“If somebody gives you a chance then say yes to it – you grab it,” explains Lynda Thomas, 52, the CEO of UK cancer charity, Macmillan who has been in her role since 2014. “Somehow I ended up here as the chief exec,” Thomas jokes. But her position is no accident, having worked her way up from an unpaid charity volunteer to one of the biggest job titles in the third sector.
So how did she get here? “It is absolutely not about having a career plan. It really is about making the best of yourself in every possible situation,” the CEO says; she moved where the jobs interested her, and didn’t spend time fixating on the long-term.
She has also taken time out for family. Thomas, who lives in north London with her husband, three children and cockapoo, job-shared her previous role for a decade in order to balance parenthood with her career, and stopped working for a period when her youngest daughter was ill. “I literally had one of those moments when I thought I can’t go into work today, or go to work tomorrow,” she explains. “In fact, I don’t know when I can go back to work.”
Thomas, who has a Bachelors degree in psychology, started her career in a commercial marketing role covering “everything from spot creams to fizzy drinks to jeans” before having her first child, and taking time out of work,
“But for me staying at home didn’t suit me – there was always something in me that said I needed to combine motherhood and do a job that challenged me,” she says. So, without any experience in the voluntary sector, she walked into the office of a children’s charity and asked if she could help out. They agreed.
A temporary role turned into a permanent one, and Thomas moved to the NSPCC for a new job in child protection, where she stayed for six years. The Arsenal supporter says she really didn’t have a career plan – but rather just grabbed the opportunities offered.
“I had a conversation at the water cooler with my colleague, Hilary Cross about the fact we had six children between us, including one set of twins. And we decided that we should apply for a job together.”
The pair applied for a job at Macmillan where they spent ten years in a shared role. “Being able to be in the playground twice a week, and actually have this really rewarding job was amazing, we had one promotion after another.”
“It is absolutely not about having a career plan…”
Thomas says that for her, the key to balancing motherhood and career has been not sweating the small stuff. “For women we do try and do it all so you have to let stuff go as well. I certainly think I wouldn’t have been as successful if I’d really angsted over every single little decision or worried about stuff which in reality didn’t matter that much.”
She also believes in surrounding yourself with people who excel in areas you may not, and having faith in delegating to them. “I’ve always loved working like that. It is amazing what you can drop.”
Cross and Thomas’ career paths diverged after a decade job sharing, when Thomas was offered a new role as Macmillan’s head of fundraising – Cross is now director of strategy and engagement – leading a team of 500 people.
“I knew nothing about fundraising,” she admits. But instead of letting her self doubt stop her, she agreed. “If somebody gives you a chance then say yes to it, you grab it. The worst thing that could have happened in that job is that I’d gone and done if for a six month period and then got back to my old job. There was absolutely nothing to lose from it. But there was a huge amount to gain.”
For information and support, visit Macmillan website www.macmillan.org.uk or call the support line on 0808 808 0000.