Dr Yvonne Thompson (CBE), one of the founding members of the UK’s first legal Black radio station Choice FM, has spoken of the importance of not giving up.
In an inspiring entrepreneurial career that has seen her break through many glass ceilings, Dr Yvonne Thompson shared highlights of some of her biggest achievements while on the closing panel at this year’s Black Young Professionals (BYP) Network conference, hosted by founder of BYP Kike Oniwinde.
From being the president of the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners to having chaired governmental committees, Dr Thompson has claimed several titles throughout her career. Through her 40 years in the communications industry, she has been awarded for her contributions to society. This includes a London Metropolitan University honorary doctorate and a CBE for Services to Black and Ethnic Minority Business.
Proud of her Guyana heritage, Dr Yvonne shared the early beginnings of her career at the conference. She said: “I started my life as a journalist in PR… I tried to become a mainstream journalist. That didn’t quite work, except for the music press.” Thomson’s journey started off at CBS records, which is now known as Sony BMG.
“I was there for seven and a half years and… every time I applied for a job moving up, I was moved across”, she explained. “And that was good because I got a good idea of all the different departments, or most of them anyway. I think it was the third or fourth time of applying to the job I was subbing for, and I didn’t get it, that I… handed my notice in, left and never looked back.”
“…every time I applied for a job moving up, I was moved across”
Proving to be unstoppable, after this, Dr Yvonne later went on to set up the first Black-owned PR company in the UK, ASAP communications.
It was through this PR company that Yvonne met; she says “a couple of incredible men. Neil Kenlock and Patrick Berry owned Root Publications. That was the first Black-owned monthly glossy magazine in the UK. And I did the music editing.”
Speaking about co-founding Choice FM, Dr Yvonne shared: “They invited me to be on a board that was going to pitch for a radio station. The first time, we didn’t get it.”
But the trio did not give up as they eventually got their license to air Choice FM. Dishing details on the journey, Yvonne said: “The next thing was, how was I going to get the money to pay my part of the investment? I became a very good salesperson and persuaded my parents to remortgage their house”, she nervously said, followed by lighthearted laughter. “It’s amazing how many people didn’t believe in me, but they believed in me.”
“It’s amazing how many people didn’t believe in me, but they believed in me.”
After her experience working in the music industry, through ASAP Communications, Yvonne worked with Capital Radio music festival, toured the world with reggae bands and more. She is now the founder of WinTrade Global Network (Women In Trade), a Women-led global trade network that supports thousands of women. The annual summit and awards celebrates “womenomics” to profile more than 1,000 women in business every year.
However, “Right now”, the honorary doctorate said: “My two biggest passions are my women in business network, which is celebrating 25 years this year, and chairing the Black Cultural Archives (BCA).”
Yvonne is currently involved in a campaign with BCA called 40 x 40. She said: “We have approached 40 of what we identify as young future leaders to be part of this campaign.” On 19 October, BCA will have an event celebrating this. I invite you to come down”, she told the audience.
Leaving some sage advice with the young BYP Network audience, Yvonne said: “People of my generation paved the way. It’s now left for you guys to push those doors open so you aren’t the only… person of colour in the room and definitely not the only woman of colour in the room.”
In 2010, after 23 years, Choice FM sold to what we now know as, Capital Xtra. Speaking about why she, Neil Kenlock and Patrick Berry made this decision, Yvonne said: “The community loved everything we did… [and] even though the [advertising] rates we were charging were just next to nothing, the community still couldn’t support Choice FM. So, we had to make a decision. Do we let it run down or do we sell it?”
Reflecting on the legacy of Choice FM, Yvonne said: “I think we changed a lot of attitudes [and] mindsets. During my time, to be Black was not aspirational. Now… everything we do right now is aspirational.”
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