Kent's Amazing Women Business Leaders

Kent is blessed with some of the most gifted, inspirational and, let's face it, downright amazing women business leaders. Meet the magnificent seven...

Kent is blessed with some of the most gifted, inspirational and, let’s face it, downright amazing women business leaders. Meet the magnificent seven…

Sandra Matthews-Marsh

Chief Executive, Visit Kent         

Visit Kent, 28 St Peter’s Street,

Canterbury CT1 2BQ

01227 812900

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Tell us about yourself

I am married to Mike with three step-children and have recently moved to Faversham. I am a qualified librarian by profession but moved straight into tourism marketing after university. I have worked in tourism in Kent for 13 years, having previously been Director at Leeds Castle and before that Marketing Director of the South East England Tourist Board.

Tell us about Visit Kent 

Visit Kent is a public/private sector partnership supporting 3000 SMEs engaged in tourism in Kent. Kent Tourism Alliance, as it was known, was inspired by KCC, Eurotunnel and a handful of leading tourism businesses eight years ago.

Since then we have grown our partnership and now have more than 80 investors and 350 members. 

How has it changed over the last year? 

We recently gained grant support from the EU to fund our work beyond 2013 and through this our output has been able to double in scale – this means more marketing, training, research and development work to support businesses. 

Our ‘Kent, Garden of England /My Kent’ campaign, backed by Kent County Council, took our advertising to a new level in 2010 and through a campaign run by M&C Saatchi, massive posters appeared throughout London to promote Kent. The campaign conversion results showed that the campaign generated a return on investment of 47 to one. 

Your business philosophy?

We will succeed if we live and breathe genuine partnership working. We need energy, drive, commitment, a “yes we can do it” attitude and a big sense of humour – if we don’t have all those things we should work somewhere else!

Visit Kent’s special qualities?

Our people are the heart of the business, we are blessed with not only a great Board and a wonderful team but that wider family of partners: our investors, who work in a genuine way together and with us to create more success. Our Chairman, Amanda Cottrell OBE, is an inspiration to us.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In Kent, healthy, happy, a grandma.

How do you relax?

I am a keen traveller, theatregoer, gardener and two nights a week I teach dance fitness – which I trained to do three years ago because I hate exercise (although I love dancing) and it has transformed my life (and my core muscles!).


Carol Lynch

Chief Executive

Kent Community Foundation

Kent Community Foundation,

Office 23, Evegate Park Barn, Evegate,

Ashford TN25 6SX

01303 814 500

Tell us about yourself

I started out as a civil engineer, moving into charities in the 1990s. This is my dream job; it can be a juggle with family life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! 

Tell us about KCF 

KCF was created in 2001 to encourage private individuals, businesses and families to give something back to their communities. We help philanthropists identify local charities, projects and causes working in the areas they care most about.  

Your business philosophy?

To encourage those with the means to reach out to others and make a long-lasting difference to people in Kent. 

KCF’s special qualities?

Everyone involved cares deeply about local people and communities. We are very lucky to have the support of high-profile people who are passionate about Kent, like our Patron, the Lord Lieutenant, Allan Willett. 

And looking ahead five years?

I certainly hope I will still be here at Kent Community Foundation with all the energy and passion I have now. I want KCF to continue to develop as a catalyst for change, at the forefront of innovative solutions to long-standing social issues such as childhood poverty, disaffection, isolation, social exclusion.


Lital Arica

Chief executive, Padani Jewellers

Padani Jewellers

55 High Street, Tunbridge Wells


01892 537 533

Tell us about yourself

My husband Dr Yigal Arica and I bought a wonderful old house in Birling five years ago and then spent three and a half years restoring it. We’ve tried to be true to the nature of the property, which is Tudor right through to Georgian.

We decided on Kent because it was close to London and Europe and has its own distinct identity (and great weather) plus we wanted to move into a place that would be our home for the rest of our lives. We have a flat in South Kensington but we wanted a lake, wildlife and horses, history and tradition.

