” The support that Scott provides her with her work and study inspires her to be as successful as she can not only to make herself proud but to make her partner proud of her as well.
Deborah’s other major role model is Gemma Osula, Deborah’s former Director of Client Services at her previous company. Gemma is a major inspiration for Deborah as she is an amazing professional, who worked her way to a full-time seat within the leadership team while mothering two seven-year-old twins that she homeschools. She inspired Deborah to go out of her way and achieve everything that she puts her mind to. Deborah recalls “she was the first person I had come across doing it and showed how it can be done successfully.” She believes that seeing another woman successfully balancing all these roles, and making it look so easy to achieve is what inspired Deborah to achieve the same thing for her life, career, and family. After all, “I guess that’s what we all strive to do now is to show somebody else that if we’re doing it, you can too. What she’s come up against, she’s smashed through every brick wall and she rocks it, she’s amazing”. Deborah believes that if it wasn’t for Gemma Osula being such a great role model, “I don’t think I would’ve had the confidence and the belief that I could do it in the way that I have done it and in the speed that I’ve done it”.
Throughout Deborah’s professional career, she’s learned a host of lessons, none more important than these two:
Because there may be something you want to work towards achieving, but the manner in which you achieve this goal may not be the most fulfilling or rewarding. Deborah has learned that she could have achieved this career path possibly quicker, or better, or more successfully in London and built up networks. However, this would not have worked well for her because she needed to ensure that what she was doing now would work for her in the future. This ties in nicely with her second piece of advice…
Deborah always considers this when speaking to women about how to achieve their dreams, to ensure they're thinking about what will make them happy throughout their journey, rather than just what the end result will be. She goes on to say that “there’s nothing worse than looking back and regretting that I didn’t make it to my daughter’s school assembly, or that I didn’t make it to her sports day” or other personal milestones because she was required to attend a meeting. Deborah believes that there will always be unavoidable things that require your attention, but one thing is to make sure that you aspire to live life without regret.
Deborah White is an extraordinary woman who is an integral part of the Voyage Control team. She is a multi-talented professional with an endearing work ethic and family life balance. We’re very lucky to have such a remarkable person on our team as Deborah, who can apply herself wholeheartedly to everything she does while being a present, loving, and all-round amazing mother to her family.