Isobel Giles - Mountbatten Program

Isobel Giles

Isobel Giles

Entrepreneurial Alumni

Program:  New York

Intake:  August 2015

Current Role: Founder and Director, I&J Partners Ltd


Describe your business and your role within it

I’m Founder and Director of a small communications consultancy based in Florence, Italy. The business was born out of a passion for the country: its people, its culture and its industries. We work with small-medium businesses, both Italian owned and those operating within or looking to enter the Italian market, helping them to find a clear communications strategy. At the moment, we’re mainly working in the food, beverage and lifestyle markets, with clients such as Malfy Gin (convenient!) but there are opportunities in other markets too, it’s just about finding the time.

How did you get into this line of business?

It’s a funny story really… My role in New York within investor relations at UBS led to a position in London with a large financial communications consultancy. In a monumental blow-up the consultancy went into administration and on my last day (in a fairly rowdy move, I admit) I detailed my plan to move to Italy in my out-of-office auto-response. The number of people who got in touch with Italian-based contacts after that was astonishing! It led to a role in Milan with an International PR agency before I was offered an Editorial role down in Florence, from where I began to go-it-alone!

How did you go about setting it up and getting established?

In many ways, it happened before I realised! Via LinkedIn, I hassled the head of a brand until after many, many months he replied with a “fine, let’s have a call and get this over with” response. The call – amazingly – led to a proposal request, and before I knew it I needed to think up a business name and build a website! I think before you’ve done it the idea of setting something up and “getting established” seems unthinkable – but in reality it’s a few months of very hard work and serious motivation.

What else is in the pipeline?

Since taking the ‘leap’ and moving abroad, first to New York and then to Italy, I think you start to fear risk less. In my case it’s led to a never-ending stream of ideas and projects – it’s great, but sometimes it can be hard to filter the diamonds from the dust. I’ve just finished filming a pilot for a documentary travel/food/culture series, so at the moment I’m focused on sourcing a broadcast house / funding. It’s exciting, but there’s a long way to go!

What has been the proudest moment in your working life thus far?

A large beverage business recently acquired a client, and after the acquisition the brand head called and thanked us for the impact our work had had on the sale. That was a pretty good moment. There’s also the satisfaction of being financially self-sufficient… It sounds obvious, but there’s nothing like working hard and being rewarded for it – be it financial or otherwise.

What has been your biggest mistake/learning experience?

Starting the business, I brought in a best friend as a partner with the hope that we would both contribute equal amounts of passion, energy and commitment to the company. It took a year and a very sad, dramatic end to the friendship for me to realise that for any working relationship to be successful, roles and responsibilities have to be clearly defined from the beginning. A lesson I wish I didn’t need to be taught.

Who are your role models?

Predictably, my parents. My dad has always been entrepreneurial, and not always successfully so, which I’m grateful for – he taught me not just what to do, but also what not to do, and the importance of getting things in writing. Mum is my everyday inspiration, working as an editor whilst raising five mad children; she was and still is full of kindness, patience and an amazing amount of love. Ultimately, she is all I can hope to be.

Any words of advice/wisdom would you impart to others thinking of setting up their own business?

Don’t think too hard about it. There are a million and one reasons something won’t work and people are often ready to tell you each and every one of them. Life should be like a heart rate monitor – full of ups and downs. Don’t flatline just yet.