My family is Austrian, I was born in a place that used to be Germany and now is Poland but I was raised in Israel, where I trained as a clinical psychologist. I now think of myself as English, we are permanent residents and are going to be citizens very soon.

We feel very at home with the English culture, you have something unique that we relate to – the ability to laugh at yourself and to use humour. 

Tell us about Padani 

There are 10 Padani stores in Israel, but only one in the UK. In Israel we have our own galleries but are also wholesalers to 120 other shops; here when we sell we are the agents of Cartier. When you say Padani in Israel it’s just like saying Cartier – which was quite a challenge when we opened in Tunbridge Wells in November 2006. We were seen as newcomers and had to prove ourselves.

We could have opened in North London and it would have been much easier for us because of the huge Jewish community there. But if you go to London you will never ‘learn’ England because London is so cosmopolitan.

We knew it would take four to five years to establish ourselves and we wanted to do it slowly, to build the name because it’s so different here to Israel – the culture is different, the type of jewellery we sell is different, even the models of watches we sell are different.

It was also important for us to work within a community. We have good local competition and we wanted to be in the High Street because if someone is looking for jewellery, that’s where they will go. We aim towards classic with a twist and apart from Padani, we have Bulgari and Cartier and are also investing in Marco Bicego, whose work we love.

How has the business changed? 

Our first customers were the more adventurous, now we’re getting more traditional types, plus all age groups. With jewellery it is a question of trust, that you are going to be told the truth, not be pushed towards something you can’t afford or is not right for you.

We have 90-95 per cent return customers, that’s our biggest success. People build up collections and we are designing far more bespoke pieces now.

Your business philosophy?

We see the shop as being a little like a club because we meet people at very important points in their lives: they’ve had a baby, they’re getting married, engaged or perhaps a woman just wants to buy something to make herself feel a bit better. We’re trying to educate people in trying new things – some designs look so much better when you try them on. Skin changes everything.

Padani’s special qualities?

The core is quality of design but it is also about service and creating a feeling of community, of family and of warmth. If a customer wants something designed, we will spend hours with them to get it right.

And looking ahead five years?

We’ve opened a new virtual shop, which we see as another shop, but hopefully within two years we will open another store in the UK, possibly Surrey or Hampstead.


Debbie Thomas

Director, Heat Design  

Heat Design, 13c Roper Close,

Canterbury CT2 7EP

01227 457643

Tell us about Heat Design  

We started the business in 1988 as Fireplace Warehouse when there was a huge surge in the popularity of original period cast-iron fireplaces. A lot of our work was the refurbishment of antique fireplaces and the market has gradually changed over the years to where we are now.

How has it changed over the last year? 

Last year we changed our name to Heat Design to reflect our evolving product choice. The past year has seen us developing our new showroom, increasing our displays and expanding our range-cooker showroom area with cookery demonstrations and a cookware shop. We have developed the heating side of our business where customers want to link their cooker and/or woodstove to the central heating and can also incorporate solar energy.

Your business philosophy?

To be the best we possibly can.We aim to treat all our customers the way we would like to be treated ourselves and realise that our reputation is our future.

Heat Design’s special qualities?

Everyone here is really enthusiastic about what they do, they enjoy dealing with customers and have a broad depth of knowledge, with several specialists within our  team. We acknowledge that we are only human and even when things don’t go according to plan, we put 110 per cent into making it right.

Any advice for newcomers?

Get lots of experience in retail, interacting with customers and make sure you have a passion for what you do and always be open to your customers’ opinions and feedback.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

With a strong company that we have managed to direct through these economically challenging times, building on our service and commitment to do our very best.


Penelope McMath

Chief executive, House of Design

House of Design, 72-74 Calverley

Road, Tunbridge Wells TN1 2UJ

01892 882430

Why did you start House of Design?

I come from a structured corporate environment which led on to interior designing, project management and building construction.

