‘Exceptional’ business leader recognised

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Gaynor Coley from Wadebridge has been named among the most effective female executives operating in the UK, following her inclusion on Management Today’s Women in Leadership Power List 2024.

The list celebrates the most inspirational and visionary leaders across all sectors and professions and was judged by a range of senior business leaders. The 20 chosen winners are described as having demonstrated “a measurable impact on their organisations, whether in the form of increased revenues, improved diversity or significant innovation”.

A founding director of The Eden Project, Coley’s business career has taken her from chartered accountancy with Deloitte and KPMG through finance director posts with West Country-based Horizon Farms and the University of Plymouth, to high profile leadership positions in public education and leisure.

She joined Eden in 1997 when, with just £10k in the bank, the project needed an enormous injection of funding to become a reality. Deploying her financial expertise and creative vision, Coley’s determination and skill enabled the team to secure the £140 million required to transform the redundant Cornish clay mine into a global horticultural phenomenon.

She served as MD for Eden for 12 years before leaving in 2013 to become director of public programmes at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where her two-year tenure resulted in a major brand refresh and a significant increase in visitor numbers.

Chairmanship of inland surf attraction The Wave Bristol followed, where her experience in complex capital projects and relationship management steered the board through the challenges of start-up and Covid to successful opening.

With unerring social entrepreneurship drive and passion, Gaynor and her co-founder Susan Hill are currently developing a new visitor destination on a scale that promises visitors “a world like no other”.

Claire Warren, editor in chief of Management Today, said: “The inaugural Power List attracted huge interest and has enabled us to shine a light on some of the brilliant – and sometimes unsung – women at the top of successful organisations. There are start-up founders, divisional leaders and CEOs of major businesses among our list, and every one of them has a fascinating story that deserves to be told.”

Coley said: “Management Today has recognised an inspiring group of women who are role models for the next generation and I feel very honoured to be included. I firmly believe that the increasing representation of women in senior roles brings much needed insights and balance into the boardroom and the results of many companies now show this.  Like many women in the workplace, I find it uncomfortable to be singled out from the exceptional teams I have had the pleasure to work with, so a huge debt and heartfelt thanks to them all.

“Xanadoo, our latest visitor destination, will harness profits for an urgent purpose. It will be a place that reminds us how we solved the seemingly impossible challenges of the past with creative determination and a place that helps us understand how to navigate the social and environmental issues we face today.  It will bring arts, crafts, science and technology crashing together, offering exhibitions and experiences that ensure visitors enjoy a great day out but are inspiring too. Xanadoo is a place where creativity is unleashed, and people are motivated to help create the world they want to see.

“We have completed the first stage feasibility and are now working with stakeholders on plans to progress the physical reality of this new project within the next few months.”