jane swift

Name: Jane Swift

Job title: Chief executive officer

Company: Borough Market

What was your first job? I had a little paper round with my brother and spent what we earned on Curlywurlys at the end of the week. 

My first ‘proper’ job was aged 14 in a little bakery called The Pantry in Goodmayes. I loved it. I was in the front of the shop, so it was my first experience with customers and I saw everything being made from scratch in the back. 

It’s also where I met my husband and 35 years later we’re still married, so the bakery holds a special place in my heart.

What’s been your worst job interview? My first job when I left school was in the Ministry of Defence as a clerical assistant where I quickly progressed to clerical officer. I was looking for my next move and thought perhaps I’d move sideways as a personal secretary. Part of the interview was a typing test and I’d never used an electric typewriter. You can imagine the mess I made of that – I had absolutely no chance!

What was the first music single you bought? I can’t remember ever buying a single, to be honest. I had an uncle who worked in a pub that had a jukebox so every now and again he used to bring all of the singles home as they got replaced by the latest releases. I loved a bit of David Essex and The Bay City Rollers.

How do you describe your job to your friends? I say I’ve got my dream job as it feels like all my work and life experience has led to this with my operational, finance, project management and strategy background in corporate and food poverty, adult education and landscape architecture in the charity sector. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job? Working with an amazing team and incredibly talented traders. With 140 different businesses under the Borough Market umbrella, there’s never a dull moment, as you can imagine. 

We’ve been working together over the last couple of years to put in solid foundations on which to build our Strategy 2030 and I’m so excited about the potential that brings, starting with a food policy that we’ve begun to implement.

What is the least rewarding part? The best-laid plans are sometimes overtaken by the unexpected, which can occasionally delay progress. That said, as a market that has been around for more than 1,000 years, we are incredibly resistant and adaptable to change, thanks to the support of our traders, surrounding community and key stakeholders.

“My mum was a school cook and taught me how to cook from a young age – I could do a full roast dinner before I was 10”

What is your motto in life? I’ve grown up with two mottos from my parents and I’m so grateful for their combined wisdom. From my mum, it was ‘you reap what you sow’ and my dad always said ‘she who dares wins’.

One of my mentors said to me at one point in my career, “you don’t have to do and know everything yourself, know your own limitations and draw on the expertise you need”. That really has stood me in good stead too.

If you were allowed one dream perk, what would it be? I think a weekly massage would be a real treat – some time to rest and wind down. 

Do you have any phobias? Not really, although I do get a weird feeling if I’m walking across anything I can see through.  

If you could change one thing in grocery, what would it be? Access to good basic produce for everyone, which is more complicated than it sounds as affordability is such a huge part of it.

As a trustee at my local food bank, I know that those going hungry are often struggling with finding a home of their own. I’ve watched as items of food have been removed from their bags on the basis that it’s only possible to cope with things that can be made with hot water from a kettle in a single room with no cooking facilities.

I was very lucky. My mum was a school cook and taught me how to cook from a young age – I could do a full roast dinner before I was 10. A lot of children just don’t have the opportunity to learn from their parents, as they didn’t learn from their own parents either. 


What luxury would you have on a desert island? I think I’d be happy if I had a really good book to read.

What animal most reflects your personality? Probably a dolphin as they are so family-oriented, friendly, see all and are intuitive to those who need protecting.

What’s your favourite film and why? I can’t help mentioning two films here as I absolutely love Grease – I’ve seen it so many times. But my absolute favourite film is The Bucket List as it reminds us how brief our time on Earth is; to have the adventures when we can; and, at the end of the day, it’s the people we love that’s all that really matters.

What has been the most embarrassing moment in your life? One of the embarrassing moments I’m willing to share was on my first holiday abroad.  

My husband and I were wandering along the beach and he decided to sweep me off my feet and run into the water carrying me. He stubbed his toe on a rock and ended up throwing me in the water and nearly drowning me! Not my best moment, but we can laugh about it now!

Which celebrity would you most like to work with and why? One person I have a huge amount of respect for is Jamie Oliver because of everything he’s done to change the food system, by shaking up school dinners and giving people a chance through his Fifteen restaurants.

Giving the younger generations the opportunity to learn to cook from scratch, and providing simple meals that are affordable for everyone, are the biggest keys to our physical and mental wellbeing. I’d like to prove that’s possible with the community in and around Borough Market and create a repeatable model that can go right across the UK and beyond. 

I’m sure there is a huge depth of experience that Jamie has gained and would love the opportunity to learn from him.

What would your death row meal be? I think it would have to be a full roast lamb dinner, slow cooked for hours with roasted veg, potatoes, cauliflower cheese and amazing gravy. Just thinking about it has made me feel hungry!

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