What is your professional title, purpose or passion?
Chairwoman, Virgin StartUp
What did you want to do when you were a child and what changed?
I wanted to be an astronaut, an actress or a doctor. As a working class girl growing up in the 1970s those felt more like pipe dreams than realistic ambitions, but I’ve always had an interest in business. At school I was involved in Young Enterprise and started a small business with a team of my classmates. I went on to do a science degree which I used to open the door into business and then got into my work in media through that route. It seems I’ve always put much more focus into business than I ever did trying to be an astronaut (though, I did apply once but that’s another story).
What's the best career advice you've ever been given?
One of the best pieces of career advice I’ve been given came from Stevie Spring, now Chairwoman of the British Council, who once told me “if you’re going to be somewhere for five years, make sure you have five years of experience, rather than the same year five times”. For me, this advice advocates having a growth orientated mindset. It’s easy to go into autopilot, doing things the way we always do them. If you expand beyond your comfort zone, take on new and different tasks, and approach your work with fresh eyes you will leave the role with much more experience than if you were going through the motions.
What is the best thing about your current working environment?
Where do you see yourself in five years' time?
For me, a large part of portfolio work is finding a blend of sustainable roles and activities that I will want to do for as long as I’m fulfilled, enjoying life and growing. I’m much clearer now on what that blend of things is. It’s what I’m doing now, more refined, and more of it, with the sense of purpose that I look for in everything I do. If I’m making a positive impact, I’ll be happy.
Tell us more about a charitable organisation or project you think is great.
Big Change, set up by a group of six including Holly and Sam Branson and Princess Beatrice, is a fantastic charitable trust. The whole ethos is helping children and young people thrive in life and not just exams. I understand the challenges that young people can face growing up in the UK and there are lots of skills that young people need to navigate life. Big Change helps build projects to support that. I’ve taken part in two of their fundraising ultra-marathon events, and they were phenomenal.
What drives you?
Now, more than ever, a sense of purpose and potential drives me. I’m excited about what the future holds. My motivation comes from how I’m able to contribute positively to people and the wider world whilst having fun and enjoying life.
Any final comments?
Virgin StartUp recently announced a public pledge to commit to a 50/50 funding target for women and men entrepreneurs by the end of 2020, becoming the first business founder in the UK to make this promise.
The pledge represents a crucial step towards achieving gender balance for start-up investment in the UK but Virgin StartUp will also address the nationwide barriers faced by many women in business, such as childcare and gender based discrimination, including unconscious bias.
What does a normal day look like for you?
My work as Chairwoman is part of a portfolio of roles. The wonderful thing about this structure is that every day is different and extremely flexible. I’m also the founder of Goldpollen a strategy and leadership consulting business, which is how I came to be involved in Virgin StartUp, and work as the Director of a charity, Spirit of 2012, which means I get to support good causes up and down the country. The flexibility is one of the things I love about what I do.
What have you achieved that you feel most proud of?
I’m immensely proud to have been involved in the launch of Metro, it’s one of my career highlights to date. It shifted the media landscape, opening up reading news on a daily basis to millions who were previously not reading a newspaper. More recently, Virgin StartUp launched a 50/50 funding target for men and women by the end of 2020, making it the first business funder to do so. We hope this will help to level the playing field for women founders in the UK.
Tell us about a a woman who inspires you
Anita Roddick was immensely inspiring. Before Anita and Sir Richard Branson, no one really talked about entrepreneurship, and they came to define what it meant.
Anita set up the Body Shop from scratch and championed ethical credentials and purpose from the very start. When Anita opened the second Body Shop store, I heard a story that she borrowed £4,000 from one of her friend’s boyfriends and for that, she gave him a significant share in her company, later making him a multi-millionaire. Anita was often asked whether she regretted selling so much for a relatively small sum, and she always said no, because without that £4,000 she wouldn’t have been able to grow and become one of the UK's most successful entrepreneurs. I love that attitude.
What was your biggest failure?
I can list many things I’ve tried that didn’t go to plan though I don’t see these as complete failures. I’ve learned more from the times things didn’t go right, and they taught me lessons that I have since built on including that progression is sometimes a sideways movement, and not always an upward curve. My biggest failure is probably something I didn’t do like starting my own business earlier.
What do you like most about yourself?
How can we make the world more inclusive and accepting?
Author Stephen Covey said “seek first to understand”, and I think he’s right. More time listening to each other and empathising will help everyone see the world through other people’s eyes.
What skills have been key to your journey so far?
Communication skills and listening are central, and I’m still a work in progress on both. Being able to see a different point of view is vital, whether that of customers or stakeholders. These skills help to create a sense of understanding and are central to problem-solving.