About Me

Hello I’m Hanna!!  Born in Weymouth Dorset, 1974 – I moved up to Farnborough (where the air show is!) when I was 1. I went to St Patrick’s RC Primary School from 5-11.

I got married at the age of 6 to Leith Assouad – Paul O’Neill was the priest and we had salt and vinegar crisps for communion. Leith was “Face” in our A Team gang and a real looker! Weirdly I bumped into him 20 years later when we both did a summer internship at JPMorgan together and then again a few years after that we were both working at Citigroup at the same time and met at the salad counter! Despite being married we really didn’t see much of each other and agreed to an amicable divorce!

Primary school days were very happy – I remember warm summers playing in the garden with my brother Sean (2 years older than me). We had inherited a massive paddling pool from some older cousins, and Daddy sacrificed his lawn every year and let us have it up for months on end. One year I thought our goldfish, Jaws and Marie, might like a change of scene and I released them into the pool – I think they quite liked it but I got told off and had to recapture them

Every year in Farnborough there was a donkey derby on a bank holiday Monday. It usually rained, but was good fun none the less. When I was 10 I’d started to learn to horse ride, so Sean talked me into entering myself as a rider in the donkey derby. The donkey was so fat I couldn’t get my legs around to grip it – and despite a tremendous start and being well ahead of the field, it’s slippery back meant I gradually began slipping of to the right and ended up plonking onto the ground about 5 metres from the finish line! I managed to break my arm, and en route to the St John’s ambulance tent Sean came running over, not to see if little sister was OK, but to inform me that he’d just lost 50p he bet on me! Charming!

Earlier that day I’d had a drive in a Sinclair C5!! Heralded as the next big thing for zipping around the city. As inventions go it was pretty rubbish – you would have to have a death wish to drive one of those on the road as you’d be very likely to get squashed within about 5 minutes. It was also incredibly uncomfortable to drive, the handle bars for steering were under you knees! It taught me a great lesson – don’t try and invent something for the market and then convince people to buy it – it’s much better to find out what people want, then go and get it, or invent it, or create it, and give it to them.

Business beginnings

My interested in business started from a very early age, and came largely from Sean’s influence. I used to charge him to park his cars outside my Cindy house – a nominal fee, but it was particularly well located and convenient for the shops! I also used to write and produce a “newspaper” for my family, and charged them each week for a copy! It contained lots of up to the minute gossip on where Coco bear had been spotted with Vicky the panda – that sort of thing! Very high brow!!

My first business venture outside the family was at St Patrick’s – Sean and I would buy penny sweets, bag them up and sell them to our friends for a profit. There was no tuck shop at school and we weren’t allowed out to the shops, so we had a captive market! Sadly Mrs. Calcott didn’t think this was fair, and after an investigation by the monopolies and mergers commission made up of her and Mr. Duane, our rather camp head master, we were shut down. This early set back didn’t deter me and just made me more determined to fight the injustice of the authorities!!

When we were early teens, there was a spate of privatizations – BT, British Gas etc – and Sean and I applied for shares in other people’s names because we were too young to apply on our own. Seeing how much they went up on the first day, and then selling for a quick profit, really grabbed my interest. I found a part time job (aged 14) working for a double glazing sales company on pure commission, doing door to door sales – that was a very tough call, but I played on my age to my advantage, and had many clients who allowed me to book them an appointment with a consultant merely because they felt sorry for me. I was paid £12 for each such lead – a hansom sum to a 14 year old in 1988.

By this age I had moved onto Farnborough Hill Convent – a sterile all girl environment run by frustrated nuns! I wasn’t the naughtiest child, but I certainly wasn’t an angel either. Socially our only real event was a thing called the Pambalwod Ball – basically it was a dressy affair where we would all go and drink underage and try and kiss boys! They were not cheap (the balls!) and it wasn’t long before Sean and I spotted another opportunity! We set up a company called Eton Party Nights – and hired a Thames party boat, organised coaches up to London from all the local areas, and sold tickets through all the local schools. It was a roaring success but we didn’t make much money as the costs were so high, so the next one we did was much more low budget, but trading off the reputation of the first one, we made a tidy sum. Sadly it was so low budget that we drove everyone away, so that was the demise of Eton Party Nights. I do recall we didn’t pay a coach driver for some reason (I think he’d turned up late) and he came around to our house demanding payment. Nanny Chalk, my mum’s mum, lived with us there – she was 4ft 11 (tiny!) but a pocket rocket, and the poor coach driver was unlucky enough to call on a day when she was the only one home – she sent him packing with his tail between his legs! I wish I could have seen it!

