Feminism has, traditionally, questioned certain ideas pertaining to 'homeliness' and it's understandable that the fight for equality had to grow out of such a stance. Even today, women continue to fight tooth and nail for equality of opportunity and reward within the workplace. So, when you come across a woman who loves to work hard – even putting her wedding on hold so she can squeeze in some Continuing Professional Development – but who also values her home life incredibly highly, it feels like you’ve entered some kind of postmodern ideological paradox.
Bristolian Holly Edwards is just such a woman. She represents a new generation of females who know what they want, know how to get it and yet don’t necessarily feel the need to run off to the City and sell-out the things they hold dear to themselves. Her combination of confidence, warmth, home-town pride and perfectly defined, self-knowing ambition makes her incredibly impressive. It’s as if she’s found the perfect route to contentment right there in her own back yard.
“I love Bristol,” she concurs. “I grew up in Henleaze, a small suburb in North West Bristol and I went to Redmaids School for Girls just a few minutes away. I have great memories of growing up here – my parents used to take me and my siblings to The Downs, which is a large communal green in central Bristol. I now live only a few miles from my family home in Coombe Dingle. I come from a small family (including an elder sister and younger brother) all of whom live within the city and its surrounding villages.”
Holly enjoyed a happy school environment – “there were only four or five people in each of my A Level classes,” she tells us) – and developed incredibly close-knit friendships that have outlasted the majority of those forged in childhood. In fact, it was these friendships that solidified her already strong resolve to build her adult life right there in her home-town. But that’s not to say she didn’t want something of an adventure before she settled down to grown-up life.
“I was always very vocal in school,” she says. “I guess I’ve just always been confident and not afraid to stand up for myself.” And it’s that level of confidence that saw Holly leaving her beloved Bristol for three years to study Business Management at the University of Cardiff, from which she graduated with a 2:1 in 2007 before moving back home and going straight into a permanent role with estate agents CJ Hole.
“I think I was just a bit nosey,” she says jokingly when I ask her what interested her in the world of property letting. “I’d done some work experience in Clifton for the Bradford & Bingley Estate Agents back when I was 16 years old and that took me around some of the most expensive, impressive properties in Bristol. Anyway, coming out of uni, I was very aware that there would be a lot of graduates competing for jobs and so, before I graduated, I approached CJ Hole for a work placement because my sister had worked there previously.”
Holly hit the ground running, spending her first three months providing holiday cover across three Bristol offices that each differed hugely in terms of their property portfolio and footfall. This gave her the chance to cover all aspects of estate agency, but she soon found her niche.
“I loved Letting in comparison to Sales as it was so fast paced and I was able to help so many more people to find their perfect homes.” Within a year of beginning her new career, however, the recession had hit and Holly found herself going from being a member of a large team to just one of two staff members.
“Our aim was to provide a personal level of service to our customers, but we were working out of a very ‘industrial’ office on a business estate as there were no shops available in the area, so we had to work extra hard. You know, me and my colleague Karen (Rupprecht, who still works alongside Holly today) were even known to get out there and mow the lawns and do the cleaning in the properties we were letting, as well as a few other odd jobs. We did it free of charge too. It was all about making sure that, between the two of us, we let those properties!”
Once Holly had been with the firm a year, she decided that she’d like to become more confident in all aspects of the business so she could anticipate all potential ‘curve ball’ questions that customers might ask and, so, she started looking into courses to help with her professional development.
“I approached my Director to see if he would support me financially and in terms of study time so that I could do my Diploma and become a FARLA member and he agreed! Within a week, I’d ordered the course materials from MOL and took up the Diploma in Residential Lettings & Management. I decided to take the business element of the course first (which is the opposite of the suggested method) because I’d covered most of these aspects during my degree so they were fresh in my mind. I finished with the legal modules, which I kind of regret as they were definitely the hardest.”
It wasn’t a walk in the park for Holly to balance her working life (five days a week and alternate Saturdays) with study and she even had to postpone her wedding for six months because she didn’t have the time to organise it and complete her project. But, she soon got used to the short periods of “living like a recluse before each exam” and passed the programme with flying colours. Asked if it has changed things for her, Holly answered us with typically deadpan aplomb:
“I love working for CJ Hole and have absolutely no plans to move. I’m happy in my current role and love the people I work with. I think ‘progression’ as an idea is all relative. I’m where I want to be. I’m just now far more confident in my ability to do my job well and I can even advise colleagues from other branches on various aspects of their roles too.”
It’s an admirable approach to know where you want to be and how you want to get there and I finish my conversation with Holly by asking her who her influences are, perhaps half expecting her to tell me someone personal to her life in Bristol. But, of course, I am wrongfooted again when she tells me, “Karren Brady (Key advisor to Lord Sugar) – I met her at the Letting Agent of the Year Awards and she was brilliant. I think she’s a great role model for women wanting to do more than just ‘admin’ in the business world.”
You might say that Holly Edwards is one of the most successful women working in property today. That’s because she’s defined her own very distinct and well rounded notion of success in life and, with the help of MOL, achieved it. And you can’t ask for more than that.