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The first lady of football

Young Apprentice 2012

She’s vice-chair of West Ham FC, Lord Sugar’s right-hand woman on The Apprentice and the UK’s most powerful businesswoman. Dawn Murden meets Karren Brady

When I decided to focus on female entrepreneurs this issue, one businesswoman sprung to mind immediately for our cover; Karren Brady.

I met Karren at the Nectar Business Small Business Awards and when she walked into the room, she owned it – she has a confident, serious business-like air about her, but she’s also elegantly feminine, friendly and attentive.

However, I couldn’t help feel a little in awe of Karren. She started her career aged 18, at Saatchi & Saatchi on its graduate scheme, despite never attending university, and swiftly moved on to London Broadcasting Company as a sales executive. She was tasked with selling adverts for an unpopular slot, and asked David Sullivan to advertise his Sports Newspapers. At first he declined, but Karren’s champion selling skills soon had him spending £2 million on advertising. Impressed with Karren, Sullivan offered her a job and within a year she became director of Sports Newspapers.

Four years later, Sullivan and Karren were looking for a new venture and purchased Birmingham City FC, which was in administration. Karren took over as managing director from 1993 to 2009 and turned the club’s fortunes around. Aged 23, she became the “first woman in football”, and when she floated the club on the stock market in 1997 she became the youngest MD of a UK public company.

In October 2009, the club, valued at £82 million, was sold. Three months later Karren was appointed vice-chair at West Ham FC after its purchase by David Sullvian and David Gold, the club’s joint chairmen.

Karren is also non-executive director of Mothercare, chairman of Kerrang! magazine, non-exec director of multi-national retail company Arcadia, and non-exec director of Simon Cowell’s marketing and production company Syco. She regularly appears in the media – most notably on TV as Lord Alan Sugar’s right-hand woman on BBC’s The Apprentice. She’s also an ambassador for charities; The Stroke Association, WellChild and the Teenage Cancer Trust.

How does she do it?

‘Finding a work/life balance is important,’ she told me. ‘You have to realise that you can’t do everything.’

Success runs in the family; her Irish father, Terry Brady was a self-made millionaire who owned a printing company and was once chairman of Swindon Town FC. She says her father, and mother Rita, taught her the value of hard work, but what drove her was a need for independence. ‘At boarding school nothing was mine,’ she says. ‘I wanted to be in control of my own destiny.’

To me, her confidence is most alluring and she says this is the quality many women struggle with in business. But when I mention a lack of females on corporate boards she replies: ‘Not on mine. 60% of my manager team are women.’

Karren is passionate about female entrepreneurs and SMEs, and they can all learn a thing or two from her.

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Sweeping up hair in a salon when I was 16… everyone thought I was just a kid, but by the end of the week I was  running the place

 

Why did you become involved with the Nectar Business Small Business Awards?

Small business is very important to me. I remember what it was like setting up my own business, taking that giant leap of faith, while everyone around you is trying to put you off the idea.

These awards give SMEs a platform and a seal of approval to help them grow.

What was your very first job?

Sweeping up hair in a salon when I was 16. On my first day I know everyone thought I was just a kid, but by the end of the week I was practically running the place. I’d re-organised their appointments and their pricing system.

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?

From a young age I had one ambition; to be independent. I went to boarding school where nothing is your own, not even your bed. Everyone else controls your life, they tell you what to eat, when to sleep – I wanted to be in control of my own destiny. I knew I needed money to do that, so I identified what I was good at. I was a good communicator, creative, and good at sales, so I went into advertising.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in business?

As a small business owner – getting investment, finding the right employees, being prepared to learn the business along the way because I didn’t know everything. I had to learn every skill I could and constantly update them, and if I couldn’t learn particular skills I had to employ someone who had them. I had to work out my sales and marketing strategy, I had to figure out how to promote, how to tell my story, and my budget strategy.

Now, I employ 800 people – I have to make sure all of those people feel a part of the business, that they are well paid, and they’re able to follow their dream in the company. I have to create a great culture.

