Lead Interview: Juliet Price


Managing Director, Park City Consulting.
Our lead interview in the TENACITY issue of Essex Director business magazine is Juliet Price.
Published in UK Director Magazines Summer 2024

A director’s right-hand man

 “Directors don’t always have someone to talk to and being the person they could call when stressed and upset is really what I wanted to do. Helping them is what gives me true job satisfaction.”

Interview: Sue Wilcock | Martine Silkstone
Pictures: Warren Page, Pagepix

Juliet Price talks to Essex Director

To build a successful company, an entrepreneur needs drive, tenacity, courage, and a strong work ethic. Juliet Price has all these things, but it is her natural ability to connect with people, and a fearless determination to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity, that has put her where she is today – founder and MD of Essex-based HR and H&S consultancy, Park City.

Launched in 1997, when outsourcing was a new concept, the business began with one simple aim: to make life easier for managing directors.

Juliet explains: “With my knowledge and experience, I knew that HR was a pain point for many business owners, and it often led to poor commercial outcomes. I thought: if these people need support, why don’t I offer it as a service? I could be their right-hand man, a ‘fixer’ who would find solutions and improve staff performance.

“Directors don’t always have someone to talk to and being the person they could call when stressed and upset is really what I wanted to do. Helping them is what gives me true job satisfaction.”

Now, with external specialist support simply considered good business, Park City has grown to offer a range of tailored services including health and safety, HR, leadership training, and compliance.

Was that always the vision?

“In truth, there was never a grand plan. At the end of the day, I just saw a gap in the market and thought I could help. That’s going to go on my headstone, isn’t it? Seemed like a good idea at the time – said yes,” she laughs.

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Family life

Juliet was born in November 1969 at St George’s Hospital in Sudbury.

The youngest of three children, she enjoyed a happy childhood with her stay-at-home mum and a dad who worked for a local factory, starting as an apprentice, and working his way up to vice president.

Her parents loved entertaining and often hosted events for both the extended family and occasionally business associates.

“They were basically networking and that taught me an enormous amount,” Juliet says. “People would come to the house and I’d be handing out the vol-au-vents and topping up drinks. I was quite young but understood it was about not letting my parents down and impressing their guests with my ability to make conversation – basic social skills. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot of useful things during that time.”

When Juliet was seven, the family moved to West Bergholt, and she started at Heathlands Primary School where she liked the idea of being a midwife. Later, after failing the 11 plus, she was enrolled at Gilberd Secondary School in Colchester where she formed a drama group with her fellow students. Together, they would perform sketch shows which they thought were “hilarious” – though she questions that now. At the age of 15, she landed a role in a Peter Terson play at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre which she describes as “a pivotal moment in my life”.

“It gave me confidence and taught me so much about communication and dedication to your team members. If you don’t feed them their line, they can’t perform at their best. If they don’t feed you the next cue, you’re in trouble.”

“You learn that it’s really important to support other people’s performances in order for yours to shine too. An important lesson for both work and life.”

With many valuable new skills, but just a few O Levels, Juliet left school with no idea what she wanted to do. Looking for career advice, her parents booked her in for psychometric testing and – unsurprisingly in hindsight – the results pointed towards a people-facing role.

Further study at Colchester Institute followed, including an HND in Business and Finance.

Juliet remembers: “I absolutely loved the course. It had a personnel module and a bit of finance and marketing. I was really interested in all of the elements involved and thought, yes, this is it, I want to go into business.”

A family business

In 1987, after being left a small inheritance, Juliet bought her first house, a two up two down in Colchester, which gave her the responsibility of a mortgage and bills to pay at just 18 years old. At the same time, she started her first job as a buying office assistant at Hatfields, a furniture store in Colchester.

Focussed and driven, Juliet had fortunately found a nurturing environment at the family run business, and they developed her skill set through a series of promotions and her CIPD qualification – although the choice of course was not deliberate…

She explains: “I actually went for a diploma in purchasing and supply, but the course was cancelled just before it started. The CIPD one was available, so I thought, OK I’ll do that then.”

A happy accident and a clear example of her propensity to simply say ‘yes’ to any opportunity that crosses her path.

Over her time with Hatfields, she went on to become the office manager, and later personnel manager – a role they created for her.

Ever ambitious, Juliet says she was “hungry for responsibility”.

“I wanted to make my way up the ladder so if they asked me to do something, I bloody well got it done and without any fuss!”

