Phyllis Pearsall was a force to be reckoned with. Headstrong an understatement. Born in 1906 and after a very tumultuous life she found herself aged 29 wandering the streets of London one evening trying to find her way to a party.
To her the solution was simple. A map just had to be created to help people get around town. She immediately started her crusade by walking 18 hours a day around the 23,000 streets of London mapping it – walking a total of 3000 miles. She then designed and proofread it all herself using just one draftsman, James Duncan, to create it.
Having battled against all odds to get this far all she had to do was sell it. Selfridges and Foyles were not impressed, but undeterred she continued on ending up at WH Smiths where she joined the daily queue of sales reps. She was totally ignored – everyone assuming she must be someone’s secretary. She returned for seven days on the trot until finally the buyer saw her. He bought over 250 copies and so the A – Z’s journey began.
Within a year of conceptualising the idea Mrs P had sold 10,000 copies which she delivered herself to all the outlets in London – in a cart.
She then spent the next 50 years she building her business.
So where does the tech come in?
Phyllis was an innovator and embraced any technology which could help her business run more effectively. In the 1980’s as computers appeared Mrs P immediately saw the benefits and quickly introduced them into the company – though she did ensure that they did not interfere with the social aspects of the company. In 1996 (the year of her death) the company produced its first CD-ROM of London.
And social media?
We talk these days of social media as if it is a new thing. Of course it is not.
In terms of social media in business Mrs P valued immensely the importance of all her staff. She was a natural manager and understood that nurturing, motivating and rewarding her staff could only bring benefits to the company. She took on many youngsters and allowed their talents to flourish. Many remained with her for over 40 years.
In 1966 she turned the company into a trust to ensure that it was never bought out and safeguarding the employees jobs. She was determined that any profits always came second to the welfare of her staff and families.
But over and above this the A – Z is a piece of social media in its own right. It has never been recognised by the official mapping organisations who chose to ignore both Phyllis and the A – Z. Some say this was because the A – Z was too commercial, or because it is not mathematically correct. It put design and clarity above mathematical accuracy. But Mrs P was a trend setter and her style of cartography is now used for many modern maps to this day.
The A – Z is a map for the people.