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Sociology has been the thread throughout Annette Shipley’s varied career. After studying the subject at school and then Staffordshire University, her interest in people and society led her to become a librarian, politician, company director and business owner.
Annette is now the Director of Operations at Stoke-on-Trent based Olympus Engineering, a precision engineering firm that develops automotive components. Previously, she spent 22 years growing a Government-backed energy efficiency scheme from three employees to over 5,000, managing £2.5bn in funds for society’s most vulnerable.
“The skills I learned on the sociology degree at Staffordshire University never left me,” said Annette, who graduated in 1981. “Studying sociology helped me to shape and organise my thinking which has been important throughout my career.”
Annette grew up on Leek Road, in Stoke-on-Trent, she attended Moorside High School and then Leek College for A levels, where she studied sociology “and loved it”.
She said: “I wanted to study sociology in much more depth so I chose it for a degree. It was a very undermined and underestimated subject back in the 1970s. It wasn’t taken terribly seriously but, for me, it was one of the most difficult subjects you could study.
“I had no idea what job I wanted to do at the time, however. My parents were from a local factory and the only thing they ever said to me about getting a job was ‘keep going with your education and, at some point, it would become clear’. So, that’s what I kept doing.”
Annette initially started a degree in social policy at Plymouth University in 1977. After her mother was taken ill, she decided to return to Stoke to continue her studies at Staffordshire University. “I much more enjoyed the course at Staffordshire,” she recalled. “It opened my mind to politics, anthropology, women’s studies and more.”
With the Stoke manufacturing industry declining in the 1980s, after graduating Annette moved to London to find a job, where she became a library assistant and studied for a postgraduate qualification in librarianship at London Metropolitan University.
She then joined the NSPCC as the Head of Library Services and then Head of Policy at Child Poverty Action Group. Annette was elected to London’s Walthamstow Council at just 24 years old, spending the next five years as a councillor. She is currently a Parish Councillor for Werrington.
By the end of the 1980s, however, Annette decided to move to Newcastle upon Tyne, where she joined two other ambitious individuals in founding Eaga. Over the next two decades, Eaga enjoyed a meteoric rise, making millions within ten years and eventually floating on the stock exchange. As Director of Operations, Annette was instrumental in moving the company to an employee owned structure, which helped them win contracts with the UK’s largest employers.
Following the change of Government in 1997, Eaga’s funding was cut dramatically and they eventually sold the business to Carillion in 2010. Annette took the opportunity to found her own company, Excellence 3 Ltd, a consultancy to help other businesses switch to an employee owned structure as well as support some well-established employee owned companies, among them John Lewis.
Annette moved back to Stoke with her son in early 2014 and continued to work as a consultant until she took the role of Director of Operations at Olympus Engineering in 2016.
She said: “I didn’t know anything about precision engineering but I know a lot about people. We have the people and the skills to grow the business over the next five years and we’ve got to retain those people, grow their skills and attract the very best talent in the area. Olympus is a fantastic story and I am proud to be part of its legacy in the area”.