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Career Shaping Conversations: Tricia Blatherwick

Voco Team
Career stories
Graphic titlecard: Tricia Blatherwick
Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Tricia and I’m the Chief Commercial Officer at AutogenAI, Europe’s fastest growing generative AI company. At 54, this is my first scale-up, and while it’s incredibly fast-paced and punchy, it’s an exhilarating place to be!

I come from a very impoverished background, and I was the first person in my family to go to university, where I studied English Lit. Afterwards I had to find a job quickly to support my family financially and so ended up at British Rail Computing.

From there I worked my way up through a series of multinational tech companies including Atos and Capita, where I always worked in sales, marketing or consulting, leading bigger and bigger teams and deals.

I’m very competitive and very passionate about sales, so to be at a company using AI to help people write bids and win deals is a dream come true really.

A conversation that showed me the way

At British Rail I had a boss called Ray State and he was pretty terrifying! He held a dual remit: Head of Safety and Head of Innovation. Not two areas you would necessarily put together, right? But he explained that if you’re bright enough you should be able to hold two concepts, two areas of responsibility, because you can then know where the line is. You can see both sides. That made huge sense to me.

Then, when I was at Capita, another boss, Maggie Bell underlined the point for me. I was brought in as a Bid Director but she challenged me to also add other strings to my bow. She pushed me to also explore the roles my role impacted - commercial leads, solutions architects and the like. I needed to understand and be able to do those jobs to do mine well. And I was more valuable to her if I could do them all.

So through these conversations, I learned that there’s something about being able to do roles outside of your core remit, which is really important in order for you to be empathetic and supportive and aware of other perspectives in your team.

A persuasive conversation

I caught up with Sean Williams, founder of AutogenAI, who I worked with over 20 years ago at Serco. After our paths diverged - he joined G4S, and I went to Capita - we maintained mutual respect despite often competing for bids.

So Sean approached me with his startup idea. Initially, I dismissed it, valuing my stable, well-paid job at a big US tech company over the high risk of startups.

Sean persisted, inviting me to join his advisory board due to my network and judgment. After six months of product development, he asked again for me to join full-time. Still hesitant, I agreed to help recruit a CCO. When we couldn’t find the right candidate, I agreed to spearhead the growth function for Sean.

Sean's unwavering belief in my suitability for the job eventually persuaded me. Realising I could take the risk, I joined Autogen. His confidence in my abilities helped overcome my self-doubt. As women, we can be our own harshest critics, but with the right encouragement, we can take bold steps.

Sean’s persistence and trust were crucial to my decision.

A conversation that changed how I see myself

About five years ago, my then 17 year old daughter gave me a mother’s day present: a notepad with pink unicorns on it. If there’s anything I’m not, it’s pink unicorns so I said thanks and put it in a drawer. A few months ago, I needed some paper and found it, and on the first page was a long essay she’d written about how inspirational I was, what an amazing role model I’d been...

So I called her and admitted I’d just found it, awful I know, but it opened up an amazing conversation. I’m a single mum and I’ve always felt huge guilt about the dinners I had’t cooked, the hours on calls, the amount of travel that took me away from home. But here was my daughter telling me how inspired she’d been by it all.

She’d heard me having conversations with powerful men, she’d seen me jumping for joy over winning bids, she’d seen what her future could look like.

So while I was stressing out about what I wasn’t giving her and her siblings, I was actually having this huge impact on their future careers. It completely shifted the narrative I’d built in my head about who I was as a working mum.

A conversation that defines my approach to life

If I look back across my whole career I think there’s a thread that holds it all together, and that’s about seizing the opportunities that come your way, rather than  following a linear path. The chances to do jobs out of my comfort zone, the risks taken, the saying yes!

In another conversation with my daughter and her father, she asked how to build a great career. Her father answered, ‘well, there are two ways, you can work hard, climb the ladder, like me, or you can be like your mum and just wing it!’ And I think that sums up my approach perfectly. And of course I was delighted when she replied ‘yeah, I’m going to wing it too!’

And at the end of a leaving speech a former boss - an amazing Texan woman - gave about me, came a quote that I love: “when I get to the end of my life, I don't want to just have lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” I love that, I think that’s exactly what careers and life are all about. Living the width of it all.

Go after what fascinates you, catch joy in things, and don't just trudge through your career because you're there a long time.

Someone I’d like to have a career conversation with...

I would choose one of the most famous people in the world because I'm completely obsessed with Shakespeare. I would love to have a conversation with him. He was born to a relatively poor family. His father was in prison, although I can't remember why.

Despite this, he captured the joy of life and observed people keenly. He decided to follow his passion for playwriting and moved to London, leaving Stratford and his family behind, which is probably something I wouldn't do.

I’d love to ask him how someone who never went to university or had any classical education became not just the leading playwright of the 16th century, but the world's leading playwright for all time. How did he achieve that?

How did he navigate the challenges of his time, such as hierarchies and class divisions, to become the man who wrote plays for Queen Elizabeth? His output was enormous. How did he manage to produce so many plays of such beauty and deep insight into humanity despite living in extremely difficult circumstances, including the plague? How did he do it?

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