After 20 years helping companies to grow, Jane Ollis is dusting off her science text books for her new role as sales and marketing director of medical device developer Quvium.
Despite graduating with a masters in environmental science from Wye College – and being a former business fellow of the University of Oxford – her return to the scientific world comes with some trepidation.
“I was a rubbish scientist,” said Mrs Ollis. “I didn’t have enough attention to detail. I did an internship at Nasa and I don’t know how I stumbled my way through it.
“I care more about helping people. I truly believe that your every day life can help others. I’m more of a people person. I don’t like laboratories. They are a bit lonely.”
Thankfully laboratories do not have much of a role in her new position at Quvium, which she begins full time this month at their offices in Discovery Park in Sandwich. The company has developed a wearable device which predicts the onset of an asthma attack before it occurs by analysing breathing and coughing.
“It’s an amazing product and to have the chance to take that to market and make a real difference to people’s lives feels so exciting...” - Jane Ollis, Quvium
It will not come to market in the UK until the spring, with the company looking at launching it in Asia first, with Hong Kong a target for later this year. The US and Europe are also targets, where tough regulatory markets are waiting to be meandered.
“It’s an amazing product and to have the chance to take that to market and make a real difference to people’s lives feels so exciting,” said Mrs Ollis. “It can be life-changing for anyone with respiratory problems.”
The new role combines Mrs Ollis’s scientific passion with her appetite for helping businesses to grow.
She spent eight years at BSK-CiC, a social enterprise which offered business coaching and organised the Kent 2020 Vision exhibitions.
The organisation went bust shortly after Mrs Ollis left her role as chief executive after European funding it was promised was withdrawn, having already delivered the project where the money was promised.
“It had always been solvent and that caused a headache from a cashflow point of view,” she said. “It was there as a social enterprise and did everything with good intentions and followed every policy on EU funding.”
She became managing director of Rift Accounting in 2014, where she remains a non-executive director and is also a director of the boiler business the Heating Hub (see page 13).
Now Mrs Ollis also has the job of managing 1,500 members of the Kent branch of the Institute of Directors (IoD).
She was announced as chairman in May, having been interviewed for the position at its Pall Mall headquarters in December. “I’m looking at how we can connect our members more with each other so they can find opportunities for business ideas,” said Mrs Ollis.
“I want us to become more organised in how we do that. It’s about how we can benefit our members better.”
Why did Quvium’s American co-founders Steven Schmidt and Karen Travers bring their business to Discovery Park in Sandwich from their native Boston?
“There is something quite magic about Kent. There is a better environment for research and development and innovation. Kent is a good place for innovative companies to come. It’s easy to access London and international travel. Steve had set up an earlier business in Cambridge and it didn’t work as well. ITL in Ashford will manufacture the device, which is another great Kent story.”
What do you look for in a new boss?
“To work for someone inspiring is important. Leadership is about making other people successful.”
You were a strong remain campaigner before the EU referendum. What do you think now?
“You have got to look at the bigger picture. I feel overall being part of the EU would have been better for the UK. We now have to encourage business to expand their horizons beyond the EU. It is all about finding a positive. The key thing is to keep plans for growth.”
Why do you rarely fly, except when returning to your husband’s native Australia, the last time being five years ago?
“We often get the train or boat. It is about saving my carbon footprint. We have got to think about future generations. We don’t take enough care for the way we do things.”
Born: 30/04/1968 in Chatham
School: Rochester Grammar School then King’s School, Rochester
Family: Married to Tim, with three children aged 17, 15 and 11
First job: Potato sorting on a farm in Cooling
First wage: “A bag of potatoes.”
Salary now: Undisclosed
Car: “A very old Peugeot. I’m not interested in cars at all.”
Favourite book: The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier
Film: Love Actually
Music: “I like listening to my daughter’s singing. She has the most beautiful voice.”
Gadget: “I’m not into gadgets. It’s my phone.”
Last holiday: The Amalfi Coast
Charity: Kent Wildlife Trust
Jane Ollis normally gets up at 6.45am to let her chickens out and then makes a coffee which is “fundamental to life”.
This summer she has been at home as she is between jobs but increasingly her time revolves around international time zones, arranging Skype meetings with potential clients around the world.
She will begin working at Quvium’s offices in Discovery Park this month but said her aim is always to be home to have a family meal at about 7pm.