When Debbie Edgar was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 15 she became determined not to let it hold her back. Now the managing director of a multi-million pound company, she explains why we all need to embrace our own skills
Debbie Edgar is the managing director of Dragon, an electric and gas infrastructure company. At 15 she was diagnosed with dyslexia.
Tell us a bit about your day job
Basically, we’re the people who dig up your roads and bring the electricity and gas to buildings. We design the electric and gas networks as well. There are just three companies in England who can do what we do. As managing director I’m in charge of all those functional, implementing and deciding jobs. Things like keeping an eye on the profitability and growth of the company, doing the future planning and being the point of contact when there’s a problem all fall to me.
How did you get into that?
My brother and my father are both sales people. They had an energy consultancy, which meant they just told people what to do. I’m more of a “doing” person, so when I joined the company I wanted us to actually do stuff as well as consult on it.
I actually started as a graphic designer and web developer. I have dyslexia so it was the perfect job for me: you can see anomalies in code very easily. I was sharing an office with my dad and brother, so I started taking a few calls and doing some admin. Men can be very clever at passing that stuff over! But I liked knowing the details and understanding how everything works. I gradually took on more and more and then I became a part of the company. I’m good with running things, while my brother is better at sales so we work together pretty well.
I had to learn a lot, but my tip is to bring in experts to fill the gaps in your knowledge. When I first joined, it was about doing one thing at a time but now we have a bigger vision. You’ve got to have a dream otherwise it won’t come true. Our first goal was to have £5m turnover, last year we did £16m. It’s all about having a goal and going for it.
You have dyslexia. How has this influenced your career?
I was diagnosed when I was 15. It was a new thing and schools were only just learning about it. Up until then teachers just thought you were a bit thick. I think I’m quite lucky in that I had a father and a mother who pushed me and believed in me. They told me not to listen to anyone who says you can’t do it. Every time someone told me I couldn’t do something I had to prove them wrong.
For me, dyslexia is a gift because you see things differently. We look at a lot of drawings and I never realised how difficult it can be for other people to understand them. I see things in a very visual way so it’s easy for me to spot anomalies. Life is about learning to play to your strengths.
I’m also very open about asking for help. I never send anything out unless it has been read by someone else, even a quick email will be reread before I send it. If it’s going to a client, then generally my PA will check it, but I’ll often just ask whoever is passing my desk to read my emails for me. I’m not embarrassed about it.
I actually feel this helps me be better at my job, beyond just checking spelling. When it comes to emails, I see a lot of people respond to something far too quickly: they put emotions into it, they don’t think about the consequences. I always give myself time to think about what I’m saying, which means I’m not typing the first thing that comes into my head.
What advice would you give to other women with dyslexia?
Never trust spellcheck! Some of the classic mistakes I’ve made have involved spellcheck thinking I meant one word when I meant another. We talk a lot about “earthing” in this industry, spellcheck will happily change that to “earthling”. Clients tend to get a bit confused when you send them emails about where the earthlings will go.
My main advice would be to use it as a gift. For example, I never have to write long sentences. I stick to bullet points to make my life easier, but it’s also clearer for everyone else.
What’s it like working with your brother?
We’re fine, we get on really well. I’m very lucky because you can trust your family. You never have to worry about anything underhanded, I’d just tell mum! We’re quite an open company, we know our skills. He’s a salesperson, and I manage the company.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Always have a go. One of my teachers said I couldn’t get a degree, so I finished mine at 20 because I had to prove them wrong. Even if you fail, have a go at it.
What are you most proud of?
Dragon. It’s been a success. We’ve got a lovely staff and we’ve got through some serious tests. I hope it feels like a family to everyone who works here and yet we’re still quite dynamic. We’ve got so much potential, the hard thing is knowing what to do next.