The profitable Sixth Form

I got pretty good GCSE results and persuaded my parents to let me escape the convent, so I went to Farnham Six Form college for my A Levels. I did Business Studies, Spanish and Geography.

I played lots of tennis and netball both at school and college, and was on the college team for both – which proved great fun and meant that on one occasion, we were taken to Sandhurst Officers Training college to support our boys playing rugby against the young officers – what a treat for the eyes that was! I think they felt very sorry for us as we hung around all day, so they very kindly invited us to the “men only” dinner – where I have never felt more inappropriately dressed in my life! Our boys were all in suits and ties, the officers all looked thoroughly splendid in their dress uniforms, complete with swords (phoar!), and me and my mate were sitting there in shorts and vest tops! Oh well, another fascinating experience!

I really knuckled down to work at sixth form, enjoying the freedom in comparison to the convent! I got great A levels and decided to go to Leeds uni as it had a great reputation for languages and I wanted to continue my Spanish, but also combine it with Business Studies. My course was 4 years long, with the 3rd year spent in Spain (Alcala de Henares – just east of Madrid and sadly now famous for being the station the Madrid train bombers boarded at!). My first two years I lived in a hall of residence called Charles Morris. I loved it there as it was slap bang in the middle of campus. The only way to stay for a second year was to be on the committee, so I put myself up for election for president and won. That was a great year full of amazing experiences. The highlight for me was organising the end of year ball – reputedly the best they’ve ever had (well you have to blow your own trumpet don’t you?!). The these was “Four Seasons” and different areas of the hall and marquees were various seasons – we got sponsorship from Guinness which was a real coup and meant we could go to town with everything else – we had rifle shooting, sumo wrestling, a cocktail bar, a casino – it was incredible! Ever the entrepreneur I made some money by being the middle man in the wine supply – I hired a huge car and stocked up with cheap wine from the local wholesaler, and sold it on to the Hall at a reasonable mark up. This was apparently seen as unethical, but by now I had come to realise that some people don’t like to see others taking initiative and doing well, so I was undeterred,

Spanish steps

The summer after my 2nd year I decided to get a job in Spain so that I could improve my Spanish in time for my 3rd year studying Business at a Spanish university. I got a job as a holiday rep come slave, for a company called Keycamp. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I was scrubbing dark blue tents on my hands and knees everyday, with a hangover, and the temperature inside well over 100 – then having to run the kids clubs with a bunch of screaming children at least 4 of whom every week, without fail, would have accidents, and then in the evening putting on entertainment for the “Billies” (punters). It was truly exhausting, but I absolutely loved it. I didn’t learn any Spanish, I spent more than I earned (not hard when your weekly wage is £80!) but I had a cracking time and met a woman called Tanya, who unbeknown to me (and her) became the inspiration for A Woman’s Touch. She was a rep for Haven holidays, and she had to double up as the handle man, rescaling boilers in mobile homes and so on – so I started to hang around with her and pick up tips – she was so matter of fact about everything, and very skilled, so I was quick to absorb everything she knew. I have never made this link before – only when I started writing this in fact – but she definitely taught me to have a can do attitude and also hands on practical skills. I’d also picked up a lot from Daddy over the years. We didn’t have a lot of money, so he had to do everything himself around the house, so I watched and helped. On a Sunday afternoon it would be me in the shed, holding the wood while he sawed it – and I soon came to appreciate how things worked and could be repaired – all the time using the hand made tools that his father had made! I still have them and use them now in fact!

