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Meet Leona- she was the only woman in the factory she worked in for her first full-time job

Leona Shepherd is Corporate Marketing and Sales Director 3M UK Plc. She shares her own first day fears, and advice for young people deciding how to get started in work today.


  1. What and where was your very first job?
    First ever jobs were as a weekend shop assistant at a local newsagents’ shop. Then when I was over 18 I worked in a country pub. My first full time job was as a Chemical Engineer in a factory that made paint
  1. What 3 words describe any fears or worries you felt on your first day in this job?
    Excited , Small, Brave
  1. Did any of these ever come true? If yes, please give details
    the excitement paid off, it was definitely an adventure which was very rewarding. I was happy I had been brave enough to go somewhere that I did not really know much about but I trusted the people who interviewed me that they had picked well. They were nice and friendly and looked after me. In fact I was made to feel quite special – not so small. At the same time I was the only woman in the factory and I was very young so it was quite intimidating but, as I was brave, I decided to conqueror and be successful. I am very proud of this time in my life.
  1. What do you wish you’d known when you started work?
    The importance of different inter-personal skills ie the ability to adapt my style to get on with lots of people. It is more than being polite and working hard. You have to influence, persuade, sell, be humble, be bold, be resilient and strong. And don’t take set-backs too personally.
  1. What was the best thing about starting work and why?
    Earning a salary and independence. Then the scope to influence changes- people asked my opinion and then did what I suggested in the real world. I felt very important and that I could make a difference and make the world (or my little bit of it) better.
  1. Briefly, what was your route from school to the job you have now?
    I went to university and qualified with a Chemical Engineering degree. A great degree that can take you anywhere! Then I worked in a paint factory, where I realised that I liked working with the customers (back to my Saturday and holiday jobs in shops and pubs). I moved into Marketing and then sales where I could work directly with customers across all different types of businesses. Then I became more skilled at management and making decisions and influencing people. I am now in charge of designing short term and long term changes at my company to make sure we still do great business and can keep lots of people employed doing things they like to do. The company employs lots of people doing lots of different things – all are equally important.
  1. What is the most important thing in your life now?
    Feeling like I can make a positive changes to the way we build the company and work together. I want to bring the next generation of young leaders through the company and help them learn skills to run the company for the next decade. Work requires resilience (mental and physical strength) and I spend a lot of time helping employees build their own resilience. I also spend as much time as possible with my family and friends. I have 2 boys who are at school.
  1. Do you still get scared or worried about work and your job? If yes, why?
    Worried? Yes! Because every day is a new adventure, so you don’t know what is going to happen and if you will make the best possible choices.

But I am not scared, because it you do it the right way – honestly and with the right intentions – then it will be OK.

  1. How do you cope with any fears that you have?
    I have good friends who help share. I also talk to people who have done it before me. I like to try new things and confront my fears – so I will challenge myself to go outside my comfort area. This is where the best and most exciting things happen.
  2. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
    I wanted to work in a garden nursery – growing small plants, in a greenhouse and outdoors. I still would but I think I would prefer to run the company.
  1. If there is one thing you would like every person who starts work to know or to have a skill, what would it be and why?
    Be respectful. Everyone has a skill or a unique contribution to make.
    Never make enemies – what goes around will come back around and hurt you.
  1. Any final words of advice…?

Work is great fun, very rewarding and there are so many things you can do. You don’t have to stick to 1 choice – you can have many careers across your working life. Nothing is committed forever- If you don’t like it , change it!