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From number 88 bus to the fast lane

From number 88 bus to the fast lane

When entrepreneur Saija Mahon arrived in London at the age of 20, she had no job, no money and nowhere to stay. But today she is the CEO of three companies, including international award-winning agency Mahon Digital Marketing. Although her own hard work, talent and ingenuity has taken Saija to the top, it was the random kindness of strangers that set her on the road to success.

After graduating from a marketing institute in Finland with big ambitions, Saija struggled to find a job in the industry. Determined to get a foot on the ladder, she offered to work for free at an advertising agency, but it didn’t provide the relevant experience she was hoping for and she found herself simply making coffee and opening the post.

“I quickly became close to depressed and so I decided, on a whim, to jump on a plane and head to London to seek something more adventurous,” she said.

Saija didn’t have much money behind her – she even had to sell her own clothes at a flea market to raise the money for the plane ticket – but at last she found herself at Heathrow Airport. However, reality came crashing in when Saija realised she had nowhere to stay and no money for a hotel room.

Alone and frightened, she made her way to a Finnish church in South London, which put her up for the night. The next day, she got onto the Number 88 bus with the hope of finding accommodation in the West End. Here, a fellow passenger changed the course of her life.

“A gentleman asked me if I was okay, as I looked so confused,” she said. “I asked him if the bus would take me to the West End and he not only said yes, he actually took me all the way to Russell Square, to a staff office of Imperial London Hotels, which was to become my new home and place of work.

“My first experience of English people was more than I ever imagined – the friendliness and helpfulness of this nation goes above and beyond.”

Having found the job and accommodation she so badly needed, Saija went on to learn English well and make fantastic friends. After nine months she moved on from the hotel group, to make her longed-for start in digital marketing with a travel agency, now known as KUONI.

Her work there as a search engine marketing analyst led her on to roles with big London media houses such as Walker Media and Profero, and saw her trained by Google. As a bright young talent in an emerging field, Saija became highly sought-after and worked on huge brands such as Barclays, Marks & Spencer and Channel 4.

Her career came to a crossroads six years ago, when she fell pregnant with her daughter, Naomi. Afraid that her high-flying career had come to an end, Saija realised that she could do this herself – and so Mahon Digital Marketing was born.

“I had a sudden realisation that I could do this on my own. I thought, ‘I WANT to do this on my own and I WILL do this on my own’.”

Fifteen years on from that unpromising arrival in London, Saija has been selected as a Top 50 Female Search Marketer by Google and DRUM, and a mentor for Girls in Tech London and Smarta UK. She is also a volunteer for Women’s Bank, which helps African women to start businesses, and has been invited to the Women Techpreneur Awards at the House of Commons.

Mahon Digital Marketing has offices in London and Finland, employing 14 people in total. She has also founded Lonely Robot Web Design and business networking concept The Caviar Club Scandinavia.

Saija is a highly inspirational entrepreneur whose story (so far) is fascinating and uplifting. You can book Saija to speak at your event via Inspiring Women – contact Catherine on 07921 775461 or catherine@inspiringwomen.co.uk

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