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'Force of nature': How my British diplomat boss taught me value of kindness

My First Boss: The people who helped shape business leaders

Janet Coyle has developed programmes to support entrepreneurs in growing their businesses, with a particular focus on under-represented founders including women.
Janet Coyle has developed programmes to support entrepreneurs in growing their businesses, with a particular focus on under-represented founders including women. Photo: Grow London

Janet Coyle CBE joined the Foreign Commonwealth Office in 1983 straight from school and worked in the diplomatic service for 20 years.

She is now managing director of Grow London at London & Partners. For the past 10 years, Coyle has developed programmes to support entrepreneurs in growing their businesses and leads all the business teams globally.

Ann Grant, one of the few female ambassadors at the time when she was British High Commissioner in South Africa, was a force of nature in the way she led from the front in kindness.

I had been posted to Cape Town just before 2000 to do trade and investment work and help British companies access opportunities.

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As I moved around to different posts and countries I was mindful and purposeful of taking it to the next phase, with the Foreign Office being quite a hierarchical organisation. But I was a sponge and always learning from others.

Ann would always think outside the box and I never met an ambassador or high commissioner quite like her. It wasn’t about putting yourself forward in any way, but about having impact and being able to measure success in what you were doing.

Ann Grant, pictured during her time as British High Commissioner in South Africa, first joined the UK Diplomatic Service in 1972.
Ann Grant, pictured during her time as British High Commissioner in South Africa, first joined the UK Diplomatic Service in 1972.

We would have a minister coming to town to promote Cape Town and in 2001 it was the early days of tourism in the townships. Rather than going up Table Mountain or Camps Bay, Ann started to help them promote the work in these communities and they in turn began to get on the map.

They were measured risks Ann took but I knew then that I could come up with creative ideas and not follow the traditional playbook thanks to her ability to build a community and be inclusive.

She got close to the communities with her charm, she listened and I learned the value of social conscience and giving back.

Ann simply taught me to look outside and have a wider vision.

She also led with kindness and fun, was constantly thinking about others and how to make an impact. So much so that she could articulate to staff in such a way that it made you want to go with her on her journey and leave the office to build communities.

Read More: My first boss: Hannah Lewis, American Express UK country manager

I spent over 20 years in the Foreign Office moving around the world from South Africa, Malawi to Vietnam with my last posting in San Francisco. There, I was able to engage with entrepreneurs and host round tables for our ministers and the great and good of tech.

I felt the energy of Silicon Valley and knew that was the field I wanted to remain in. I then worked on the London 2012 Olympics for four years helping to deliver an economic growth strategy.

London & Partners was created just before the Olympics where the then Mayor brought together Think London, Visit London and, at the time, Study London. We became this joined up organisation which made a lot of sense.

After 20 years in the diplomatic service, Janet Coyle followed her passion for the Olympics and worked on a business strategy for London.
After 20 years in the diplomatic service, Janet Coyle followed her passion for the Olympics and worked on a business strategy for London. (Paul Clarke Photographer +44(0)7515 655932 paul@paulclarke.com)

Fast forward to today, I am MD of all our high growth work where we rebranded last May to Grow London. I have been building out so many products and services for the scale ups for high growth companies that we wanted it under one banner. We bring investment into London and help up to 400 scale ups go global.

We are now probably one of the largest, most effective accelerators for scale ups in the UK, having created 84,000 jobs in London over the last 11 years and helped 2,500 companies who have chosen London when they are looking to come to Europe.

Read More: My first boss: Anna Lundstrom, CEO of Nespresso UK&I

Our competition is the likes of Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris. But we are a small, innovative country punching above our weight. We have to constantly try to reinvent and London is still a city that companies want to come to.

With over 100 staff globally, our mission is to generate economic growth for London and inclusivity is a key part of that.

I am constantly challenging our team to make sure we deliver to suit a wide range of people, be it under-represented founders or female founders.

That goes back to my time in South Africa. It’s not just part of the job, it’s part of my make-up, developed over a number of years and inspired by Ann.

Watch: AI reskilling must be a continuous investment for businesses

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