Mel takes top spot in Bold Woman Awards

From the left, Mursal Hedayat, Carole Bildé, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Veuve Clicquot, and Mel Smith

Mel Smith CBE has been named winner of the 50th annual Bold Woman Award by Veuve Clicquot, as the former Ocado Retail CEO was recognised for her outstanding leadership over the last three years. She impressed the judges with her stewardship of Ocado Retail, which under her leadership became the UK’s fastest-growing grocery retailer. She recently stepped down as CEO after spending three years at the company’s helm, having overseen the initial setup of the joint venture between Ocado and Marks & Spencer.

Moving from a partnership with Waitrose to a joint venture with M&S, Smith led the largest change in range of any UK retailer, with Ocado switching out over 10% of its product range overnight. Judges praised her tremendous vision for the firm, which resulted in Ocado increasing its market share by over 40%, as well as her leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, when she personally directed the firm’s strategy to keep the UK fed during the early phases of the pandemic.

Smith said: “I am thrilled to have been awarded the prestigious Bold Woman Award, an achievement I dedicate to the women and men who have provided support, guidance and allyship throughout my career. I believe in the power of curiosity, bringing my best self, and daring greatly. I hope that resonates and inspires the next generation of female and indigenous leaders in retail and beyond.”

Mursal Hedayat MBE, founder of Chatterbox, won the Bold Future Award by Veuve Clicquot, which celebrates female entrepreneurship and up and coming leaders. Chatterbox is a corporate language training provider, helping companies like the British Red Cross, BNP Paribas and Unilever provide language learning services to staff. The employees are taught by coaches from marginalised communities such as refugees. Judge’s praised Hedayat’s   demonstration of entrepreneurial daring – in just six years, Chatterbox has raised more than £2m in investment and works with the world’s leading organisations. Judges were also impressed by her commitment to championing better representation – a former refugee herself, Hedayat came to the UK as a child from Afghanistan and has become a leading proponent of encouraging refugees into skilled work.

Hedayat said: “I am honoured to have won the BOLD Future award and thrilled to have my name mentioned alongside that of some utterly trailblazing previous winners. The world of entrepreneurship remains unduly hostile to female founders and I am immensely grateful for this honour, and the visibility it brings. Platforming mine and Chatterbox’s work to integrate refugees and career re-starters into the workforce as language coaches supports our efforts to smash glass ceilings for professionals marginalised for reasons beyond their gender – which means the world to me. Thank you to the BOLD judges for bringing us into the spotlight.”

Veuve Clicquot’s Bold Woman Awards showcase the achievements of audacious and innovative female entrepreneurs, giving them visibility in a world historically dominated by men. Previous winners include: COVID-19 vaccine developer Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, renowned architect Dame Zaha Hadid and Selfridges Group Managing Director, Anne Pitcher.

Jean-Marc Gallot, President of Veuve Clicquot, said:“For the last 50 years, Veuve Clicquot has celebrated trailblazing female leadership and we have shone a spotlight on some of the UK’s most inspirational leaders. The winners this year are no exception. Mel Smith and Mursal Hedayat each emulate the entrepreneurial daring of Madame Clicquot herself, but they also represent those characteristics we can expect to see from successful leaders in the coming years, from pushing boundaries and achieving tremendous growth to fostering better representation for women at all levels.”