The grandmother who gave up running a £48m company to care for twins (And she’s never been happier – or more exhausted!)
- Nikki King gave up her job to care for her granddaughters Summer and Skye
- Was managing director of UK arm of Isuzu with turnover of £48million
- But gave it up as she didn’t want to miss out on being a grandmother
By Nikki King
Published: 22:02 GMT, 8 July 2014 | Updated: 23:08 GMT, 8 July 2014
Mornings used to start with a civilized coffee that my secretary would have waiting on my desk for my arrival. These days it’s a mad dash to prepare porridge for two very discerning customers: my one-year-old twin granddaughters Summer and Skye.
Where there was once calm, order and meticulous planning, now there are squeals, splattered food and blaring Peppa Pig DVDs.
My minimalist living room is cluttered with cots and play mats, and I am for ever tripping over plastic toys.
Nikki King, of Rochester in Kent with her one-year-old granddaughters Skye and Summer, who she gave up her job to look after
Last year, aged 66, I gave up my glittering career — as the world’s first female managing director of a truck manufacturer — to become a full-time granny.
I’m certainly not the only one to make this decision. This week a study revealed nearly two million grandparents have given up work to look after grandchildren.
Three out of four are grannies and, in many cases, we are selflessly giving up careers to allow our daughters to pursue theirs.
My daughter Lisa works four days a week and it would cost £1,200 a month for her girls to attend nursery. Their other grandmother looks after the twins one day a week so, between us, we’re saving her a fortune.
But that wasn’t the only reason for my life-changing decision to quit my job and devote myself to my grandchildren.
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I was dying to be a grandmother — had been since my 50s, although I’d never said anything to Lisa — so when it finally happened, there was no way I was going to let a busy job get in the way of seeing them.
I wanted the kind of uninterrupted, relaxing time with them that you just don’t get with your own children when they’re young.
I certainly don’t consider my decision a sacrifice, but then I was fortunate to have earned enough over the years not to have to worry about money.
It must be so difficult for those grandparents who’d love to offer childcare but simply cannot afford to give up work. Or those who do, to the detriment of their own finances.
My friends are all doing the same thing. Even if they were already retired by the time their grandchildren arrived, they’re all looking after them for part of the week — even my male former colleagues.
Nikki takes a rest from looking after her granddaughters while they take a nap. The former company director says looking after the girls makes her life total chaos
Yes, my new ‘job’ as childminder does have me tearing my hair out — people call twins ‘double trouble’ but it’s more like quadruple. But it’s totally worth it. Nothing in life compares to a baby snuggling her sleepy head into your chest.
As a divorcee, I know it’s bound to impinge on me ever finding a new relationship, but then, the girls and my dog give me all the love I need.
Besides, I always say if you go to a rubbish restaurant you don’t go back for another meal, and my marriage left a bad taste in my mouth.
Meanwhile, each day brings a new discovery as the babies learn to take another step or say a new word. Just sitting with them on my lap with a book is heaven; something I never had time to do with my own kids.
As a mother of three (my sons Paul and Warren are, like Lisa, now in their 40s), it wasn’t until I was 40 that my career took off. Until then I was a secretary and my husband, who worked for a bakery, the main breadwinner.
Twenty-three years my senior, he was the rock I built my life on. Or so I thought. Two weeks before my 40th birthday, he left me for a 63-year-old spinster. I’m sure it was because the tight sod didn’t want to pay for a big birthday party for me!
Seriously, though, I was devastated. I can tell you being traded in for an older model is a real blow to your self-esteem. I remember sitting in our library and howling for an hour. The children, by then in their teens, were so worried they talked about phoning for help.
But then I stopped and thought: ‘That’s it — no more.’
It was a watershed, because from then on I got on with our new life.
My husband and I agreed an amicable settlement. He got the money and the boat, and I got everything that ate: children, cats, dogs and woodworm. I also kept our three-storey, seriously dilapidated terrace house.
Nikki says: ‘Since they started crawling I’ve needed eyes in the back of my head. They’re like a pair of beetles, scuttling off in different directions’
In an act of defiance, I had my wedding ring made into the shape of a dog and donated it to the Help the Aged gold appeal (it seemed appropriate considering my rival’s age).
That’s not to trivialise my sudden switch to breadwinner, though. Back then, women of my age just weren’t hardwired to do that sort of thing. Suddenly life was all about maintaining a roof over our heads and putting food on the table.
