When Pat Dellow took a job in a bank at 17, fresh out of school, she never dreamed of the career that would then unfold.
It was just that – a job. A reliable one that put decent cash in a bright-eyed teenager’s pocket but, as she readily describes, “just a job”.
Yet over the last 37 years Pat has become the ultimate ambassador for that bank, HSBC.
The Gateshead-born-and-bred banker, now 53, has risen through the ranks to become the Tyne Tees area commercial director, at the top of her game and the sole female holding such a position in a North East banking organisation.
She can intricately and passionately detail every facet of her role... and most of her colleagues’ roles too, having taken on just about every position going at HSBC at one time or another, from clerk and cashier to student advisor and a raft of managerial posts.
Pat is now in charge of a team of 50, developing and maintaining relationships with all manner of companies from the Scottish Borders down to Northallerton and everything in between, overseeing grant funds that have had a huge impact on the businesses which are driving forward the region’s economy, yet it could all have turned out very differently.
It took a career break to deal with a very personal, difficult time in her life to fully ignite a competitive, challenging side that first flourished in her La Sagesse school days, as a sporty swimmer and hockey player.
“I joined the Midland Bank, as HSBC was then known, in the late 1970s and if I’m honest, at that point it was just a job,” said Pat.
“I didn’t have any particular career aspirations – it was a job that paid well and at that time there weren’t any women bank managers, so the expectation of where you could move your career to, was certainly not where I expected it to go.
“I guess I plodded for quite some time. I had my daughter Fay when I was 27, and the real turning point for me was when she was unfortunately diagnosed with leukaemia when she was four.”
Pat was a student advisor at HSBC, looking after several hundred students at Northumbria and Newcastle universities when she decided to take a two-year break from HSBC to spend time with Fay as she went through a two-year treatment cycle. Thankfully, she made a full recovery and has been in good health ever since.
Once Fay, now 25, had come through her illness Pat had the time to consider her own future.
Clearly valuing her skills, HSBC had convinced Pat to take a career break from the company as opposed to outright quitting her post.
That allowed Pat to return when she was ready – and when that time came she was more than ready for any challenge.
When she first returned to work she carried out holiday cover for all sorts of jobs, using skills she’d gained as a student advisor, cashier and clerk to move around various branches and roles.
She recalled: “Now reflecting back, I think I was a changed woman. I didn’t think so at the time but I was a lot more determined and competitive.
“I used to play hockey and swim for the county when I was young and when you’ve got that ‘I want to be number one’ mentality it’s in you. You just want to be the best that you can be in the job that you do, so I suppose that competitive edge, of challenging yourself to be better, came back in. I think it had lain vacant for a while.
“What an experience like my daughter’s illness teaches you is that, no matter what happens, nothing can be as bad. It gives you a sense of reality, a different perspective on life and the ability to look at things with a more balanced view.
“There will be times that everyone focuses on something small, but we have made it a big – it teaches you to strip things back and think.”
Back in work at the age of 34, Pat was encouraged to apply for the management trainee programme, after which she did “an awful lot of jobs” learning all aspects of the HSBC business, on the person customer, retail and commercial sides, in small, medium and large branches.
Training was key, she believes, and in 1994 banking was still a very male-dominated vocation. Times have thankfully changed.
“At that point in the banking industry there wasn’t an expectation that women could get to a really senior position because it was a very male-dominated sector, particularly in the commercial space. It wasn’t so bad in retail, there was potential to progress there,” she said.
“Where we are now is that we have the head of commercial banking for HSBC as a woman, for the very first time.
“Outside, some of the older customers expected to see a man with a bowler hat and didn’t expect to see a woman walking in saying ‘I’m the manager’.
“I can remember someone saying ‘I’ll talk to him’ when they came in and looked at the most junior member of my staff. You just have to be quite strong and say ‘if you want the best advice, I’m the best person’.
“Then it was quite funny. We’ve moved on massively now. I don’t think people see any difference. I don’t think I’m viewed or received any differently because of my gender.”
When Pat was appointed Tyne Tees area commercial director in 2010 she had a team of 34, but it has since expanded to 50.
The team includes specialist managers who look after different sizes of business and nine international managers who look at companies who are trading overseas and those who are keen to explore those options.
Knowledge is key within the commercial division, where the team are expected to become fully acquainted with their clients businesses – anything from food producers to anaerobic digestion facilities and offshore training firms.
On-site visits achieve much of this, so a sizeable portion of the job includes time out of the office to see firms in action, learn their trade cycle and get to know their future growth plans.
Pat is particularly pleased with the recently-opened Emerald Biogas anaerobic digestion facility at Aycliffe Business Park, having been involved in the project from start to finish.
“What I love about my job now, is going out there and meeting businesses and actually seeing what they do and hope to achieve.
