Tracey Martin-Head tells workingwise.co.uk about her changing career and how Covid has opened her mind to more possibilities in the future.
When she left school halfway through her A levels Tracey Martin-Head had no idea what she wanted to do. Her parents had a strong work ethic though so the week after leaving school her father was knocking on her door and telling her she had to get a job. Since then she has adapted to numerous workplace changes and accrued years of experience in a range of different sectors before landing on customer services and sales as her major strengths. Redundancy during Covid has, however, given her time to think about what she wants next with the experience of homeworking being much more enjoyable than she had previously imagined. She is also determined to debunk ideas about older workers.
Tracey’s working life began with a job at poster company Athena. She then moved to a better paid clerical job with more perks in the tax collector’s office in Bishop’s Stortford before joining Longman Pearson’s customer services department. There she realised that she liked dealing with people so her next move was to a telemarketing role with more of a sales and marketing slant.
After that Tracey worked for an electrical cable company and soon got to know all the competitors, regular customers and suppliers, something that helped her in her next job with a start-up in the same industry. When that relocated, she moved to another company in the same group. Then to Anixter, a US company with more opportunities. It relocated to London and Tracey went too, but was unable to continue when she was asked to move from a central London office to Heathrow. However, she agreed to stay on to train and settle new staff. That decision was instrumental in landing her next role for the Dutch cable manufacturer Belden. It was her first real sales job. “It was an eye opener and it changed my personality,” says Tracey. “I was naturally quite shy. I had to go all over the place with the job. I would sit in the car park psyching myself up. It was really hard, but after a month or two it came naturally. I taught myself to do it.”
Over the last two decades, Tracey has combined her skills in customer services and sales. In 2004, she began working for drinks company Diageo in Bishop’s Stortford, working first on wine distribution. “We supplied wines and spirits to trade, mostly in London. It was great fun,” she says. Tracey processed all the orders and dealt with trade clients such as hotels and bars. She stayed for seven years. “Diageo is a really good employer. They are very easy going. There are lots of perks and lots of opportunities,” she says.
In the last two years, the way the business operated changed and Tracey was doing more work with private clients which she didn’t enjoy as much. Following an office amalgamation, Tracey was effectively doing two jobs and had moved to a base in Mayfair. She was asked to take on another role and declined, accepting a generous redundancy offer.
She took six months off and accepted a contract at a rather old-fashioned greetings card company which she reluctantly extended for a few months. Asked to extend her contract further, she opted instead to take time off to look for another role. After six more months she got a job at Anglian Water as customer services manager, then head of customer service, then head of sales. She recently took redundancy when her job was combined with two others.
The last 18 months of Covid have changed Tracey’s views on homeworking. She has always liked working in an office with a team and had said she would hate to work from home, but now she feels “the complete reverse”. “I have thoroughly enjoyed it and have worked effectively. I didn’t feel isolated. I was doing calls all day. And it gave me a lot more time,” she says. “Before I had quite a commute and I was permanently knackered. I put it down to my age. I realised it was in fact due to the driving. Working from home gives me a better work life balance.”
It has also opened up the possibility of self employment. Over the last couple of years Tracey has been looking to change direction and has been thinking about doing a Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development course in professional coaching. “I have always enjoyed mentoring people, identifying people who have promise and I have been really good at it. If I worked for myself I could have greater flexibility. I have a house in Spain. It would be nice to work from there remotely,” she says.
Asked if she is worried about being redundant at 57, she says that she was more worried about her previous redundancies and that, for her, age should be no barrier to what she can achieve. “I refuse to buy into the ageism thing. I know people younger than me who seem much older,” she says. She is also very aware of what she has to offer in terms of experience and staying power. Her track record is proof. Instead, the fact that the redundancy has coincided with Covid has given her valuable time to think what she wants to do next. Tracey states simply: “The experience of the last 18 months has given me more options.”
*workingwise.co.uk is looking to tell people’s career stories as a way of highlighting the range of experience of older workers, not just work-related but life-related. The aim is to change the sometimes negative narrative on older workers and show just how much we have to offer. If you are interested in taking part, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.