Q&A: Alison Stephenson from AAA on her career journey to date and who’s her inspiration…

What was your first job (and how much did it pay)? My first job was in a local care home on a weekend when I was 16 years old, I was paid £3.60 per hour. When I turned 18, I began my training to become a tutor, teaching deaf awareness and British Sign Language, which I did for 14 years. As this was night school only, I joined my father’s business as a HR manager before setting up a new business together in 2015, AAA Caring Caretaker, where I resumed the role of HR Director.

What is the best advice or support you’ve been given in business? My biggest support must be my dad as I have learnt and followed him. The best advice I have ever been given is “always keep some ammunition in your back pocket”, my dad’s theory of don’t play all your cards in one go. Another one given to me by a trainer was to never stop learning and I have always continued to do courses since.

What are the main changes you’ve seen in your business/sector, and what are the challenges you’re facing? There has been a big issue with the cost of paper and cotton which has had a knock-on effect to us, as suppliers have had to put up the cost of paper towels, toilets rolls and mop heads. This means we are having to increase our prices to clients in an ever-competing world of best price. The main challenge I am facing right now is the shift to my new role as Managing Director which I started in May 2022, learning to let go of what I can now delegate and focusing on working on the things I do have to deal with.

How has the pandemic changed the way you work? 

Operating mainly in a cleaning environment our work actually increased because our clients wanted more touchpoint cleaning. For our admin staff we did allow them to share working from home to reduce the number of people in the office, but we had strict boundaries to protect all. The other major change, like the rest of the world, was our meetings changed to online with was so strange not sitting around a table with real human beings and the motivation to get dressed ceased due to working from home so much.

Who is your role model in business? 

I know it’s cliché but it has to be my dad. He has been my guide, my support, my teacher and my security blanket through thick and thin. Having an opportunity like this has enabled me to grow in a safe environment because who can you trust more than your own dad. He has enabled me to stand on my own two feet whilst always striving to be as successful and as clever as he is.

What would your dream job be? 

I am really enjoying my job, when I was growing up I always wanted to be a doctor and my focus on HR and looking after people was a good substitute. If it wasn’t for my hearing and ear issues I would be a flight attendant so I could meet / look after people all the time and of course the travel.

What advice would you give to someone starting out a career in your sector? 

Do your research and make sure you fully understand the business and trade so that you can direct staff, they have more respect for you if you know what you’re talking about. Make sure you understand your legal obligations with regards to employment law and Health and Safety, as the saying goes “get all your ducks in a row first”, a great analogy and so right.

What makes the North East a good place to do business? 

The North East has good travel links making it accessible, we have beautiful scenery and close to the coast so a day out on site visits means there will always be fish and chips for lunch! There is a lot of expansion and growth in the North and if you can establish a good business relationship, you will find some of the larger businesses have other sites in the south giving you potential expansion opportunities.

How important is it for business to play a role in society? 

One of our core values at AAA is our commitment to social value, we take pride in supporting our local community and enjoy the volunteer work we do in society. It is important to share and support each other as you do not know when you might need each other in the future.

Outside of work, what are you really good at? Juggling – well, with two children, a husband and work! I am also a musician and play the flute and piano and wish I had the time to more of this.