“I’m a Gateshead lass, I was born in Low Fell and I’ve lived there all my life and I’m really passionate about this particular region. I think we’ve got a responsibility to help drive forward the economy in the region and whatever small part we can play we do have a responsibility to support businesses and get the economy moving in the North East.
“Being an enabler fulfils me. For example, with the anerobic digester, I didn’t know anything about it but I know quite a bit about it now.
“To go out there and see it when it was simply a farm, understand what their plans were and provide the finance, then see it being built, seeing all that come to fruition and seeing where the money went and created so many jobs.
“That’s when you can look in the mirror and say ‘I’ve done a good job’. That’s the bit that I enjoy and can be proud of, I think.”
Aside from maintaining customers’ relationships Pat’s main role is to develop and professionalise her team, meaning she often supports junior colleagues on visits.
Time out on visits, and time away from the office, she believes, is invaluable for managers in all professions.
“Sometimes I feel I’m in the office too much. At the moment we’re planning for the year so we’re in the office.
“I take a day out of the office every week so I can just think, which I feel is important.
“When the numbers get bigger and your team gets bigger you need time out to think about where we are, what levers we need to push and pull, where our strengths are and what we need to do to improve. Sometimes I’ll do this at home – just anywhere where I’m away from people.”
Monthly Blue Sky thinking sessions with the three others in the region’s leadership team are also a must, juggled with important contacts within Pat’s professional community, at the NECC and UKTI, lawyers and accountants and the Bank of England.
Like the Bank of England, HSBC and other financial institutions have taken quite a battering in recent times, with companies up and down the country claiming a meagre appetite for SME funding.
As area commercial director Pat says the opposite is the case but acknowledges businesses’ frustrations.
“The word has spread that the banks won’t have an appetite so some businesses aren’t coming forward. They think there’s no point in applying. So we’re working hard to spread the messages to reassure them that we have an appetite to support them.
“I’m head of the North region and my business will only grow if we grow our lending book and acquire new customers so we’re all driven to grow our business by supporting others in their growth plans.
“All we can do is tell more good news stories, with those we have supported, and that might generate more awareness and reverse that trend. But I do get that the banks have taken a battering and we will rebuild trust.”
With the UK and North East economic recovery well on its way, Pat believes there is still much she and HSBC to drive it further.
North East businesses are more than capable of competing with the rest of the UK, and indeed, the world and she believes the region mustn’t limit itself with any belief otherwise.
“We’ve got to get businesses thinking in a more positive way – and they are. The businesses we go out and visit, you definitely get a sense of positivity,” she said.
“To demonstrate that, we’ve had probably the best year we’ve had since the recession on equipment finance. A lot of businesses have either not invested for the last two or three years – kit, machinery and so on needs replacing, so they are doing that now.
“We have an assisted asset purchase scheme, which is the Regional Growth Fund-backed scheme.
“If there’s a business going to buy machinery but they don’t have the deposit, they can apply to us for a grant – and we’ve been really successful with that fund. We had £25m in the last tranche in the UK and 24% of that came to businesses in my patch – which is brilliant.
“That side of our business has grown 200%. It’s a massive increase in finance and support, and what that tells me and my team is that businesses are now investing, which has got to be good for them and the North East economy.”
Away from work at weekends – all work stops for two days – Pat spends time with her close-knit group of friends and her family, exploring favourite places in Northumberland and visits to cinemas, pubs and restaurants.
She’s clearly very passionate about this region which is why she has no intention to move into banking positions at a national level, such as the UK commercial director role.
She said: “That national job takes you all over the country. I personally would prefer to stay here. My strengths and my preferences lie in this region, so I don’t have any desire to move out of the region.
“And I think my job’s not done yet. I think there’s a lot more I can achieve in the job that I’m in.”
What car do you drive? BMW 320
What’s your favourite restaurant? Cafe 21
Who or what makes you laugh? Sarah Millican
What’s your favourite book? The Enneagram – I’m a 7!
What was the last album you bought? Adele’s 21
What’s your ideal job, other than the one you’ve got? Professional singer – although I can’t sing!
If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you would teach it to say? Gin and tonic?
What’s your greatest fear? Heights
What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received? Don’t limit yourself by your own beliefs
And the worst? None really as I believe even bad advice can be used positively from a learning and awareness point of view.
What’s your poison? Gin and tonic
What newspapers do you read, other than The Journal? Financial Times, The Sunday Times
How much was your first pay packet and what was it for? £2.50 for a Saturday job at local newsagents when I was 15
How do you keep fit? I love swimming – but need to find time to get in the pool more often
What’s your most irritating habit? Sandra my PA tells me it is not washing up my coffee cup!
What’s your biggest extravagance? My daughter!
Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with or admire?
Mother Teresa for her selfless devotion to those in need
Which four famous people would you most like to dine with?
George Clooney for obvious reasons! Michael Buble, Judi Dench, Billy Connelly.
How would you like to be remembered? As a good mum, daughter, sister and friend.