Behind the Iron Curtain, in 1982, I was a six-year old Lithuanian girl and sold seeds at my local market. I would dream of running my own business and trading in the global market. This wasn’t the Soviet way of doing things.Jurga Zilinskiene
In 1989 freedom came, and the euphoria that followed the sudden collapse of the USSR soon turned to chaos as the currency nosedived, inflation soared and the rule of law almost disintegrated. This was fertile territory for the mafia gangs who viewed legitimate businesses as targets for extortion.
I was a teenager when I built my first business in Lithuania during those turbulent times. First, I imported silk and wool from the Middle East, and then set up a store. It was a successful venture but attracted unwanted attention from the underworld. This was a frightening period and had a big impact on my life and values. When you are in a dangerous situation and survive, it makes you stronger. It makes you value law and order and cherish what some people take for granted like being able to do business without having to look over your shoulder.
Making my way through the world, I finally found a home in the UK. Here I was educated and learned the priceless art of computer coding. Over the course of seven years I built the architecture that powers our entire operations.
Britain welcomed me as an entrepreneur and encouraged me to thrive in business. That warmth meant more to me than you could ever imagine. To this day, I feel I owe this country an obligation and duty to work hard and succeed.
My company Guildhawk and the thousands of people who work for us have become a wonderful success. Every day I live that childhood dream of being the hawker uniting and trading in the international market.
We grow our operations organically, training our own people, and competing successfully with established corporations many times our size. In June 2019, Guildhawk was recognised with the Queen’s Award for International Trade.
One of my overseas operations, is in my native Lithuania. It was formed in 2006 when I led the first ever trade mission to Lithuania.
The Duke of Edinburgh recognised me for promoting business relations between the two countries. In 2018 Lithuania included me in the list of 100 most influential Lithuanian women in history.
In June 2019 Her Majesty the Queen honoured me with an MBE for International Trade in Her Birthday Honours List.
Those early seeds I sowed as a child have certainly taken root now, and are beginning to blossom. They will bare beautiful fruit in the years to come.
Perhaps it was my destiny to be admitted into the ancient guild of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers whose fellowship and encouragement is dear to my heart.
I am not the only woman in the world to have lived through dangerous times and the collapse of their society. However, I am one of the lucky few who learnt the vital survival skills and became a stronger businesswoman as a result.