I have seen the pitfalls that can challenge the sanest of people when it comes to dealing with planning permission, project management, builders and various other trades and contractors. I feel passionately that people should be able to have a process that is easy, minimises costs and a package that is a personal and bespoke service just for them.

Most people invest in property and I would like to be able to help them realise its full potential as a home and also for resale. We are there to offer customers as little or as much help as they require and to give them peace of mind through to the finished result.

Your company’s special qualities?

We are known for our unique, professional and bespoke service. We listen to our clients’ needs, offering a computerised software design service so that they can visualise their design before commitment.

We have a dedicated team assigned within each project, giving customers a personal and effective service all the way through from pre-planning permission, tendering, specifications, contracting to builders, project management, interior design including kitchens and bathrooms, home furnishings, home accessories and landscape gardening. A complete property bespoke service.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years I would like to see the House of Design expanding worldwide. We live in a world which is constantly challenging us for our leisure time and other commitments and I want to be able to offer a bespoke service that can enhance customers’ personal living environment and also to be able to help increase their property investment.


Sarah Mayhew

Owner, Sarah Mayhew

Hair & Beauty Spa

174 High Street

Tonbridge TN9 1BX

01732 368720 or 01732 770035

Tell us a bit about your background

I have always dreamt of owning and running my own hair salon. I worked in a London salon for about 10 years and was trained there to cut and style properly – ‘the Vidal Sassoon way.’

In 2005 my dream became a reality when I opened Sarah Mayhew Hairstylists in Tonbridge.

Two years later I made the decision to buy a beauty business on the High Street and refurbished the salon and renamed it Beauty by Sarah Mayhew. Befire that I owned and ran Beauty by Sarah Mayhew at 167 High Street, Tonbridge for nearly three years. 

Why did you open your new salon?

I started to think about putting my two businesses together and an opportunity arose when I saw a new retail premises on the High Street. When I began the thought process with regard to combining the two businesses it seemed so straightforward to put them under one roof: little did I know what the next year would bring! Read the full story at in the ‘About us’ section.

However, on 24 November 2010 Sarah Mayhew Hair & Beauty Spa finally opened. We have put so much time and effort into trying to address every possible requirement and I truly believe in my new Spa.

What are the salon’s special qualities?

It is a wonderful place, luxurious and calming all at the same time. I am so pleased with the result – you can really see and feel all the thought, care and effort that has been put into making my Spa a haven where clients can relax and be pampered. I would love to welcome you to my Hair & Beauty Spa and for you to enjoy it too.


Francis Iles

Fine Paintings & Commended Framers

103 High Street Rochester  ME1 1LX

01634 843081

Art & Craft Works

104 High Street Rochester  ME1 1JT

01634 843881

Tell us about yourselves

We are three sisters, Jeanette Iles-North, Lucy Horner and Alayne Fysh (l-r in picture), who together make up our art-based business in Rochester, celebrating its 50th year in 2011. Retail is in our blood: our grandparents ran everything from a corner shop to a bicycle shop, inspiring our father (after whom the business is named), to set his sights on the wonderful world of art.

We have all worked outside of Francis Iles and bring different skills and strengths to the partnership.

What is your recipe for success?

Attention to detail, specialisation and passion for art, but most importantly the value we place on our customers. The Gallery boasts a host of illustrious artists from Billy Childish to Rowland Hilder; it is this diversity that makes it such an exciting space to visit.

What’s happening this year?

We will be at the Kent County Show again and are also holding a Kent-wide amateur art competition, backed by our second retail shop, Art & Craft Works.

London shows like the Watercolour & Drawing Fair and the Affordable Art Fair are a key part of the Gallery’s diary, bringing customers in from further afield. 

How has business changed?

The Gallery has gone from strength to strength, with customers recognising the importance of good investments at a time when savings rates are low and pensions offer such a poor return.

Buying into art that can be enjoyed as well as appreciate in value is seen as an increasingly sensible option. It also has to be something that lifts your heart, and Francis Iles is terribly good at doing that.