She left school at 16 with no qualifications and worked as an office junior, armed with only a fierce ambition to be her own boss.
At 23, Chey Garland decided to invest all her pounds 600 savings into creating her own debt-collection agency. Now, 25 years later, her business is among the biggest in the North-east, with an annual turnover of pounds 28m. Yesterday Ms Garland was named the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year.
Ms Garland, who has two children and lives in Kirkby, North Yorkshire, employs 2,800 workers in a thriving call-centre business, with contracts that include Vodafone, Cable & Wireless and Virgin Mobile.
When she left school in Middlesbrough to work in a roofing company she quickly became fascinated by business. 'When I left school, all I could think was I was going to be a receptionist but the moment I got inside this company, I felt so excited and thought I would one day love to be making decisions that would shape a company,' she said.
'I was not motivated by making lots of money but doing something well and having recognition for it.'
Within 48 hours of quitting her job as a credit controller at 23, she had created a business plan and was earmarking premises for her first enterprise. Her Middlesbrough-based agency rapidly grew to employ 60 staff, and won a contract to handle overflow customer service calls which led to the formation of Garlands Call Centres.
Her company has expanded to three places in the Tees Valley, she owns five buildings, and has plans for a call-centre village, which could create more than 800 jobs.
As the daughter of a fruit-stall owner, Ms Garland, who works up to 60 hours a week as well as looking after twin sons, aged 11, said she was raised in a typical working-class environment with the ambition to better herself.
'We lived in a typical two-up, two-down, and money was tight,' she said. 'There was a desire to achieve and better ourselves in my family. In my case, my business acumen has definitely been down to my instincts because I could not afford the luxury of formal training.'
Her business style is certainly feminine " the interiors of her call centres are decorated with obelisks and water features " and there is a positive focus on the pastoral care of her employees. …