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3EN's Alison Cree: An unexpected journey to setting up a cloud computing company

  • Written by Alison Cree, COO of 3EN

    When I had to start thinking about where I wanted my career to go, GSCEs were still O Levels and computer science was only just being introduced as a subject. If I hadn’t fought for my place in the school’s first ever computer science class whilst being pushed towards home economics, I might never have ended up setting up a cloud computing company with my husband. My journey is not the route I expected my career to take, but I couldn’t be happier that it did.

    I left school at 16 absolutely certain that I wanted to work in the travel industry. I applied to Technical College to study business and travel and tourism and started the course excited and ready to learn. I lasted six months. After abandoning the course, I applied for a job at a travel agent, hoping to get some practical experience in the industry. Much to my dismay, this time, I lasted three months. It was becoming evident that travel and tourism just wasn’t for me.

    The morning I decided that I couldn’t face going back to work in the travel agency, I took a trip to the local job centre. By the following Monday, I had a job with a Local Government Pension Scheme that was looking for an office junior. The role required me to file paperwork, answer the phone, and look after clients. I stayed for twenty-five years.

    I worked my way up through the organisation as the years went by. I worked in pension administration, then payroll, and finally ended up becoming part of the pensions development team. A career that started out as filing and administration when I was 17 evolved into working more closely with computer software and online processing. I’m a very practical person who loves to problem solve, but as someone with no A Levels or official qualifications to prepare me for the evolution of the role from paper to screen, I never expected to end up working full time with computer software.

    I loved my job for many, many years, but eventually, the bureaucracy and restrictions began to get to me. As a single mother, I found it increasingly difficult to balance my ever-growing workload with the demands of childcare and the needs of my family. I was becoming increasingly anxious, and as the expectations of the job changed and new rules were implemented across the company, I felt that I was being unfairly disadvantaged due to my educational background and was having to fight to keep my role.

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    I began to feel stifled. If my child was sick and I couldn’t make it into work, there was no empathy. If a family emergency came up or if I was struggling to deal with external pressures unrelated to work and needed some breathing space, there was no opportunity for rest without a significant battle with leadership. What was once a very enjoying job was becoming a hard graft.

    I met my now husband, Dale, in the midst of this worry. When the opportunity came up to join him on a venture into the world of business consultancy, I decided that the time was right for a career change. I needed a break, Dale needed support, and the business that we now know as 3EN began. A chance encounter with the CEO of Oracle NetSuite when helping with a consultancy job in Germany led us into the world of cloud computing, and we haven’t looked back.

    I knew the basics of Oracle NetSuite when we signed up to be a partner. I’d done some data cleanses and played around with the administration tools, but the initial few weeks and months on the job involved a lot of reading, a lot of asking questions, and a lot of learning on the go. I was already confident with online processing systems, but when it’s your own livelihood on the line, you become all the more conscious of your responsibilities.


    Alison with her husband Dale and some of her 3EN team

    When the business outgrew what the two of us could handle and we started hiring, I wanted to make sure each individual who became part of 3EN felt fully supported and appreciated. I never want anyone to feel as anxious or restricted at 3EN as I had in my previous role. Even before COVID-19, we made sure to offer a range of opportunities for flexible working.

    We don’t like clock watchers at 3EN, so that extra bit of flexibility spurs people on to do the very best they can. In my previous role, I felt disadvantaged because I didn’t have a university level education. I was keen to make 3EN the kind of workplace where we hire on the basis of behaviour and cultural fit, rather than educational prowess. If we think you’ll be a good fit for our company, we’ll train you to get to where you need to be to thrive both personally and professionally.

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    Setting up 3EN was the catalyst for the lifestyle change that I needed. Working as my own boss offered the flexibility and freedom that I’d been missing for many years. I never anticipated that my career would lead me to become COO of my own company, but it’s the best thing that’s ever happened. To young women seeking a career in the industry in which I’m now a leader, I would say, hone your skills. Get good at what you do and stop thinking of yourself as female. If you’re suited to the job and you’re the right person for the role then you have so much more going for you than you think.

    Alison Cree is COO at 3EN, one of the world’s leading Oracle NetSuite Enterprise Resource Management Solutions Partners, with operations across Europe and the US. Its cloud technology helps businesses to drive growth through improving efficiency with seamless integration between NetSuite and other software platforms.

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