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Karen and Prue

When we met Baroness Karren Brady

When we met Karren Brady…

“You can’t determine where you start in life, but you can determine where you end up”

On Friday 13 October, Simon and I were hugely privileged to hear Baroness Karren Brady speak at an event in Birmingham hosted by the Entrepreneurs Circle.

Voted Business Woman of the Year, Ultimate Entrepreneur and rated among the 50 most inspirational people in the world, Karren is passionate about business and the promotion of women in business in the UK.

Lady Brady was made a life peer by the Prime Minister, entering the House of Lords in 2014 and she received a CBE from the Queen for her services to business, entrepreneurship and women in business. Of course, we also know Karren from ‘The Apprentice’ which is currently showing on TV!

So, what did Karren talk to us about and what were our impressions?

Firstly, Karren was gently spoken and extremely articulate – just listening to her voice was such a great pleasure. She provided us with a wealth of invaluable insights about entrepreneurship, she inspired us, she made us laugh and she left us feeling in total awe of her tremendous achievements.

Here’s a snapshot of her talk to us:

Karren explained that after leaving school, she went to work in advertising/sales. In 1993 (aged only 23), she went to her Chairman and said that if he purchased Birmingham City Football Club (which was currently in administration), she would run it for him. This he did and Karren was appointed Managing Director.

Karren was quickly saw that a wealth of improvements were needed – most administrative jobs were still being done by hand (even the wages, which were issued in cash using little brown envelopes). There was no ‘culture’, no expectations and staff generally did pretty much what they wanted e.g. tickets were freely issued to staff for a variety of reasons, such as fixing a typewriter!

Sexism was rife and this was illustrated particularly well when Karren travelled with the football team on their coach – a player said to her “I can see your tits from here”. Karren famously retorted “Well when I sell you to Crewe, you won’t be able to see them from there, will you?” Soon afterwards, the player was sold.

Karren felt that the key task with the club was to create the right culture; one based on good leadership, vision and being able to inspire people to follow it.

She wanted to create passion and a desire to want to go to work. She wanted an entrepreneurial spirit to run throughout the business. She wanted staff to always be thinking about how to make the business better.

A particular challenge was how to create this sort of culture when you have an 18 year old footballer earning £18,000 per week when another 18 year old is earning £18,000 a year working in the ticketing office?

Her answer was to induct every new employee (including players) to know everything about the business. She would get them to do job swaps e.g. players working in the ticketing office and explaining to those normally working in the ticketing office that there wouldn’t be any tickets to sell if they didn’t have the footballers. It was all about building the brand value, ethos and integrity.

Karren had so much to say (far too much for a Blog), so we’ll end with Karren’s 6 key takeaways:

  1. The ability to lead: You need to be able to articulate your vision and you need to know where a person stands in a time of challenge – you need to be able to ‘face the music, even when you don’t like the tune’.
  2. Ambition: nobody ever started out being a success – it all starts with a spark and a fire inside you. You need to work incredibly hard – put the hours in. Sir Alan Sugar is always the first into the office in the morning and the last one out.
  3. Determination: “You cannot put me down” Karren said. If you can find your backbone, just grit your teeth and put one foot in front of the other.
  4. Attitude: If you don’t like something, change it (don’t whinge about it). Be brave and think to yourself “if I do something, what is the worst that can happen to me?”
  5. Direction: the whole world steps aside for the person who knows where they are going
  6. Be Positive: hang on, when everyone else has let go. Nothing in this world can stop me. Be persistent.

Karren’s closing points were:

  • Be confident about who are. You need people to respect you; take every gamble and don’t regret.
  • You can avoid burnout by stopping doing the things you don’t want to do
  • Make the “best version of yourself by continually working and moving on and up”
  • You only have ONE life, if you live it right, ONE is enough

P.S. Karren has a truly punishing schedule (she still visits her West Ham Club every day except Fridays), but in the spare time she does manage to take, she enjoys watching DVDs and box sets (Shooter and Designated Survivor are 2 of the ones I managed to jot down) and whilst she doesn’t profess to be a fabulous cook, she does enjoy ‘feeding people’!

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