During this period, she also took a job running a local wine bar, working four nights a week. Meeting and chatting to people, it was a role she enjoyed, and it doubled as her social life while studying at college. “Looking back, I don’t know how I got out of bed every day!” she laughs. “I think I got my work ethic from my dad, because that’s what he’s like – you work long hours and you get results. That’s definitely something I took on board at an early age.”

After ten years, having left the wine bar and finished her qualifications, she decided it was time to move on. It was a big decision as she explains: “I got on very well with the whole family at Hatfields and they were really influential in shaping my skills and career. I was so grateful for their investment in me but, because it was a family business, I knew there was a limit to how high I could go. Eventually I got to the point where I thought, if I’m going to do something else then now’s the time.”

A new beginning

In 1997, Juliet started Park City Consulting.

She says: “To start with I had low expectations, but I certainly saw a gap in the market. There was a clear opportunity to work with directors and help find solutions to their problems. It was quite a ground-breaking idea back then because outsourcing was a brand-new concept.

“I had to start from scratch but perhaps, in some ways, it was more straightforward – people couldn’t say I wasn’t doing it right because nobody else was doing it. Besides, when you haven’t really got a lot, you haven’t got a lot to lose. I had a mortgage to pay but that’s what drives you – the need to meet your responsibilities. It might sound like I was fearless, but if anything, I was just naïve.”

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Why Park City?

“At the time, my parents were living in Utah where Dad was VP of Lucas Aerospace.

“They lived in Park City, an old silver mining town on the edge of the Rocky Mountain range. It was so beautiful and being there seemed like such an adventure. It was while visiting that I put together my business plan, basic as it was, and Park City seemed like a good name for my own new adventure. When someone said that a peak would make a great logo, that was it.

“Of course, at the time the internet and search engines were in their infancy. Now, the name has its challenges,” she laughs, “because when people type in ‘Park City’, they get pages on the mountain range and ski resort first.”  

The launch

With her dad appointed as a second director, and just £3,000 in the bank, Juliet returned to Essex and held an event where the mayor officially launched the business. The first client was signed up on the day and it “snowballed from there”.

She remembers: “Someone I knew from a business course offered me his stationary cupboard to use as an office, in exchange for providing consultancy services. That’s where it all started, in a tiny room with space for just a desk, a chair, a landline telephone, and a Rolodex card system.

“I was ringing people every day and going to every business event. I’d walk around every business park and knock on every door. I wore out a lot of shoe leather and had a lot of rejections, you know.”

Not easily discouraged, her innate tenacity kept her on track and, when it came to quoting and basic terms and conditions, she learned quickly from her mistakes.

Eager to make new connections, Juliet also joined BNI during that first year and became a founding member of the two Colchester chapters. Through the group she gained many new friends and clients, but she was always looking to expand her network. When she heard about the Institute of Directors (IoD), she thought it could be the next step in growing her business. What she didn’t realise was that it would also change her personal life.

Mixing business and pleasure

Juliet was introduced to the IoD by her now husband, Tim, who was working for a company in Witham at the time. Park City had produced a personnel handbook for them, but the buyer left before paying the bill. Juliet – with her debt collector hat on – went to reception and demanded to see the managing director.

“I wasn’t going to leave until I got the money – quite a ballsy attitude I know,” she remembers with a smile. “Tim, who was CEO, took me to his office where he had an IoD flyer on his desk. We got chatting and I asked if it was any good because I was thinking of joining and he offered to take me to Pall Mall (IoD head office) and show me around.”

So far, so business like…

“Two days later we met up at the train station and I went to pay for the tickets because he was a client. He said: ‘If you think this is a business meeting, you can go home now – this is a date.’ Of course, I stayed. We went to Pall Mall, had dinner, and Tim showed me around and went through all you can do with a membership.

“That was our first date. And yes, he did pay the overdue invoice,” she grins.

After dating for just three months, the couple went to Scotland on holiday and Tim proposed. They were married the following August at the Swan in Lavenham.

A man’s world

In 2000, having been encouraged by Tim, Juliet joined the IoD and says it was an important move for her career. Often the only woman in the room, it was quite intimidating in the beginning, and she would pause to take deep breaths before walking into the meetings.

“I wouldn’t describe myself as confident, I just got on with it and found a strategy that worked for me.”

“Some people ignored me completely; others were happy to chat and even took me under their wing. Eventually I came to realise that when you scratched the surface, their businesses were not really any different to mine.”

Having made her mark, Juliet won IoD East of England Business Woman of the Year in 2001 and was invited to join the committee – of course she immediately said yes, despite the role being voluntary and time consuming.  She became vice chairman of the Essex IoD in 2006, before being elected as the first female chairman the following year. She is still a member to this day and while she says things have changed a lot, it is still a great tool for her business and she remains loyal.

