Meet the mumpreneur who built nationwide fashion and jewellery business worth £70 MILLION after beating rare blood cancer

  • Wendy Hallett had two young children when she was diagnosed with cancer 
  • The mother was told she had Hodgkin lymphoma in 2004, aged just 39
  • But Wendy, now 53, beat the rare condition to build a successful business
  • The mumpreneur now runs Hallett Retail which is currently valued at £70 million
Wendy Hallett’s first office was a small table on the landing of her three-bedroom terraced house. She had a phone and a computer — and two pre-school children downstairs with a childminder.
‘Eventually we got the loft done and I actually got a room to work in, with a door,’ she says. ‘But at first it was a pretty tight squeeze.’
From that cramped beginning in 1999, Wendy built a business now responsible for £70 million worth of clothes and jewellery sales in department stores across the UK
Today, her fashion concession firm, Hallett Retail, employs 500 people, including 60 in a Manchester warehouse and 35 in the London head office.
Today, Wendy Hallett's fashion concession firm, Hallett Retail, employs 500 people, including 60 in a Manchester warehouse and 35 in the London head office

But far more challenging than an awkward workspace was Wendy’s diagnosis at the age of 39 with the rare blood cancer Hodgkin lymphoma in 2004. The business was then five years old — still small, but beginning to take off — and the children were at primary school and both aged under ten.
‘It was a terrifying time and very emotional because I had such young children,’ she says, now 53. ‘But looking back, oddly perhaps, I don’t resent it at all. It helped shape me.
‘It’s a cliche, but you do learn that life can be very short. So when I was healthy again, I thought, let’s just go for it. It made me less risk-averse because, frankly, you might as well live life to the full.’
Six months of aggressive chemotherapy later, Wendy was exhausted and frail, but beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. The business, on the other hand, was almost flat-lining.
Her successful rebuild, indeed her determination to expand, won her a prestigious NatWest Everywoman Award in 2011, one of a series of awards for female entrepreneurs. The Daily Mail sponsors its Aphrodite Mumpreneur Award, for women who have started a business while their children are under 12 years old.
Wendy’s early career was in retail; at one point she was the manager of the flagship Topshop store in Oxford Circus.
Yet when Wendy had her second child (Hamish came three years after Megan), she knew she wanted to work more flexibly. ‘My mother died of breast cancer when I was seven, and I was determined to be there for my children because I knew what it was like not to have a mum around.
‘At the same time, I did very much want, and need, to stay working.’ But finding flexible work in 1999 was virtually impossible. ‘I had to be full-time and working really long hours in order to get the level of work I was qualified to do,’ she says
 'My mother died of breast cancer when I was seven, and I was determined to be there for my children because I knew what it was like not to have a mum around - Wendy Hallett'
So Wendy decided to pursue her own ideas, eventually settling on the concession concept that would become Hallett Retail — a grouping of many small clothing and jewellery brands into one portfolio that is sold into stores including Debenhams and House of Fraser, with Hallett responsible not for stock, but for shop fitting and retail staff.
In effect, she became a middle-woman between fashion labels too small to do their own deals, and the big High Street and out-of-town showcases where women shop.
Wendy’s business began to do well almost immediately.
‘I quite quickly got a number of big stores involved and it started to snowball. But I was still working from home and I began to find the thing almost running out of my control, especially the financial side.
‘When I started to have breathing problems, that’s what I put it down to: stress.’
For five months before her diagnosis, ‘things were certainly not right’ and she remembers ploughing through payroll duties while feeling ‘really bad’ and yet knowing she had responsibilities to staff.
 When I first started... the thing I found most difficult was billing: asking for money, and then chasing it up. That was a confidence issue, and a particularly female one
The shock of diagnosis was quickly replaced by frustration with chemo-induced hair-loss and the reluctant acknowledgement she couldn’t lead the business until she was well again. ‘How you look affects your confidence. The whole business at that point was built around me, but I had to withdraw from it.’ Hallett Retail survived — just. But for Wendy, life couldn’t simply resume as normal.
To help power up the business, she hired her husband, Kevin, 52, an accountant and IT specialist.
And she told her PA to make an absolute rule: ‘Everything to do with the children went in the diary first, and then I worked around that. I was quite ruthless about it.’
Wendy, however, was still very much the business figurehead. She became harder-nosed, too. ‘When I first started... the thing I found most difficult was billing: asking for money, and then chasing it up. That was a confidence issue, and a particularly female one.’
Later on, however, she says: ‘I found that some men were quite surprised at how tough I could be in negotiations.’
Meanwhile, juggling home and work became easier once she rejected the concept of fixed hours. ‘I don’t believe in working just to be seen to be working,’ she says. ‘When the kids were small, I always had Friday off, and I made sure I was back at home by 3.30pm on Monday, too.’
At Hallett Retail, all staff can work flexibly, whether they’re parents or not.
A passion for hiking and the Yorkshire Dales fills her downtime now the children are 19 and 22 and no longer need help with homework at the kitchen table.
It’s a different kitchen nowadays in any case. Hallett Retail’s success not only gave Wendy the time with her children she craved, but paid for a much bigger house, too, with a much bigger landing. 
Source: Here

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