Students at Millthorpe had an inspiring insight into the world of business recently when one of the school’s most successful alumni, Karen Jones CBE, called back in to talk about her experiences.
Karen, who was made a CBE in 2006 for services to hospitality, made her name by founding the Café Rouge chain of restaurants which she sold for £133 million in 1996 and is now the owner of the Food and Fuel chain of pubs. She attended Mill Mount Grammar School, which merged with Nunthorpe Boys’ Grammar and Knavesmire Secondary Modern to form Millthorpe in 1985, from 1967-74. She was invited back by Jenny Kent, a parent governor at the school, as part of a programme to raise aspirations among Millthorpe students.
Headteacher Trevor Burton was delighted that Ms Jones agreed to the visit:
“The chance to hear first-hand about Karen’s experiences, of building up a hospitality empire from scratch and operating in the highest spheres of business, is an incredible opportunity for Millthorpe students. What really struck a chord is when they heard how, at 17, she was waiting tables at Betty’s tearooms in York, something they can all relate to. Then, just a few years later she was running her own multimillion pound chain of restaurants. So the message for students is very much: if you have the belief and the commitment, the sky’s the limit.
Sarah Watts, Head of PSHE, who helped organise the visit felt that she was a great role model for young people. “The fact that she is a former student is a great inspiration to many of them and shows them that they too can be ambitious and set their sights high.”
Ms Jones spent 45 minutes speaking to students about her experiences, explaining what has helped her to achieve what she has and recalling how one of her teachers inspired a love of English, which she went on to read at university. She also stressed how important it is to take advantage of opportunities when they arise, whether in school, business, or in life more generally; and how you need to be prepared to work hard to fulfil your potential.
Students then had the chance to quiz Karen on a range of topics, from handling stress to overcoming failure. One student asked whether she would carry on running a company if it wasn’t making much money and learnt that it wasn’t the profits that motivated her but the satisfaction of creating a successful enterprise.
Ella Field, a Year 10 student who asked her about how studying English helped her in her career, commented:
“I was fascinated to hear about her life; she came across as very intelligent and likeable. It was really inspiring to see how she has been able to succeed in an area dominated by men and how she has managed to balance her achievements in business with a successful family life. I would have liked to speak to her for longer!”