Inspirational Woman: Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne |Co-owner & MD of Kruger Cowne

Gina Nelthrope-Cowne MD Kruger Cowne B&WTell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently

I come from a family of journalists in South Africa. I left school and started modelling part time and at the same time started my own Italian Gelato ice cream business with a business partner at the age of 17. Went on to start and run a number of other businesses, including an events company that organised the richest beauty pageant in South Africa; a model agency; and a PR company amongst others – some were successful and others less so.

I am passionate about nature, and my love of wildlife and conservation drove me to start the African Wildlife Club in South Africa, which was a club for conservation and nature enthusiasts.  The club arranged social events, wildlife courses, lectures and tours around Africa and it offered assistance to conservation bodies and trusts.

I, along with my husband and two small boys (aged 3 and 7 at the time) moved to England in 1997. We started and owned an Interior Decorating magazine, which I was editor of.  My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 at which time I stopped working for the first time in my life, so that I could spend time with her. Later, that year, feeling rather rudderless, I started in a part time capacity to assist the BBC World Affairs Editor, John Simpson (who also happens to be my brother-in-law) with his day to day business.  Working with John lead to the conception of Kruger Cowne.  I became John’s agent and manager and started an agency.  Around this time, my husband met Bill Wyman at a party and Bill joined the agency as a client. Between John and Bill, the word spread that we ran our business differently from other agencies – we are transparent, know our products (clients) well, work to achieve the best for both client and customer with a personable approach – and, through them, we were introduced to a number of other high profile people who became our clients.  We established Kruger Cowne and built our client base from just two names in 2000 to more than 300 people on our roster today. We now look after individuals from all industries. Our stable includes Elle Macpherson, Bob Geldof, Dave Stewart, Joe Walsh, Emmanuel Jal, Boris Becker and Lily Cole, all of whom we look after exclusively for public appearances and speaking engagements.

I hated school and I only ever wanted to run my own business. I was always full of ideas and couldn’t get started quick enough.

Why did you start your business?

Kruger Cowne was formed serendipitously.  As I mentioned, during my mother’s illness I started working with John Simpson and dealt with numerous enquiries from agents, asking him to appear as a keynote and after dinner speaker.  I soon realised that John needed an agent and a manager who could look after his needs.  I had no experience, other than running a small model agency in South Africa some years before and I was more concerned about John, not being handled properly by agents, pretending to represent him and taking huge fees and commissions, instead of passing on to him what he was really due. My husband’s background is in marketing and advertising and I asked him to assist me. We dived into the deep end with this business as neither of us knew anything about the industry.  We learnt all we know today by experience and trial and error. Overall though it was still marketing products to markets, recognising and developing their USP’s and growing our brand.

What appealed to you about setting up your own business?

I hated school and I only ever wanted to run my own business. I was always full of ideas and couldn’t get started quick enough.  I also needed money, which was a big enough incentive. When I tasted the sweet smell of ice cream… and success, I knew I would never look back. Nothing was easy. I started a few ventures, which didn’t always succeed, including the ice cream business, but I was determined to make things work and when one venture failed I simply started something new. I am a firm believer that when one door shuts another opens.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Leaving behind my family, friends, country and love of Africa & nature and starting from scratch in a new country, with not a single friend, contact or connection. The concrete jungle was a far cry from everything I loved and I felt like I was in exile in the UK to begin with. London was difficult to conquer, but with the support of my husband and having my two young boys with me, I persisted.

What’s been your greatest achievement personally?

I honestly don’t believe I’ve achieved anything amazing. I’m not an astronomer or a heart surgeon. I’m not a hugely talented artist. I can’t sing to save my life, I can’t ice-skate and until very recently I couldn’t even ride a bicycle. My achievements must be based on personal goals and I guess making a success of anything is an achievement.  My sons think I’m a reasonably cool mother and I’m happy with my nurturing nature towards people and animals.  I believe having the ability to work with people, to understand them, respect them, have endless patience and empathy is an achievement.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?

I would be back in Africa – studying entomology, running a little Bush Lodge, taking a multitude of wildlife photographs and trying wherever possible to help overcome the dreadful poaching issues – that is a dream and a goal and I hope that will be part of my ‘retirement’.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

I am very lucky to have met some fantastic and very inspirational people. Dr Jane Goodall DBE always springs to mind and, apologies if this sounds like a cliché, but the person I’ve met who made me feel truly humble was the late, great Nelson Mandela. I am inspired by greatness and by big achievers though.  Ultimately I believe the significant scientists and great artists (composers & lyricists, painters, authors and poets) are the supreme beings on our gorgeous planet – and then I will never forget my mother.

What does the future hold for you?

Cracking on with business. Every new day is exciting. Whilst we do currently represent some of our primary clients for activities in addition to public appearances and speaking, such as brand ambassadorships, corporate music events, TV, Radio, advertising, books and licensing deals, we are now expanding our business to focus more on these areas and develop opportunities for the balance of our clients. We have just taken on new offices and we are aiming to recruit more staff.  It is still a slow growth for us, but we have enjoyed growing the business organically and I believe this is partly why we’ve been successful.  Even in the huge economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, when a lot of our competitors fell on hard times and were laying off staff, we continued to expand internationally. As the American markets crashed, we replaced them with new territories, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Norway. We continue to work hard to maintain our status as one of the leaders in our industry and to grow our good name.

My eldest son has joined the company recently and I hope my other son will too after he completes his studies. I hope they will help us to further build Kruger Cowne. When I do retire I would feel that I had achieved something by being able to leave a successful company in the capable hands of my two sons.

For more information visit: http://www.krugercowne.com/

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