A great boss and a personal desire to help people every day are the motivators for award-winning York business leader and mum-of-two Michelle Mook. MAXINE GORDON hears her story

Michelle Mook left school at 15 with low self-esteem and zero ambition.

This year, she turned 50 and is on a high after being named Business Personality of the Year in the annual Press Business Awards.

She has two teenage sons and runs a successful business in York, Pro-Development, working with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to get the best out of their staff.

So how did that disengaged and disheartened farmer's daughter from Shiptonthorpe on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds become an inspiring business leader?

"I had no aspirations and my career advice at school was: 'you are doing typing so you could be a secretary'. And so I went to secretarial college at Beverley for a year and started working as a secretary."

It was at Humberside County Council where her potential was discovered by a "great boss" Keith Auty. "He said to me: 'what are you doing here? You are really good. You could be doing so much more.'

"At that age, I didn't have much self belief. He encouraged me to do a degree. I did this two nights a week and it took me five years to get my degree in business management."

On reflection, Keith's belief in her is central to her success story. "When someone else says they believe in you, it gives you that little bit of a push."

And so it's fitting that Michelle has spent the bulk of her career getting the best out of people.

In her current role as managing director at Pro-Development, she works with companies across Yorkshire and firmly believes that a happy, motivated workplace is good for business.

"As Henry Ford said: 'The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay'.

"The biggest problem we have with SMEs in Yorkshire is not investing in leadership and management – only 17 per cent invest in leadership and management training. And 62 per cent of people leave their job because of their management. It's a worry."

It can cost a company 12 to 18 months of a person's salary when someone leaves the business, yet investing in leadership training for staff can cost between £3,000 to £4,000, says Michelle.

So what makes a great workplace?

Michelle quickly reels off a list: "Honest communication, good leadership, having a vision and having a great team."

Part of her job is to help companies measure their own employee engagement – and then give them guidance and tools to improve it.

Pro-Development runs a leadership programme where the focus is on "experiential learning". Translated, that means getting people out of the office and doing things as diverse as raft building and fire walking to test their leadership and team-building skills.

A lot of fun is involved too, says Michelle, with a hearty laugh. In fact, she adds, fun is one of her core business values alongside "honesty and integrity, making a difference, working as a team and being creative".

And she walks the talk at Pro-Development too. The team of five enjoy flexible working patterns and follow a "families first" policy. As for fun, well, there's plenty of that, including yoga and singing in the office.

"We also go for walks at lunchtime and we have team days and Fizz Nights on a Thursday. There's always a bottle of Prosecco in the fridge. "We want to be role models. If we can't get engagement right, then something is wrong!"


Enter The Press Business Awards

The Press Business Awards are the only regional awards of their kind, celebrating business from all sectors across York, North and East Yorkshire.

The competition recognises the entrepreneurial success of individuals as well as small and large enterprises.

They provide the chance to shine the spotlight on our region’s businesses that have been exploiting new opportunities, creating wealth, employing more people and contributing to the local economy.

This year, which marks the 29th anniversary of the event, will celebrate the triumphs of businesses in ten different categories, with an overall Business of the Year winner also.

Talk Talk returns as the headline sponsor for this year’s event.

To be in with a chance of being crowned a Press Business Awards winner, entrants can choose up to two categories: large business of the year; small business of the year; new business of the year; socially responsible business of the year; exporter of the year; family business of the year; business innovation of the year; employer of the year; business personality of the year, and retail, tourism and leisure business of the year.

The Press Business Awards 2019 are open to all businesses in The Press’s circulation area of York, North and East Yorkshire.

Entry is online only via the website: yorkpress.co.uk/business/awards/introduction/

Closing date is Friday, August 16, 2019.

If you are interested in sponsoring an award category, contact Lucy Stoakes on 01904 567250.