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Hilary Devey

Hilary Devey

Turned down for a bank loan in 1995, Hilary chose to sell her house and car to finance her own business. She has since become one of Britain's most inspiring and successful businesswomen.

Pulling pints in her father's pub after school, Hilary began working from an early age. She left Bolton Grammar at 16 with aspirations to become an air traffic controller with the Women's Royal Air Force.

But this was one dream she didn't fulfill.

Instead, aged 20 and with no formal training, Hilary went to work as a sales clerk in the offices of a distribution company.

It was here that she went on to gain a wealth of experience, working her way up in the logistics industry at Tibbett and Britten, and as Sales Director at Scorpio Logistics. She then spent seven years as National Sales Manager at TNT before leaving to set up her own business.

During this time she had to tackle incredible odds and face untold hardships. Bankers refused to back her proposed venture and she was forced to sell her house, and downgrade her car to fund her start-up.

In 1996, in a disused RAF hangar, Pall-Ex was born; back then it was a one truck, one woman, pallet exchange business. She initially signed up 35 haulier members, enabling Hilary to cover the length and breadth of the UK. Now her multi-million pound empire distributes up to 9000 pallets a day from its central hub in Leicestershire. It was a revolutionary concept that has since become an industry norm. Today she has set her sights on even bigger goals, and as CEO is currently overseeing Pall-Ex's pan-European expansion.

Hilary has a portfolio of other business investments, but having made her mark in what traditionally might be seen as a male dominated industry, she is passionate about encouraging other women into the type of jobs they might not believe they are capable of doing.

She has gone on to win numerous awards, including the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007 and the British Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008. In 2009 Hilary made history as the first ever woman to be presented with the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport's most prestigious accolade, The Sir Robert Lawrence Award.

As with all the Dragons, Hilary supports numerous charities. The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and The Stroke Association are two that are particularly important to her, but she has also set up the innovative 'Penny a Pallet' scheme, which donates money to her chosen charities on an ongoing basis.

On top of all this business success, Hilary also has a son.


Name: Hilary Devey.

Born: March 1957.

Family: My husband Phillip, my son Mevlit, his fiancé Samantha and my animals.

Pets: 4 dogs - Micha, Charlene, Mitzi and Dixi - and horses.

Describe yourself: Funny, obsessive, driven, loyal, honest.

The one thing I look for in employees: Self-sacrifice.

Best job I've had: Every job.

Worst job I've had: Does not apply. I have made it good.

Favourite film/play: Mrs Brown.

Favourite holiday destination: Marrakech.

Favourite sport, team and player: Show jumping and Zara Phillips.

Favourite pitch: Wait and see...

Best investment: Hoping all will be good.

The one that got away: Wait and see...

Things that interest me: Politics, philanthropy, social issues, animals and business.

I'd never invest in: I wouldn't alienate anything. It depends on product, place, people and time.

Best advice you've been given: Take the compassion out of the commercial decision; put compassion back in once the commercial decision has been made.

Hilary's business advice

For impressing in an interview / pitch

Be concise, confident, don't over-complicate yourself or your product. Also, know your business model.

For running your own business

Focus and tenacity: understand the market, people, competition and the opportunities.

For surviving the recession

Think laterally and globally. Upsell wherever possible, as it costs nothing.

For winning investment

A business plan prepared with a realistic projection that's accurate, concise and encompasses all aspects of your business.

For making millions

Don't chase money, it runs away.

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