My year in Spain was great fun – regrettably I didn’t attend as many lectures as I should / could have, but I did spend a lot of time traveling around the country visiting friends based in other cities for their year abroad – and I fell in love with Spain. My Spanish language skills aren’t bad, but I struggle with “proper” Spanish – I can swear like a trooper and convince anyone in a bar that I am in fact Spanish, but when sitting having a business meeting with my accountant, I often find myself saying a word that really belongs in a bar rather than an office – although bless him he does find me amusing! Describing my company to him as “the dog’s bollocks” for example. Went down extremely well!

Living for the City

I was stone broke by the end of my year in Spain, so I hunted around for the best paid summer job I could find (although a return to Keycamp was tempting, I resisted). I applied to around 200 investment banks and accountancy firms. I was rejected by 198, but offered internships at two – Ernst and Young accountants, and JPMorgan. JPMorgan paid more, so I went there.

I had a superb summer, suddenly flush with money, living in London, going out to parties and clubs all the time – and at the end of the summer two great things happened – I went to New York for a week to spend all the money I’d accumulated, and, they offered me a job for when I graduated!! I accepted on the spot as I’d grown to love the investment banking world – the work hard play hard attitude, and of course the salary! This had an enormous impact on my final year at uni as the pressure really was off, in comparison to my colleagues. The salary I’d been offered became something of an urban legend I am told now by my husband, who was also at Leeds, studying Spanish and French, and heard of me before we knew each other, in a pub one night his friend said “have you heard how much Kerrie Hanafin’s been offered at JPMorgan?!” . Suddenly my bank manager loved me too, and where I had to plead and beg for a £25 extension in my overdraft the term before, suddenly he was offering me loans and credit cards galore. I graduated in 1996 with some hefty debts, but got to paying them off as soon as I started work.
JPMorgan sent me on their industry renowned graduate training scheme in New York. This is normally reserved for the cream of the crop front office traders, and I was a mere back office bod – but I was good at my job and they asked me to stay in my rotation for an extra six months – so I saw a negotiation opportunity and we did a deal. New York was amazing – I had an apartment in a hotel, on Madison Avenue, with views of Central Park! I was working on Wall Street, taking helicopter rides over the city, and ending most evening with a cocktail at the top of the World Trade Centre. I really felt like I’d arrived! When I returned to London (3 mths later) I moved into a new role in Emerging Markets middle office – my goal was a front office position, not necessarily on the trading floor, but certainly client facing. Unfortunately once you’ve been a back office bod you’re unlikely to be accepted into the cliquey world of front office, so it meant leaving JPMorgan, and it’s amazing British history, and moving to Citigroup. I worked as relationship manager in the Global Markets group – my job was to sell (back to the double glazing experience!) anything that Citigoup did, to my portfolio of clients. My clients were other banks such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse. I loved this job, and my boss Tom Isaac was incredible – very caring and sharing, and nurturing, not the typical banker at all. He made me believe in myself and constantly tested me by passing bigger and bigger clients my way. Unfortunately not everyone there was as nice, and I started to become a little disillusioned by the back stabbing and politics. The senior women were the worst – I believe they felt that because they’d had to fight so hard to get where they were, that no other woman should have it any easier, even though times had changed. I was working very long hours, which I didn’t mind, but I was mentally exhausted because I was acting all day long – using words and phrases (bullshit bingo) that I was expected to use like “Picking the low hanging fruit” and getting my clients “pregnant” with an idea! I had a reality check during a meeting one day and decided that I’d had enough and would start looking at my options. Basically I fought on for a little longer to get my Vice President promotion, to prove to myself I could do it – and the next day I resigned.

A Woman’s Touch light bulb moment

In the meantime, I’d had Dave the idiot tiler doing some work at my beautiful riverside flat in London. Ordinarily I would have done the work myself, but I was no in a position where a) I could easily afford to ask some one else and b) I didn’t have time to do it myself. Dave turned out to be the worst tiler I’ve ever come across, but I am so grateful that he came into my life because he sparked the idea for A Woman’s Touch.