What are the biggest issues facing female entrepreneurs?

The ability to manage a business and have a family. It keeps most females awake; I used to think, “How do I get to my child’s sports day and the board meeting at the same time?”

I had to accept I couldn’t do everything. You have to accept that sometimes business is more important, and other times, family is more important.

My two girls are in their teens now. My diary is colour-coded so I can manage my life/work balance and devote time to each.

I also think fear and a lack of confidence can stand in the way of women. Men get knocked back after applying for a job and don’t think twice about reapplying. Whereas women will “um and ah” about it.

What would your advice be to fellow female entrepreneurs?

Make sure you’re being taken seriously. Be confident and promote yourself – if you don’t credit yourself, who will?

I’d also suggest seeking a mentor to help guide you.

The Apprentice 2013

“Men get knocked back after applying for a job and don’t think twice about re-applying. Whereas women will”

 

How did you first get involved with BBC’s The Apprentice?

The show was already successful and well known before I joined. I met Alan when he was chairman at Tottenham and we became friends. I appeared on Comic Relief Does The Apprentice as a team leader and returned as a guest interviewer in series four. When Margaret Mountford left, I stepped in.

There is a lot of praise for the show but also many critics. What would you say to those critics who complain the show doesn’t represent real life or business?

You have to look at the outcome of the show. From the last series alone three businesses have been set up, with £250,000 invested. It may be a TV show but it has serious objectives. It might not always be truthful to life or business but it’s a positive show.

You are involved in a lot of businesses right across the board, which of your ventures is most connected to your hobbies?

My hobby is business. I’m interested in different people and different businesses; I’m interested in their ideas, challenges, and so on.

I enjoy everything I do, when you stop enjoying something you stop doing it.

You’re known as the “first woman in football”, how does this title make you feel?

Old! It was 20 years ago.

 

The Apprentice 2013

“When I joined West Ham [it] was in £100 million worth of debt. Now we’re looking to move to the Olympic stadium in 2016 and are reporting profit”

 

Do you enjoy football because I’ve read a few articles that you don’t?

Yes I do like football, and I don’t know why some people say I don’t! I’m in my 20th year in football.

When you became MD of Birmingham City you were just 23, were you nervous?

No – I was excited. When you’re young you’re thick skinned. I had a plan. I was positive, dogged, full of energy, and determination. The first year I became MD the club made profit for the first time.

Building a culture was the hardest thing, renewing the structure and building that togetherness a business needs.

What does the future hold?

When I joined West Ham the club was in £100 million worth of debt. Now we’re moving to the Olympic stadium in 2016 and are reporting profit for the first time since I joined.

A few fooball fans have criticised the move to the Olympic stadium. How will this help West Ham?

There are many great stadiums in the UK, but there’s only one Olympic Stadium. It’s iconic and world class, it will transform the business model and our branding, and it will it expand our spectator base.

In regards to seating, we are currently working on a £200 million plan, the stadium will have four sides of retractable seating, and so spectators won’t be further away from the pitch.

The Apprentice 2013

‘Being stubborn works’ – James Caan

He’s a serial entrepreneur, CEO of private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw, and is worth an approximate £70m. Former Dragon James Caan tells Dawn Murden about his determination for success and how his business was built on love 

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Ever since he came onto our screens breathing fiery business advice and looking for lucrative investments in BBC’s Dragons’ Den in 2007, James Caan has been a household name. Everyone knows who the British-Pakistani entrepreneur is. But what do we know about the man himself?

When I first spoke to James Caan, one thing was clear, he’s one determined individual. But this was the case from a very young age. His father owned a successful leather goods company and one day hoped James would take it over.

However, James wanted to make it on his own, and even though he came from a liberal Muslim family, this
was unheard of at the time.

‘I was a very stubborn individual,’ he told me.

So at age 16, James left home before he began his O-levels.