Negotiating parenthood

With her network growing, Park City had long outgrown the stationery cupboard and was soon based at an office in Marks Tey with a team of around nine people.

Two years after getting married, Juliet found out she was pregnant with twins.

She recalls: “At the first scan the sonographer said: there’s two. I said, two what? Arms? Legs? She said, no, babies. For someone that’s always got something to say, I was speechless for about 15 minutes. It was a bit of a shock.”

The girls, Molly and Jasmine, were born in 2004 and Juliet says that motherhood had quite an impact on her. She took three months maternity leave and returned to work while still breastfeeding – going back it felt like so much had changed.

“I was still a businesswoman, but it felt different,” she explains. “Going into a business pitch, I had my first ever attack of nerves. I remember distinctly thinking that’s never happened to me before. But I wasn’t the same Juliet – I was wearing a navy suit with an elasticated waist and I was totally unaware I had baby sick on the shoulder of my jacket!

“We did win the pitch though,” she is keen to add.

Tim already had two children from his first marriage, and with two new babies and both parents working, they quickly decided to employ a nanny. This “lifesaver” took care of everything on the home front and gave Juliet three “precious” days a week to spend with her twins.

However, it is clear that ‘mum guilt’ still played a huge part in her experience as a parent – something many working mothers will understand.

She describes the emotions at the time:

“Looking back, I have a lot of guilt and regret because you can’t replace that time, but I felt a pressure to get back to the business. I felt a responsibility to my staff and clients.”

“It was a time of constant guilt – guilt when I wasn’t at work and guilt when I wasn’t at home with the girls. Perhaps women are hard-wired to feel that way.”

“Only now, can I look back and think, you know what, I did the best I could at the time, which is all you can do. By then, we were living in Frinton, so they had a great childhood by the sea, and they have both grown up to be wonderful people with a fantastic work ethic. I’m very proud of them.”

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Resilience and growth

While her children were thriving, so was Juliet’s business.

In fact, Park City was gaining such momentum that in 2004, it was decided that Tim, with his corporate experience, should join the company as operations director. He was tired of travelling for work and his presence gave Juliet the freedom to work ‘on’ the business rather than ‘in’ the business.

She says: “Working together was a bit weird to start with, but we are a strong partnership. I always looked up to his knowledge and experience and we bowed to each other’s strengths. I’m probably too much of a control freak, while Tim’s really cool, calm and collected – that’s why it works.”

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It didn’t affect your relationship?

“It did sometimes spill over into our home life. One day, we were in bed, and I started a conversation about contract cleaners at 12.10am. After that, I thought – we are going to have to have some boundaries here,” she laughs.

With Tim now on board, the growing business moved to new offices where it expanded to offer HR, health and safety, and training – becoming a ‘people’ service that could not only solve problems, but also develop managers to prevent those problems arising in the first place. Working with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), Park City became accredited to deliver their courses and diplomas, enjoying a high pass rate and employing a strong focus on implementing the learning in the workplace – the “golden nugget”.

Through the recent pandemic period, the company survived by moving training online and becoming a business information hub for the constantly changing government guidelines. It was a difficult time but 90% of the clients stayed.

“It was really quite scary,” Juliet remembers. “I had a lot of clients ringing me upset, crying, panicking that they were going to lose everything. But it’s all about relationships, isn’t it? I’d always be there for people, you know.”

“Loyalty, I’ve learned, is one of my real values.”

The company is now based at Ardleigh with a team of 22 people and Juliet says that surrounding herself with good people is the key to her success. Certainly, the ability to make connections is her gift and it informs her advice to anyone starting out: “Get to know a lot of people and never burn bridges because you just don’t know when you’re going to come across that person later in life.”

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So, what’s next?

“When I was all work and no play, someone said you must make time to smell the roses, so now I’m starting to think about that.

“With an inheritance Tim received a couple of years ago, we were able to buy a villa in Spain which is our bolt hole in the sun, and we both enjoy golf and clay shooting. We also enjoy time with our family and it’s been wonderful to watch our daughters grow and blossom into career women in their own right.”

All of which sounds lovely, but those ‘roses’ may have to wait a little bit longer…

“For now, we are too busy and excited about Park City and the possibilities for expansion. The world of HR is transforming into ‘people and culture’ and we have the potential to tie everything together – making sure people have the skills, knowledge, capability, and wellbeing to deliver on their job for years to come. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning…and almost always with a spring in my step,” she smiles.

www.parkcity.co.uk

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