A DAY IN THE LIFE
Debra Charles, founder & CEO of Novacroft
Debra Charles is the founder and CEO of Novacroft, a smartcard tech company.
What time does your alarm go off?
I’m an early riser. I start the day by walking my dogs, Ralphy and Marley, in the woods near my home. I find that I get some of my most creative ideas when walking alone in those early hours; it clears my mind and sets me up for the day.
What are you responsible for?
Ultimately, I’m responsible for the entire business. This involves caring about the life and wellbeing of my team and our customers. I don’t take this responsibility lightly; it can be daunting, and often lonely, when the buck stops with you.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
As CEO and founder of Novacroft, I’ve crafted my own role. I founded Novacroft in 1998 when the internet was in its infancy, having seen great opportunities to use this online tool to make a difference to society, by using technology to simplify complexity. It’s taken pure energy, will and determination but I love my job.
Describe your typical day?
For me, every day is different, but overall I spend a good deal of time looking to the future of the business, which some days involves strategic planning tasks individually or with my team of managers, or hosting a team meeting and allowing the entire company to catch up in one room. It’s important that everyone in the business knows they are appreciated for the amazing things they do, turning vision into reality and helping us to grow, develop and disrupt markets, so these meetings are key.
Other days I’ll be attending meetings with prospective charity clients to discuss how, for example, we can help reduce the amount spent on time-consuming tasks, like processing applications, as well as open up the opportunity to increase membership, engagement and donations. This means the charities can direct more pennies in the pound to the cause they’re fighting for.
Most memorable moment?
I’ve always felt that making memories is what’s important, rather than the memories themselves. But of course some things stick in my mind more vividly than others; being part of the fabulous Red Bull Soapbox Race, with the team here — an amazing thing to be part of — and my recent Ski-Doo adventure in Sweden, what an incredible rush!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Stand out from the crowd and don’t be afraid to be different, that’s something I live by. I’m dyslexic, and it took me a long time to realise that the perceived barriers of dyslexia were barriers that I put in my own way and that the strength to overcome them came from me, from valuing myself and my own ideas. Now, I wear the label of dyslexia with confidence. It’s a positive difference that gives you a rare perspective. Thinking you have to conform to tradition holds people back.
What are the best things about your job?
It’s got to be the team around me, their commitment and drive are second to none. Not only that, but we have so much fun together. A happy, engaged team is the backbone of any business and makes your organisation an extremely attractive place to work.
How do you unwind after work?
By getting on a bike, walking my dogs again or driving a fast car.
Where do you go for personal and/or professional advice?
I have great links with Cranfield University’s School of Management, where I was part of the Business Growth Programme, and the IoD is a source of huge support to me. As a parent, sometimes looking at things through the eyes of the child can provide an answer; their simple, unspoiled view of the world provides me with inspiration every day.
What do you attend/read/watch to get ideas and inspiration?
I’ve read some fascinating stuff by Pamela McCorduck recently, on artificial intelligence, technology and the role of women. All things I'm very, very interested in. I also really love live music, a recent gig that stands out in my memory is Paloma Faith, I love that she isn’t afraid to be different; her show was full of light, colour, humour.
How do you stay productive throughout the day?
You have to have time for yourself and your own wellbeing if you’re going to be truly effective at work. I’m passionate about what I do so this is very challenging for me. I have to be disciplined. I walk the legs off my dogs, cycle, write stories, paint, and spend time with friends and family.
What would have been your alternative career?
My careers advisor suggested I leave school and joined the police, on account of me not being at all academic. I always wanted to be a dancer, though...
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