James was born Nazim Khan, but when he watched The Godfather and saw Caan on the credits it struck him that he could spell his name differently. His friends started calling him James Caan and a few years later he changed his name by deed poll, much to his father’s disapproval.

The first company James started was with his now wife Aisha. She wanted to set up her own boutique, so James acquired £30,000 via credit cards and overdrafts and made her dream come true. At 21, they tied the knot and now have two children together.

With the profits from the boutique he set up recruitment company, Alexander Mann in 1985, which he sold in 2002. Then in 2004 he set up Mayfair-based private equity firm, Hamilton Bradshaw, which has a reported revenue of around £400 million.

James was born to be an entrepreneur, and he agrees; ‘I can’t honestly think of anything else I’d rather be doing!’ he said.

When James left Dragons’ Den there were reports of spats with fellow dragon, Duncan Bannatyne, but James said he left to concentrate on his business and charity work.

And so, Hamilton Bradshaw continues to grow, while his charity, the James Caan Foundation, promotes greater awareness of issues facing the developing world. He is a partner of a long list of companies as well as chairing the Government-funded Start Up Loans scheme, which helps young people across the UK start their own businesses.

He also continues to be a TV personality with his own series on CNBC, The Business Class where he discusses the key issues facing SMEs today.

As you see he’s a busy man so I was lucky to grab him for a chat!

I understand your father was an entrepreneur. Why did you set up on your own rather than joining the family business?

I’ve known from a young age that I wanted to stand on my own two feet, do my own thing and make it myself. Naturally my father wasn’t very pleased, and from then on my determination grew even more. I had to prove that I could be a success without him, that I had made the right decision. Keep in mind I had moved out as well, which was unheard of in our culture at the time. I was a very stubborn individual.

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When you launched your business how did you get your start-up cash?

There are now many ways in which start-ups can secure finance. But when I started out things were different so I had to be creative. The first business I started was actually with Aisha, who is now my wife. In a bid to impress her, I offered to help her start a clothing boutique business. I didn’t actually have the money, so I took out three separate credit cards with banks that had overdraft facilities. I didn’t tell her, and before I knew it, I had £30,000 to help her start her business.

Once the business I had with Aisha was going well, I started up Alexander Mann from some of the profits. However, I always followed the principle of not taking more out of the business then it could afford. At that time all I needed to start a recruitment agency was an office, a telephone and a copy of the Yellow Pages. I rented a tiny, windowless office the size of a broom cupboard in Pall Mall and got calling.

Was your success instant or hard won?

It’s definitely hard work; you rarely get instant success in business. In particular, the early days of my first business were extremely difficult – I didn’t have a brand or track record, so I experienced countless rejections. I went for a walk one day and then realised how I should alter my pitch. From there things started to kick on.

It still took many years of hard work to get to the point where Alexander Mann became a global brand with a multi-million pound turnover. When I started my current business, Hamilton Bradshaw, in some ways it was even more difficult because it had been quite a few years since I had been in the position of starting up. Even now, when we are established as a leading private equity firm, I am regularly in the office late at nights and on weekends.

What would your advice be to first-time businesses that are experiencing difficulties in the economic climate?

Having good cash flow is essential at any time, but particularly in the current climate. The success of a business will come down to the liquidity, and I would advise business owners to look carefully at the money going in and out of the company. Tighten up things like payment terms and look at how you can make your business more efficient. However, self-belief is just as important. Rather than listening to all the doom and gloom, have faith in your business and look at what you can do to help yourself through any difficulties.

What’s the best and worst things about being an entrepreneur?

I love the adrenalin of doing deals and the ability to be my own boss. I think every entrepreneur feels the same. You have the opportunity to control what you do – you can turn your passion into a business and what you earn. The worst thing would probably be the fact that, particularly at the start, things can be lonely. You are often having to manage everything yourself; and this is why I wish I had a mentor
in my early days. It’s something I passionately encourage all entrepreneurs to do. Having somebody experienced who can offer you advice
is invaluable.

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Did you enjoy your time on BBC’s Dragons’ Den? Have you watched the new series? What do you make of the new dragons?

