The CIPD’s oldest member on her life in HR

“My office became known as ‘the boudoir’”

At 96, Kathleen Mitchell has earned her stripes as the CIPD’s oldest member – and despite retiring 22 years ago, she has no intention of giving up her membership. The Londoner talked to People Management (see June 2013 edition) about her career, from her first job as a filing clerk at the London Electricity Board.

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What do you remember about your first job?

I left school one day [aged 14] and went into my dad’s office the next. At the time there were hunger marches going on, so I think my school probably let me go when they wouldn’t otherwise have done.

During the war you started working for financier Sir Edward Beddington-Behrens. What was the job interview like?

His secretary interviewed me. She gave me a glass of sherry, which my mother had told me never to drink. Sir Edward had asked his secretary to dictate a letter to me and get me to read it back, which I couldn’t do. When he found out, I said “I tell you this: if you give me the job, I shall go straight away and study shorthand,” which I did.

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How did you end up in personnel?

My first job in personnel was at a department store in Memphis. I loved working in personnel. There are so many facets to the job. At one company, the girls could not come and see me because the supervisor would know there was a problem. I used to make a point of walking round the factory twice a day so, if somebody wanted a quiet word, they could go on working and talk to me at the same time. I also had net curtains put up in my office. It got called “the boudoir”. 

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