Thankfully, my children being a bit older, I was able to donate my time to work without guilt about childminders.
I started work as an admin manager at a Ford dealership and discovered motherhood had prepared me perfectly for a male-dominated environment. Anger management, negotiating skills and multi-tasking applied to both scenarios.
I then fell in love — with trucks!
I started to help out when the salesmen were busy and was eventually offered a job in fleet sales. Within seven years, I had worked my way up to managing director.
From there I was head-hunted to a large company, where I was tasked with setting up the UK arm of a Japanese firm, Isuzu.
In 2002, I was awarded the OBE for services to the road transport industry. Two years later, I led the company in a management buyout, and by the age of 61 commanded a staff of 52, with an annual turnover of £48 million. By this point I was earning in excess of £100,000.
I travelled the world, particularly in Japan, where I learned the language. I always say if I drop dead tomorrow, don’t grieve because I’ve had a ball. But in 2011, while taking part in the Channel 4 series Undercover Boss — where high-flyers go undercover in their own industries — I started to view things differently.
After two weeks of filming I began to feel like the character: other than work, my life seemed empty.
I had to pretend to be a newly-divorced woman who was looking for work after a long absence.
After two weeks of filming I began to feel like the character: other than work, my life seemed empty. My friends were scattered all over the world, thanks to my job, and every hour revolved around the company.
I didn’t want to be like most high-powered men when they retire: overnight they go from being head honcho with people pandering to their every whim, to little old men, invisible in their M&S trousers.
I was on holiday in Cornwall when Lisa rang to say she and her partner Jay were expecting a baby. Then and there I decided I would sell the business. I’d been waiting long enough for grandchildren and I was damned if I was going to let work get in the way.
In March 2013, Lisa gave birth to two tiny little girls at Medway Maritime Hospital: Summer, 4lb 2oz, and Skye, 3lb, 8oz. The babies were transferred to the neo-natal unit because they were so small, but two weeks later they were allowed home.
For about six months, I was still working (I sold the company to Isuzu themselves, agreeing to stay on until October last year), so I only got to see them two or three times a week.
Then, in October, I left work for the last time.
Lisa and I agreed that I would start childminding when she returned to work in the New Year as general manager of my former company.
The plan was for Lisa to work four days a week while her husband continued his job as an account manager. The twins would attend nursery one day, I’d look after them for two days and their other granny the remaining day.
Before becoming a full-time grandmother, Nikki was the company director of Isuzu, commanding a 52 staff, with an annual turnover of £48million
Two travel cots took up residence in the pristine living room in my pristine home in Rochester, Kent — along with a 20ft play pen. My precious collection of Art Deco glass was relocated to the top shelves and I started making batches of baby food to freeze.
On the first day of my new role Lisa arrived at 8.30am and expected me to make her toast and marmalade. Then she disappeared and it was time to feed the girls their breakfasts of baby porridge.
I strapped them in their high chairs, then sat with one bowl and two spoons, alternating between them. Summer is the more demanding, while Skye is gentler, more placid.
At 11am it was time for their naps, by which point I felt ready to sleep for a week myself. Trying to get two babies to sleep at the same time is nigh on impossible. Just as one drifts off, the other starts crying and then they’re both screaming.
Next up, lunch of mashed potato and fish sauce, followed by playing and reading before a further nap, before tea of scrambled eggs and their home-time at 6pm.
At first, friends eyed me with concern: ‘You look exhausted!’ They were used to me power-dressing for the office, but with two babies there wasn’t time to drag a comb through my hair, let alone apply make-up.
Would I change my new life? Like hell! Nana is loving every minute.
It took me two months to adjust. Now a neighbour pops in at 11am to help me get them down for their nap.
Since they started crawling I’ve needed eyes in the back of my head. They’re like a pair of beetles, scuttling off in different directions. And what I would have done in a minute in my 50s, I struggle with in my late 60s.
At times I’m at the end of my tether, particularly when I’m changing one girl’s nappy and the other is screaming. Last week I found myself covered in food and up to my arms in baby poo, muttering: ‘I used to run a company!’
Every day planned is immediately unplanned as Summer has a cold or Skye is teething. For the first time in my life I am in total chaos.
That said, would I change my new life? Like hell! Nana is loving every minute. The twins are now walking: I can’t wait until we can have conversations and go on outings. I’ll keep going as long as my legs hold out.