Shows such as Dragons’ Den  and The Apprentice are a great way to approach the problems that SMEs and entrepreneurs face today. I thoroughly enjoyed being on Dragons’ Den and found it exhilarating to meet such diverse entrepreneurs with incredible ideas. Kelly and Piers have a great reputation in their industries, and I can’t wait to see what businesses they invest in.

You also had your series on CNBC, The Business Class. Do you enjoy being on television? 

I do enjoy it, although my main focus will always be the day job. A lot of the time it can be good for business, and not just from a profile point of view. I am an investor and am always on the lookout for opportunities, so what Dragons’ Den did was allow me to be in an environment where I had access to these opportunities. To get hundreds of people pitching ideas to me was a great experience. I hope to do more TV in the very near future. [Watch this space!]

Every month we feature a Start Up Loan recipient, the scheme chaired by you. How important do you think investing in UK SMEs is?

As far as I am concerned, small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. I have always been a keen supporter of them, and the fact that we now have more than 4.8 million SMEs in the country shows that Britain is one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. We should be doing everything we can to encourage them to grow, and I think the Government schemes in place now, such as Start Up Loans, are a big help towards this. The more SMEs we can encourage, the more jobs they will create so I can only see positive outcomes from backing them.

It’s a goldrush!

Everyone loves a rags to riches story and Laban Roomes’s tale is platinum gold. His company Goldgenie customises and sells gold plated luxury items, popular with celebrities like the Beckhams and Elton John – a far cry from his modest East London roots

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Life is all about playing the hand you’re dealt, something Laban Roomes knows well. His Jamaican parents split when he was four years old and his mother brought Laban and his sister up single-handedly in Leytonstone. Life was tough, but at age nine Laban refused to sit back and accept a life of free school dinners and missed opportunities.

‘Despite Mum working three jobs we never had enough money – I was determined to change that.

‘One day I went out and brought some shears and knocked on our neighbours’ doors offering my services.’

Cutting hedges, washing cars – Laban did everything he could for money and by age 12 he was bringing home more money than his mum.

As he grew up he started buying cars in the UK and selling them in Jamaica for a profit. This venture was doing so well by age 19 he’d paid off his Mum’s mortgage.

A few years later he moved to Jamaica to concentrate on his business, but on arrival disaster struck. His business partner had sold all his assets behind his back and his mother was taken ill.

‘I returned to the UK with nothing but £80 in my pocket,’ says Laban. ‘I’d tried my hand at social work but was sick of that.

‘I knew I was good at selling.’

That’s when he remembered a man he’d seen gold plating cars in America.

‘He gold plated wheels and emblems and made $2000 a day,’ Laban says. ‘I wanted to do this, but make more money.’

So Laban borrowed £1500 from a friend, designed a portable 24 ct. gold plating machine and Goldgenie was born. Determined to secure a big deal, and fed up of the car dealerships ignoring his letters, he turned up at a Lexus car convention and gave a demonstration on gold plating.

‘Overnight I had deals with 11 Lexus car dealerships and spent the next five years gold plating thousands of emblems,’ Laban says. ‘But one of the biggest challenges was that my company grew too fast.

‘I drove to every inch of the UK dressed in a boiler suit trying to meet demands.

‘Then one day my van blew up on the way to Bristol.

‘I could have been inside it, by this time I had a wife and two sons to think about.

‘It was time for the business to evolve.’

Laban decided to offer business opportunities, helping others set up on their own, while spreading the Goldgenie name and ultimately taking some of the work load off himself.

‘We gave entrepreneurs a plating machine and trained them – I felt like I was giving something back,’ Laban says.

However, it wasn’t long before this gave something back to him.

‘One of our business opportunities had to close due family illness, so he asked me to take over,’ Laban says. ‘One of the first orders I picked up was gold plating a Nokia 8800.

‘I saw a market in this, and I was right.

‘I had to pitch a tent in the garden and recruit my wife and sons to deal with demands!’