I had called 10 people to get a quote, 3 had turned up (all late, with no call), and only Dave had bothered to come back to me with a price (incidentally a stupidly high one). I had no choice, I was over a barrel, so I used him, and the doofus cut the tiles in the middle of my living room without any dust sheets. I returned home to see what looked like snow all over everything I owned, the loo seat was up, there were 5 dirty mugs on the side and there was a cigarette butt in the sink. Dave presented himself the next day to request his money (more than he’d originally said of course) and I just paid him to get rid of him. However, the minute he’d gone, rather than wingeing about the situation, I had a light bulb moment – this industry had such incredibly low standards that it would be relatively easy to deliver an outstanding service just by doing the basics well and being trustworthy and reliable – and so the idea of A Woman’s Touch was born. It seemed to combine everything I loved – entrepreneurialism, practical work, a challenge, another male dominated industry to go and play in, and a route out of investment banking.

Travelling & diving

One of the ways I found to balance the pressure of the banking world was to scuba dive. I began learning in 2001 and instantly loved it.

As a child I would always spend the majority of the time I was swimming, exploring the bottom of the pools and seeing what was lurking – normally just some hair, plasters and the odd hair band – once I found a golf ball but I’d really prefer not to think about that!). I visited the Red Sea every few months and worked through my PADI courses, all the way up to Divemaster – which means I am allowed to teach certain courses and assist instructors. I did some voluntary work with an instructor in London, teaching people the basic skills in a pool near Tower Bridge, but nothing beats the feeling of levitating around a beautiful coral reef, with sun rays streaking through the water lighting up the millions of beautiful colourful fish, the odd turtle munching on the coral, and when I’m really lucky a shark or manta ray. My best ever experience was in the middle of the Red Sea (literally a 3 day boat journey from land) just snorkeling when I suddenly heard the chatting of dolphins – and then being surrounded by these crazy, beautiful creatures – who hung around and played with us all for about 10 minutes. At one point we were swimming down tummy to tummy, I felt so humbled that these animals had chosen to come and play with us – it was a really spiritual moment for me – I cried with gratitude as I wrote up my log book that night.

I love travelling. I’ve been trekking on the Great Wall of China for charity, have travelled around Cuba, Mexico, Hong Kong, Singapore, Western Australia, lots of Europe and a fair part of North America. This year Neil and I are going to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and Peru… I try and dive everywhere I can too – the Maldives for our honey moon was incredible.

The way I look at the world

I also began taking Anthony Robbins courses. He is a crazy American giant – 6ft 7 tall, HUGE white teeth and more energy that I have ever experienced from any other human being in my entire life. The first time I saw him I knew that I wanted to learn more about how he’s chosen to live his life in such a happy and million mile an hour way – I wanted a piece of it!!

I’ve done several of his courses now, and they are life changing, seriously. You learn to identify then shatter your limiting beliefs from the past, to overcome your fear (we walked on hot coals!), and to programme yourself to love life and have a great life. He is also a great believer in the power of gratitude – and I can honestly say that my life is so wonderful as a consequence of these learnings – I love every day, problems are no longer problems, they are learning opportunities and fun challenges. I annoy people with my happiness “bubbliness” they say – great! I would love to annoy more people in this way – what a great gift!! I love shifting the norms – whether in the construction industry or in life. Why is socially acceptable to moan and winge, why does everyone emphasise “Oh yes I know what you mean, that always happens to me to”. I made a decision to live my life in a very different way. I am in control of my feelings – they don’t happen to me, I select them – how else can you explain that two people feel differently about the same event? I chose emotions that serve me – sometimes they may be negative emotions – anger can be extremely powerful for example – but the key is that I chose what to feel when. Just try it for a day and see what an amazing difference it makes!!

On one course I met a woman who changed my life! Hazel Newton – a regressive hypnotherapist. Got me into past lives (have been hypnotized – amazing! – and the belief that we have eternal souls who come to earth to learn lessons and in-between lives go “home” to a place of unconditional love whilst they decide what life they would like next in order to learn particular lessons. I’ve read a lot of books around the subject – including an amazing one where the souls of past leaders and famous people have been interviewed by a medium – Adolf Hitler, Marilyn Munroe, Elvis Presley – it’s both chilling and fascinating read, if you’re open to that sort of thing!