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Recognising exceptional achievement or service

Case Study: Penny Streeter OBE

 Penny Streeter 

Penny Streeter OBE

Entrepreneur Penny Streeter was awarded an OBE for services to women's enterprise and business. In 1996, she set up Ambition 24hours, a temporary employment agency that now boasts a turnover of £60 million. With just her mother to help her, Penny, a single mother of four, started the business without outside investors or bank lenders and worked as a children's entertainer at weekends. Today the company has 19 branch offices, nearly 200 office staff and 13,500 personnel on its books.

Why do you think you were given an OBE?

'The success of my business - I'm one of a quite rare breed of entrepreneurial females. The business has seen a dramatic rise from literally nothing to a large company, nine years later.'

What sort of challenges did you face?

'I had everything against me - I had three children at the time and no money. What my story says is that it's possible that anyone can be successful if they set their mind to it. Women aren't particularly encouraged to go into business - it's still very much a man's world. My story shows it can be done, and done efficiently.'

What motivated you to try?

'You can make numerous excuses of why you can't do things but there are opportunities around everything. If you're passionate and determined to do something, I think enough people - family and friends - will help you. I had the responsibility of being a mother with three children initially, then four - they're a large driver in this sort of thing. My mother started the business with me; one of the key reasons is that she shared the childcare with me.'

What are you most proud of?

'I'm proud of not only hitting upon a successful business model that was able to grow, but that I've been able to maintain that growth. As a business grows, you have all the different pressures and challenges and it gets more and more cutthroat. We were able to adapt and change with that kind of environment efficiently.'

Would you have believed anyone who told you back then you'd receive an OBE?

'No, I'd have thought they were absolutely stark-raving mad! It is an enormous honour for me. I consider myself an ordinary person and always thought of the honours list as nice, ordinary people do - you know it's there and we all look at it and read about it but you never think you'll achieve it!'

What does receiving an OBE mean to you?

'Hopefully, it will be helpful to my business - it does command a huge amount of respect. I had always very much associated an OBE with someone who's really achieved something special.'

How did you manage raising your children while starting a business?

'It was enormously challenging and what made it worse is that we're a 24/7 organisation - one of the first agencies to do so. And it was very small, which effectively meant it was me on the phone! Running a business that never closed with three small children made a huge impact on them, too. They'd see me answering the phone all the time - my daughter even had a plastic toy telephone to copy her mother! It's been difficult but you have to juggle it. I'm very lucky that I'm in business with my mother and she's been very supportive.'

How did you find out you were to receive an OBE?

'It was quite interesting! I didn't receive the initial letter they sent out to me. I was in the midst of an intense board meeting and took a call on my mobile. It was from Downing Street to say I hadn't returned the form they'd sent about it! I said I didn't know what they were talking about - I very nearly lost out!'

How have colleagues responded?

'They have been enormous amount of support from staff, they're very, very proud of me and I've had loads of emails from left, right and centre. It really has been incredible.'