Tell us about your background: How did you get into business?
I started my first business when I was 21, straight out of university. I’d just left Oxford and was going to join McKinsey and become a strategy consultant, when a friend – Charlie Osmond – convinced me we should start up ourselves. Together we built up FreshMinds – operating in research and recruitment, which today employs around 80 people and, happily, has won many Best Agency awards. I’m now non-exec chairman having decided in 2016 to start a new venture – Fluidly – an intelligent cashflow engine for SMEs. Fluidly helps businesses predict, optimise and protect their finances by using the data in accounting packages to improve a business’ financial future.
What advice did you turn down from Sir Richard Branson?
In a particularly bold moment I thought it would be a good idea to beckon Sir Richard from across a room to ask him whether to take the job with McKinsey or start up a business. He said to take the job! I decided the entrepreneurial route was more for me and have never regretted the decision.
How do you maintain a work-life balance? Any tips for our readers?
I’m a believer that if you want something done, ask a busy person. I’m afraid patience is not one of my virtues so I tend to pack a lot in and hope that it will magically fit. I always say yes to things I think are important or I really want to do (work or life), then figure out how to juggle it all afterwards. Inevitably that means that some things will drop out, but hopefully it means I get to do all the best stuff. Then importantly, I try not to feel too guilty about the things I can’t fit in.
What does being a ‘female boss’ mean to you?
Not a lot to be honest! There are good bosses and bad bosses. Good bosses energise, provide clarity, ensure their teams have the right resources, skills and culture to succeed; they are empathetic and committed. Some are male, some are female – but gender isn’t a good segmentation between good or bad.
Sexual harassment stories have been prevalent in the press recently- can you share any experience of sexism or harassment in the industry?
Like most women, I’ve been in meetings where I’ve been ignored in favour of male colleagues, or casually spoken over. Thankfully I’ve never experienced any sexual harassment, but I’ve got too many friends who have. It’s real and needs to stop.
How do you create change as a woman in the industry?
The best way to create change is to back women – by investing in them financially, by hiring women into senior leadership roles and by creating a culture where any form of discrimination is simply not tolerated.
Describe the moment you were awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours list.
The letter came completely out of the blue on a sunny day in May. It was a wonderful surprise for the whole family – and a lovely day out. A precious memory forever and I still pinch myself whenever a letter arrives using the post-nominals!
Who do you look up to in the industry? Tell us about your role models.
I’m a real magpie when it comes to role models – there are so many characteristics I admire in leaders I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and so much to learn from. To pick a few… Stephen Kelly at Sage who radiates energy and positivity; Lady Barbara Judge for being a total badass and unwavering in her support of other women; the late Dame Helen Alexander for her warmth, humanity and utter competence; and my grandma who was born in Mongolia and seen so much in her 94 (& counting) years – she has always had a true sense of adventure and willingness to test boundaries.
What is the secret to running a successful business?
The best way to get started in a business is to stop prevaricating and theorising, and get out to talk to potential customers. Ask lots of questions and listen hard. Where are their pain points and how big are they? Can you address them in a way that will delight?
Running a business can be lonely – so it’s important to surround yourself with a strong support network. That’s particularly true for women: find other women who you admire and respect and don’t be afraid to lean on them for help and advice. Find your tribe – I’m lucky to have an amazing one.
But it’ll always be a rollercoaster. You need to make the most of the highs and when the lows hit, remember things are never as bad as they seem. Try and enjoy the ride – it’s always a privilege to run a business and set your own direction.