Insights: Catherine Powell, Customer Director at Pure Cremation

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Key Info

Chloe Metcalfe


We’re celebrating International Women’s Day by sharing insights from current and emerging female leaders across Puma Private Equity’s portfolio of companies. In today’s post, we discuss with Catherine Powell about the importance of numbers and advice she’d give her younger self.

1. What do you see as the challenges facing today’s business leaders and do you think there are any additional or different ones for females?

Identifying a real customer need and fulfilling it well whilst making a profit is challenging enough. But in today’s world, you also have to create a business that’s good for the planet and a good place to work over and above acceptable hours and decent pay. I think women are used to thinking in ‘3-D’ about life generally, and so they are more open to this broader definition of ‘good business.’

2. How did you get into your career?

During my time as an event organiser in the early 2000’s, I began to wonder about the ultimate event – your funeral. I was struck by how all these unique individuals had such similar send-offs, and I wanted to change that. It wasn’t until 2011 that I took the first step – setting up a funeral business with my husband, a talented and experienced funeral professional. The second crucial step was our positive response in 2012 to a client who wanted to do something other funeral firms had told her was impossible – a direct cremation with no mourners for her Mum. In 2015 we decided to specialise in this service, believing that there must be hundreds of families looking for a simple, high-quality service, at a fair price for people to say goodbye to their special person in their own way. We were wrong. Most recent estimates report that nearly 100,000 families a year now choose a direct cremation, and I am proud to say that our efforts have made that choice available to everyone.

Crematorium hall Bryan and Catherine Powell – 2017
3. What words of advice would you give to women looking to accelerate their careers today – what are the three things you wish you’d known?

Invest in discovering what really turns you on. I was 44 when I found ‘my mission’ and would have been happier, more confident and fulfilled two decades sooner if I’d been able to articulate what drives me and how to satisfy that as a 24-year old. The clues were there but I didn’t know how to interpret them.

Every experience has value – staying open to this idea allows you to reap benefits from any situation, whether that’s acquiring a new skill, broadening your horizons or surviving huge financial stress.

Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses – working on your weaknesses is a waste of energy. Find people who are really good at the things you aren’t and achieve more together.

4. What does a typical day look like for you – or is every day different? If you could have an extra hour in the day what would you spend it on?

The first task of each day is to check the numbers. Doing this gives you 220 opportunities a year (working days) to spot issues, intervene quickly and tightly monitor whether you’ve taken the right action. My role, Customer Experience Director, touches every part of our business: from the TV advertising creative, to the training for our ashes return staff. That means every day has different projects…but with the same objective of making it really easy to consistently deliver an amazing service.

If I had an extra hour in the day I would spend it on self-development and well-being because these will make me more effective. This is a huge challenge for all working women who are pulled in so many different directions at once, from home and family management to worrying about aging parents.

I feel very fortunate to have found purposeful and deeply satisfying work, and I firmly believe this has powerful benefits for my mental and physical health. But eating well (and drinking less wine), staying fit and learning new things (about yourself or the world) are important too. I’m getting better at carving out time for these things, but entrepreneurs are not good at routine or self-care!

If I had an extra hour in the day I would spend it on self-development and well-being because these will make me more effective.

5. Who do you most admire in business and why?

Alex Polizzi. Her series, The Hotel Inspector, taught me three vital things: firstly, genuinely put the customer front and centre every single day; secondly, you’re more likely to make a profit by consistently delivering a simple service to an excellent standard; and thirdly, know your numbers!

Vehicles and team – 2017
6. Where do you see your business or division in five years’ time?

My business began as a funeral provider that sold a few funeral plans. Now we are a funeral plan company with the full vertical integration to deliver those plans, and we are planning to add legal and financial services to our offering. Over the next 5 years we want to become the UK’s most trusted brand for later-life planning, making it easier and more affordable to protect your treasures and the people you care about.

This will mean forming new relationships rather than doing everything in-house, which will be challenging for the 4 Execs – we’re a tightknit team of control freaks!

7. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your business, what would it be?

That’s really difficult. Growth means we need people with corporate experience to ensure good governance and management, but this approach naturally conflicts with the entrepreneurs’ drive to experiment and move quickly. I’d love to create a species that combines those qualities.