Army Reservist wins MBA at Heropreneurs Awards
26 November 2019
- Mercedes Notton-Hill has won a bursary to do an MBA
- She will be given a full scholarship to study for an Executive MBA
- Her housekeeping business was born after losing her job
- Solstice Domestic Angels supports employees' mental health
Just four years ago Mercedes Notton-Hill was at the lowest point in her life.
She had lost her job through stress due to a toxic management and her confidence was at rock-bottom. Her way out proved to be the unlikely route of housekeeping.
“I was at a real low,” she says. “I had been stuck in the house for weeks, looking for work and then my husband said ‘you will have to sell your horses or get a job’ so I started cleaning.”
Fast-forward to November 2019 and Mercedes is still buzzing after winning a full scholarship to study an Executive MBA at Warwick Business School at the Heropreneurs Awards and is the founder of Solstice Domestic Angels, which she runs with business partner Sarah Feather, employing 25 people and delivering 300 hours of housekeeping services a week.
“It was an amazing moment,” says Mercedes. “To be at the Heropreneurs Awards alongside the Countess of Wessex was a special night and I was so surprised to win, I couldn’t believe it – Sarah had to tell me to go up and collect the award. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t make anything from being a housekeeper!”
Heropreneurs was established 10 years ago to support veterans and their spouses create their own business, with a mentoring programme supporting more than 100 start-ups. It is the second year Warwick Business School has supported the charity, offering start-up owners the chance to build their knowledge with an MBA.
Mercedes was a reservist for the Royal Wessex Yeomanry for nine years before stepping down at the same time as losing her job - “it was too much to manage with family and the stress at that point," she says - but it was a chance encounter in a chemist that started her fightback.
“I didn’t want to add to my stress by going through a tribunal," says Mercedes, of Salisbury, Wiltshire. "I was effectively pushed out and it affected my confidence.
“I had to do something. I was in the chemist when I saw a friend and she said she needed a cleaner who could keep an eye on her house and son and dog, so I started doing it. Then she went away for a week and left me looking after the house and the business idea grew from there.
“I am really glad I had to go through that journey. I have learned a lot through it. It has given me a huge amount of resilience and it has helped me understand the importance of mental health, which is something our company strongly supports."
Having joined the Army Reserve at 33 to meet new people, Mercedes found she loved the camaraderie and physical exercises, racing through the basic training in record time. She went on to become a chef with the Reserves, cooking regularly for senior officers at gala events, and even had the opportunity of serving royalty.
And it was through the experience and skills she learned in the Army that Mercedes was able to quickly build Solstice Domestic Angels.
“We do more than just housekeeping,” says Mercedes, whose husband still serves in the Royal Wessex Yeomanry. “We offer a wide range of housekeeping services, such as traditional cleaning, tidying, sorting, laundry, ironing, gardening and window cleaning. We will visit a client and make an assessment of what the house needs before agreeing to the appropriate package we have.
“We are not like the usual cleaning agency, we offer a lot more services and we look after our employees. We offer flexible working hours, but our staff are employed so still have statutory sick pay and paid holidays, plus we have a structured close-down calendar. We offer them a support network and mental health services if needed.
“The biggest challenge in the industry is the recruitment and retention of staff, so we treat our employees with respect.”
Mercedes believes studying an MBA will give her the skills and knowledge to grow the business.
“In the past I approached my employers about letting me study for an MBA,” says Mercedes. “I loved doing my business degree and wanted to learn more, so this is an amazing opportunity for me.
“Winning a place on the Executive MBA has already changed how we look at ourselves as a business and where we can go with this. Hopefully it is going to continue to broaden our horizons and help us continue this incredible journey.”