Behind the tabloid headlines

Tessa Clarke
3 min readAug 7, 2019

The September issue of Vogue, edited by HRH The Duchess of Sussex was entitled ‘Forces for Change’. I was deeply honoured to be selected for my work co-founding, OLIO.

I’ve always been someone who if I see a problem or injustice in the world, I try to fix it, rather than turn away from it. It’s why I founded OLIO; it’s why I went in to sort out Wonga UK; and it’s why I’m writing this now…

Last weekend the Mail on Sunday has written a particularly unpleasant piece about my inclusion in Vogue. Rather than focus on the incredibly positive contribution that OLIO is having on the world — over 2 million portions of food saved so far, thousands and thousands of people fed, and the environmental equivalent of over 5 million car miles taken off the road — they have twisted my inclusion into something deeply negative. This has been done through focusing on the fact that I briefly worked at Wonga UK — without providing any meaningful context as to my actual role there — and is clearly an attempt to undermine all parties through association.

In doing so they have blatantly mis-represented the truth, and drawn lines that don’t exist. I simply cannot stand by and let this happen, and so am writing to set the record straight.

The Mail on Sunday article

Just over 5 years ago, I was brought in as the Managing Director of Wonga UK, a position I held for 8 months before going on maternity leave. My remit was very clear — to sort the company out. Prior to taking on the role, I insisted that I sit in the call centre and listen to customers so that I could really understand what was going on. In doing so I heard first-hand the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly of the business. Once I had heard directly from hundreds of people from all walks of life, many with heart-wrenching stories, I felt torn — the easy thing to do would be to not accept the role; however given what I had heard, and given that I knew what needed be done to sort it out (plus I couldn’t see anyone else doing it), I had to act. I immediately set about working with the Board to lower the pricing, reduce lending, take the Wongies advertising off the air, and significantly improve how customers were treated in arrears. In short, I did everything I possibly could to clean the company up, and was not the architect of what the company had become.

A couple of weeks into the role I was completely side-swiped, and horrified, to discover that over 4 years prior to my joining, the company had been sending fake legal letters to customers who were in arrears. I then had a choice — to issue a nameless press release, or to stand up on behalf of the company, and to apologise unreservedly. It was by no means an easy decision, but to me it was very clear that the right thing to do was to apologise to everybody affected. As I have since discovered however, doing the right thing came at an enormous personal cost.

It’s incredibly frustrating to have a 20+ year career boiled down to a mis-representation of 8 months in order to create a cheap smear-tactic headline. However, I don’t want to allow the negativity of the Mail on Sunday to prevail and so will end on a positive note. During my 8 months at Wonga I learned more than I learned in the previous 8, or even 18 years, and am working hard to harness these learnings to ensure that OLIO can be as successful as possible in our mission to help save the planet, by stopping the tragedy of food waste.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Tessa

PS I only shop at charity stores (or TKMaxx if I’m treating myself), so would like to clarify that Vogue kindly loaned me the “£1,700 outfit” that the Mail on Sunday referenced repeatedly in the piece.

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Tessa Clarke

Co-Founder & CEO of Olio, the local sharing app. Getting my head around the climate crisis. Passionate about sustainability, startups & diversity.