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'Be brave, be yourself', business award winner Alison Brittain tells young women


Alison Brittain has been named Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year (Veuve Clicquot/PA)

Alison Brittain has been named Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year (Veuve Clicquot/PA)

Alison Brittain has been named Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year (Veuve Clicquot/PA)

One of the few female chief executives of a top company has won a prestigious business award after being hailed as a role model for women striving to reach the top of a large organisation.

Alison Brittain, chief executive of Costa Coffee and Premier Inn owner Whitbread, was named Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year.

She started work as a graduate trainee at Barclays and later became head of retail banking at Lloyds before taking up her current post.

She said she had a passion for customer facing businesses, so running a huge company such as Whitbread, with 50,000 employees serving 28 million people, was the perfect job.

She said she strongly supported the need for more women in executive level jobs as well as developing people's skills and careers.

Asked for tips for young girls looking to enter the business world, she said: "I would encourage young girls and women to be confident, brave and most important of all, be yourself."

Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre in London, who was awarded the inaugural Social Purpose Award, said one of her aims was to bring arts and culture into the lives of as many people as possible.

She founded the Women of the World Festival that celebrates the achievements of women and girls as well as looking at the obstacles they face, which is now an annual international event.

She told the Press Association: "I have always been driven by the idea that a more equal world would be a better world for everyone.

"Massive strides have been made for equality, but we still have an 18% pay gap in this country and there are still very few women in very senior positions.

"We are nothing like as good as the Nordic countries - we are good but we could be better. We are still labouring under old fashioned ideas, not just in the boardroom.

"A better world for women is also a better world for men."

A third award, aimed at entrepreneurs, was won by Alice Bentinck, founder of Entrepreneur First, which invests in start-up firms.

Julie Nollet, of Moet Hennessy UK, said: "We are delighted to celebrate three exceptional winners, from a range of diverse sectors yet shared in their commitment to strong leadership, an innovative approach to succeed, and remaining a role model to others through inspiring social initiatives.

"The attributes and values that Madame Clicquot maintained as one of the world's first entrepreneurs are embodied by Alison, Jude and Alice, as all three lead their organisations and industries with the same courage, enterprising determination and commitment to social responsibility."