Indie Oxford Interview: Penny Tunnell

 In Business Tips, Indie Oxford Interviews

As part of our business tips series, today I talk to experienced business development advisor and qualified executive coach Penny Tunnell about finding your niche, the importance of great customer service, and building good relationships for your business.

Tell me about yourself, and your business.

My entire raison d’etre is based on a deep sense of purpose which it has taken me 40 years to find and articulate. Not everyone takes so long! It can be summed up in this Brian Tracy quotation;

“if you help enough people achieve what they want in life, then you will achieve everything you want in life”.

I work as a business development advisor, which involves me in everything from strategy to sales, from product to people. I am there to help solve business problems, of course, though the best bit comes from seeing people grow and how often people already know exactly what to do, but maybe didn’t have the confidence or tools. I describe my job as ‘mining gold’.

Penny Tunnell Oxford

What is the best advice you’ve been given during your career?

Best advice; don’t try to please everyone; The Mark Twain quote about little people is really important. We need mentors and people who will encourage us…be honest in a supportive way…not bring us down.

We often over complicate things. When I feel stuck or I am trying to help a client see a way forward, the best solutions often come from paring things down;

For example I ask;

‘’If you knew there was a simple solution, what would it be?”

Mark Twain

What have you learnt is key to business success?

I spent more than 20 years in retail, large and small companies, in many functions, and I learnt that if you can master the challenges of this sector, you can do pretty much anything. The constant vigilance to numbers, the awareness of brand impact and the importance of service are fundamental to any successful business, including business-to-business.

What advice would you give to someone starting, or growing, their business this year?

Don’t just think about what you want to sell; a business doesn’t fail for lack of a great product. To succeed you must really stand in the shoes of your prospective customer and ask yourself

‘how am I different, how do I solve a problem, why should anybody care…’

Penny Tunnell Oxford

How important is building relationship skills for business?

Being able to build good relationships is the single most important human skill there is. It is very important in business. It is a skill in which I felt I woefully inadequate in my early career. I still have a copy of a book I bought in my 20s called ‘Learned Optimism’. I envied people with a sunny disposition, I thought I would never be able to go up to strangers in a room and be liked. I am still staggered sometimes when I get positive feedback. I always recommend starting with a little self-knowledge. Diagnostics like Gallup StrengthsFinder can be helpful, and digging deep to understand your values and what matters to you, will help build confidence and authenticity. You have to be yourself and bring the best of yourself into play at work. That takes time and self-awareness.

Penny Tunnell Oxford

Tell me about The Alchemy Leadership Development Programme.

I feel very passionately about the Alchemy Leadership & Management Programme. It fills a glaring gap for more affordable, high quality leadership development and this has been an ongoing concern of many of my clients.

I haven’t seen anything quite like this programme. It is manageable in terms of time, (one day a month for 6 months), it includes 1-to-1 executive coaching, there will be a limit of 10 people on each programme, and the key leadership and management themes such as Effective Communications, Developing People, Personal Leadership and Handling Challenging Conversations are included. The programme is very collaborative and pragmatic; definitely no lecture theatre! Our focus is on genuinely helping people to bring their innate leadership capabilities to the fore and then developing the tools to manage working relationships, of all levels, confidently and effectively. We also hope participants will develop long term support networks and friendships with people they meet on the programme.

Who is the Programme aimed at?

It is ideal for established businesses who want to develop their senior teams, or for a business owner who hasn’t had the benefits of good management training, or for someone who feels they are a bit rusty and wants to understand current thinking and practice new skills. We deliberately want people from different sectors and company sizes to work together as part of their learning. The lead coach is a career expert, Ian Saunders, who has worked with Henley and Oxford University business schools and countless blue chip businesses over the years. I asked Ian to create a programme to fill the gap.

What are the benefits for attendees?

The main benefits for attendees will be gaining a range of key management skills and building the confidence on how to develop themselves as leaders and influencers; learning how to take theory and best practice into their own workplace. For the organisation, the main benefit is better communication and relationships that result in the workplace from managers understanding how to build effective relationships; and taking responsibility for their own development and learning.

And of course, we are running the programme at the amazing location of Oxford University’s Egrove Park facility which is a fabulous learning environment; with great food too.

How do people find out more information and apply for the Programme?

To sign up for the programme or to hear more about it, then please give me a call on 07921744121 or email Also check out my website for more information about The Alchemy Leadership Development Programme. The first workshop is on May 14th and we expect places to be sold out weeks before that.

Penny Tunnell Oxford

Lastly, tell me about your favourite independent businesses in Oxfordshire?

There are so many fabulous businesses in Oxford. We are so lucky. I hate to choose and if I have to, then I love Burrows and Hare. I have been associated with the gift industry all my life and it is really hard to come up with an offer that is different. I think they’ve done that successfully.

Burrows and Hare Shop Oxford

I have known Penny for over 10 years, in fact she gave me my first role in retail buying and product development in 2007. Penny has been a real inspiration to me, and a valued mentor. She helped me develop my brand A Rosie Life, and has worked with countless businesses, in retail and other industries, to help drive profit.

If you would like to know more about the Leadership Development Programme, and other services she offers, visit her website Penny Tunnell. Penny will also be talking at our Indie Oxford Meet Up in May, which is sure to be an inspiring talk for independent businesses of all sizes. You can find out more, and grab your ticket here.

Have a successful day!

Love, Rosie


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