Karen Hester was scouring for a job that would allow her to juggle being a full-time mum to her two young children when she came across a vacancy at the Suffolk brewer Adnams for a part-time cleaner.
It was 1988 and Hester had returned to the UK after living in Germany with her former husband, who was a serviceman in the army.
“There is nothing wrong with being a cleaner,” said Hester, who was yesterday promoted to Adnams’ board, becoming the company’s first female executive director.
“I thought, ‘I am earning some money’, and the hours suited me at the time,” she told City A.M.
Hester had left school at the age of 16 to join the armed forces where she drove lorries and ambulances after qualifying as the youngest ever woman in the UK to pass her HGV (heavy goods vehicle) licence, aged 17.
It was her background in logistics that caught the attention of Adnams’ chief executive Andy Wood, who had been its head of logistics at the time, in 1994 and helped her move up the ranks.
Hester, who had by then started working in one of Adnams’ shops, joined Wood’s team as transport clerk before being made transport manager a year later and taking over as head of logistics in 2000.
By 2007 Hester was made Adnams’ operations director after a stint as customer services director and returning to college part time to gain a Diploma in Management.
The 52 year-old, who runs all the day-to-day operations at Adnams’ Brewery, hotels, pubs and stores, said she hoped her new position would “send a very strong message that if you have talent and work hard, then anything can be achieved, regardless of your gender”.
She added: “If I can go from being a cleaner to a director on the main board of a company then – let’s face it – there is hope for everybody,” she said.