Women in Innovation - Michelle Fanzi Down

Leigh Jenkins
Marketing Manager - Innovation | Enterprise Europe Network
5th May 2017

Michelle Fanzi Down is the Commercial Director at DPS Designs Ltd – a British confectionery design and mould manufacturer. If you wonder how M&S can create Troll shaped Easter eggs and equally exotic Christmas shapes, it’s because Fanzi’s team got them there.

Following an 8 year senior logistics career with Arcadia, Fanzi left behind the globetrotting fashion world and has transferred her considerable skill set to the family business. 

What is a typical working day for you? 

I divide my working life between the Forest of Dean and London. It’s a busy time of year for us, we have just finished making chocolate moulds for all the Easter products this year, while working on developing new products for Christmas and Easter next year.

The factory starts at 6 am. I’ve got a young daughter so I structure my mornings around her. Although she’s my priority at that time of day, I always find half an hour to scan my email first thing. Retailers can be demanding and speed to market is the key. I make sure that any time critical customer requests are dealt with first so that I can do the nursery run and arrive at work in a proactive rather than reactive mindset.

If I’m working from home I can easily spend all day on the phone between the factory and our customers. Otherwise I’m out and about researching, benchmarking, looking for new ideas to improve our offer or visiting customers face to face – for example I might take them round London for a product review. If I’m in the factory, I tend to spend most of my time helping to make sure all the teams are working well on target for delivery of the products on time.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

The variety of it all - working collaboratively with our clients, creating exciting innovative products, and seeing the final products on TV adverts and on the shelf selling - I love being part of it.

I also enjoy being able to win contracts which provide opportunities for local employment in the Forest of Dean and witnessing how our young people are inspired by design, manufacturing and engineering.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Juggling the strengths of the existing traditional family business with the demands of our new market so that we can evolve. We’re a great combination of talents and strengths, we complement each other well, but change is sometimes difficult too.

What are the challenges facing women in innovation?

Finding the work life balance. It is challenging to play the roles of mother and wife, and innovator and business woman. That’s difficult for men too, but the expectations of society on women are different.

What are 3 key things you think are important to succeed as a woman in business?

Tenacity - women seem to be less confident by nature. You need a strong belief to begin with and the ability to keep going when time gets tough. My Dad has always said that we often succeed after you are about to give up. Being able to go that extra mile makes sure that you’ll never miss that moment .

Good listening skills - the art of communication works both ways, make sure you actually hear what other people are saying then you can adapt and go the extra mile.

The ability to be flexible and adaptable - being confident in yourself, your abilities and direction but knowing how to change and mould with the environment and people to get what you need to achieve.

What's the best piece of business advice you've ever been given?

Whatever is happening in the business, make sure you bring your team with you, they need to buy in to what you’re doing.

When I was working at Arcadia and we were going through great period of change, one of the Directors gathered us together and stated, ‘We want you on this bus and we need you to want to be on the bus with us’. It’s stayed with me.

Why did you choose a career in science?

It was the excitement of variety. Chocolate moulding is a multi-disciplined business incorporating creative design, engineering, plastics moulding, production and logistics. The end result is when it all comes together and the product made on a mass scale gets delivered on time to happy customers.

Do you have any tips for people looking to progress their career in innovation?

Never restrain your creativity. It’s a cliche to say think outside the box but it can be a challenge in real life when you get weighed down by day to day detail.  Manage your time and structure it to allow yourself space to think by stepping out of your day to day routine so that you can create.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love spending time with my husband and daughter. I take full advantage of the galleries and museums in London and I love food and cooking from scratch - when I’m happy I eat, when I’m down I eat!

What women inspire you and why?

Any woman who cold calls, those who start from scratch having the confidence and commitment and courage to manage their time and to become really successful in achieving their goal.

What are the biggest challenges for the future generation of women in innovation?

We all need more role models, more women need to be represented. Are we not allowing women to rise as innovators or is the selection criteria biased towards men? Whatever the conundrum we need to build our self-confidence by getting out of our comfort zones, yes it will be uncomfortable at first but then we’ll get to enjoy it.

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