Laban embraced this goldrush like an astute miner. Especially when he received an email from the organisers of the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles asking him to gold plate 55 mobile phones to be given to the awards winners, which included Denzel Washington and Helen Mirren.

‘My business was evolving like I’d hoped,’ Laban says.

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Business continued to go well and in 2007 Laban agreed to go on BBC’s Dragons’ Den.

‘I’d been asked to go on the show twice before, but I’d refused out of fear.

‘I was terrified they’d ridicule me – then a good friend of mine passed away, I realised I had nothing to lose.’

None of the Dragons seemed interested, but when Laban gave his final plea he saw a sparkle in James’s eyes before he agreed to invest £60,000.

‘It wasn’t about the money,’ says Laban. ‘It was about having him as a mentor and he was worth his weight in gold – literally!’

Goldgenie began to offer international master franchises as well as low entry business opportunities in the UK. The product line also expanded, introducing iPhones and iPads, which Laban and his team embellished with Swarovski and gold.

‘Soon our items were on the shelves in Harrods and Selfridges,’ Laban says. ‘James’s influence gave us the boost we needed.’

A number of celebrities, including Victoria and David Beckham, Elton John and Usain Bolt bought their own Goldgenie gold plated BlackBerrys and iPhones too.

‘We gave David a gold iPod as a present when he got his 100th cap for England – it felt good to treat a fellow Leytonstone boy, plus Victoria has bought a number of our items.’

In 2011 Laban bought James Caan’s share of the business, and as James once helped him, he now invests his time and money in aspiring entrepreneurs.

‘We’re always helping launch new business opportunities and franchises,’ Laban says. ‘We’re also looking to invest in new start-ups in a scheme we call “Online Dragon”.’

As well as investing in people, Goldgenie believes in guilt-free luxury and uses gold suppliers who share their values that human rights of miners must be respected and that the environmental impact must be kept to a minimum.

Laban’s ambitious and unstoppable, so it comes as no surprise he’s not starstruck by his celebrity customers or blinded by success.

‘Of course my upbringing spurred me on, but I can’t imagine not being where I am today,’ Laban says. ‘I had to grow up pretty quickly and I missed out on some things, but now life is in [itals]my[end itals] hands.’

Laban may not have had the best start in life, but it seems in business he dealt himself a royal flush, and now everything he touches turns to gold…

 

Vital statistics

Company founded: January 1995

Start up capital: £1500

Turnover: £1m

Profit: £700,000

Growth rate: When we first went online I made about £1000 a week, now it’s around £80,000 a month

Biggest achievement: It will always be paying off my Mum’s mortgage, because it spurred me on in business

 

Contact: www.goldgenie.com

 

 

Enter the dragon

Duncan Bannatyne laughs off the preconceptions in our exclusive interview…

He’s a slick and, at times, fearsome entrepreneur, has outstayed all but one of his fellow Dragons in the Den, and comes packaged with views on politics and social affairs that would make even Jeremy Paxman wince. Yet despite a jet set lifestyle that sees the 62-year-old juggle London, the north-east and the French Riviera – as well as a diverse range of businesses linked only by the name of the majority shareholder at Companies House – Duncan Bannatyne is a true gentleman.

Invited to his pad in London’s swanky Covent Garden, there’s no sign of the snarling businessman who exacts an effortless Glaswegian snub to the ambitions of entrepreneurs on the hit BBC1 show. Instead, coffee is laid on, there’s the smell of croissants in the air, and for someone worth an estimated £430m, there’s not even the slightest feeling of urgency.

‘You’ve caught me on my holidays,’ he smiles. ‘This is one of the 15 weeks off I allow myself each year. I’d usually be with my kids, preferably relaxing around the pool in our place in France, but certainly away from work and everything that entails.’

His schedule has been hectic of late though. The completion of the ninth series of Dragon’s Den leads his annual reflection as to whether it should be his last…

The full interview will appear in a future issue of Talk Business. Click here to subscribe to receive the magazine.