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‘I was down to my last £1,000 and my accountant told me to stop’: How a female Aberdeen tech boss overcame the odds

Sheryl Newman was advised to give up on running her own business but "resilience and drive" kept her going.

Sheryl Newman started Appetite for Business in 2016. Image: Sheryl Newman
Sheryl Newman started Appetite for Business in 2016. Image: Sheryl Newman

Looking back on her 15-year-old self Sheryl Newman could never have imagined running her own business.

But “resilience and drive” has seen the 51-year-old achieve many milestones throughout her successful career so far.

Now Sheryl runs award-winning Aberdeen tech firm Appetite for Business and has 16 members of staff.

Sheryl completed her masters degree in German at Aberdeen University but a change saw her focus on technology. She worked for a Greek shipping company, American IT firm and BP.

In 2015 she bought Microsoft training business Easthaven Group after working there.

Despite being warned it could be a struggle to succeed Sheryl persevered.

The former Bridge of Don Academy pupil, said: “We had the energy recession in Aberdeen and it was pretty dire. At the time I made the decision to buy the business out which was quite a bold move.

“I only had £1,000 left in the bank. That’s all I had. There was no work and a very small team.

“It was quite scary because at the time my accountant told me to stop.

“He said there was no way I was going to trade out of it and my lawyer told me I must be quite brave to do it.

“Two weeks later my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was not able to control that situation but I could control my own environment.

“It gave me a real depth of focus and a distraction from my personal situation. I really went after it as best I could.”

Mystery letter inspiring

In March 2016 Sheryl made the decision to migrate and create Appetite for Business, a specialist in Microsoft 365 and SharePoint business software, transferring the members of staff with her.

Sheryl when she first started Appetite for Business in 2016. Image: Sheryl Newman

Just months later her mum Elizabeth died.

Sheryl, who is married to Alan, said: “Two weeks after my mum passed away I received a letter at the office which was unsigned.

“In it was a little dragonfly card and a message about dragonflies. It was absolutely beautiful.

“I also received a little necklace. It’s basically said anything is possible and ‘keep going Sheryl’.

“That’s been my mantra in my head. Dragonflies symbolise growth, transformation and opportunity and that really sums up my journey.”

To this day Sheryl still doesn’t know who sent the letter.

Career change

Working in technology wasn’t always Sheryl’s chosen career path.

She completed her degree in German and spent a year working at a prestigious boarding school in Louisenlund in northern Germany.

There she taught a number of pupils including two Danish princesses and the son of haircare supremo Oliver Schwarzkopf.

Upon returning to the Granite City, Sheryl completed the last two years of her study before picking up a job at a Greek shipping company.

She said: “I couldn’t get a job. While I could demonstrate I could learn I didn’t have the foundation of skills.

Sheryl Newman and colleagues. Image: Sheryl Newman

“So I just took the first temp job I could find. My thinking was I can earn some money, get experience and learn.

“I spent two years there where I was learning and then went to a large American IT organisation.

“Within a year I was seconded to BP to work on their digital transformational programme for 13 years.”

Sheryl had hoped to then move to San Diego but illness forced her to rethink plans.

She was 21 years old when formally diagnosed with long-term condition lupus which affects the immune system.

The former Upper Westfield primary pupil said: “I was having lots of random symptoms and when I was abroad it was obvious something was wrong.

“I had just returned from Germany and told in hospital they didn’t think I’d make it as it had gone in to my brain.

“I ended up in hospital because I was very unwell but by pure luck a professor who was in the ward recognised what it was.”

‘Gap in the market’ opened way for Appetite for Business

Sheryl, whose past accolades include a business of the year title at the Association of Scottish Businesswomen Awards in 2019, was immediately started on treatment and left hospital after a short time.

She decided to start Appetite for Business after spotting what she describes as a “gap in the market”.

Sheryl said: “It literally was started from my kitchen table. I was sat having breakfast one morning thinking there was a real gap in the market.

“Obviously having worked at large organisations and the way software was being rolled out and not considering the end user I thought there was a real opportunity to bridge the gap.

“I thought it could really work and we were the first of its kind in Aberdeen.

“We are still quite a unique proposition in the market place for what we do because we are skills and software.”

Throughout her career Sheryl has faced many challenges but always faced them head on.

She said: “Finance was hard. I bootstrapped it the whole way myself.

“Recognition in the marketplace was also an issue. At that time, we are talking 25 years ago, it was very male dominated. It still is a little bit in energy and tech.

“It can be hard to find your place.

“I remember someone at a networking event said you are never going to make it. You’d be best staying at home and making your husband’s dinner.

“That conversation spurred me on. I laughed and said he’s a far better cook than I am. It gave me the bit between my teeth.”

‘Head full of wild dreams’

Appetite for Business, based within Bridge of Don’s Innovation Park, now has 16 members of staff and has recently gained B Corp certification.

Sheryl said: “No one in my family had ever run a business. When I was at school it wasn’t even a thing.

“I always thought people who ran businesses were hugely successful. The concept to me wasn’t even achievable.

Sheryl Newman with husband Alan and dog Buddy. Image: Appetite for Business

“But looking back we are all winging it and trying our best with what we’ve got.

“I had a head full of wild dreams. When I was 13 I wanted some extra money and my parents told me to get myself a job.

“I had a toffee round and that built resilience and a real drive to want to keep doing that.

“I’ve always been independent in my roles and self-motivated. The entrepreneurship was always there but came in to play when started the business.

“I could never imagine I’d be doing this now.”

Future growth for Appetite for Business

Looking forward for the business Sheryl plans to continue growing.

She said: “We have just gone through a refresh of the business which is hugely exciting.

“We’ve also just got our B Corp accreditation to become the third company in Aberdeen to get that and first in Scotland for our type of business.

Sheryl has picked up a host of awards. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

“It’s such a very difficult thing to achieve, especially for a company of our size.

“I’m very proud of what we have achieved.”

Appetite for Business picked up a hat-trick of prestigious awards last year, including Best Digital Workspace at ScotlandIS’s Digital Tech Awards, Business Success Over 5 Years at the Elevator Awards, and High Growth Business of the Year at the FSB Scotland Celebrating Small Business Awards.