Baroness Karren Brady's 10 secrets to success

Best known for her roles as Vice-Chairman of West Ham United Football Club, and Small Business Ambassador for the UK government, Karren reveals her invaluable advice for leaders growing any enterprise.

At the age of 16, Karren was turned down for a checkout job at Waitrose on the basis that she was ‘too glamorous’ for the position. She described it as “one of the most preposterous things I’ve ever heard.”

Their loss would prove to be LBC’s gain. Three years later, she joined the radio broadcaster’s sales and marketing department and was soon making more in commission than the rest of the sales team combined.

In 1992, Karren was only 23 when she was appointed as Managing Director of Birmingham City Football Club. At the time, the club had just come out of administration and within 11 years the Blues had won promotion into the Premier League. Both at Birmingham and now at West Ham United, Karren has actively championed greater diversity within senior management.

In 2013, she was appointed as the government’s Small Business Ambassador and, of course, millions of viewers have watched her on TV as one of Lord Sugar’s advisers in The Apprentice.

With 30 years of business experience to draw from, Karren offers her 10 rules for being successful…

1. To be able to work persistently hard is a quality that not a lot of people have. You stand out if you’re prepared to do the stuff that’s not much fun

2. I’ve met some leaders who have refused to hire good people because they worry they may put their own position at risk. These are my least favourite type of people. If you care about what you do, you want to employ the best, and that may well mean you employ people better than you. But in doing so, you have shown your strength as a leader.

3. People can be shy of approaching their boss with ideas. But good bosses love nothing more than people saying, ‘I’ve got this great idea and I know how to implement it and this is the effect it’ll have on the company.’ It’s all about taking that first step.

4. We took a massive leap of faith (at West Ham) in bidding to move to the Olympic Stadium. The hardest fights are the ones really worth winning. I believe you regret only the things you don’t do, not those you do. You get one life and one career. Don’t end either asking yourself: ‘What if?’

5. In setting your goals, you need to be realistic about your talents. I love art but can’t draw. But sometimes you can take your greatest skills for granted. Many women come to me and say, ‘I’ve been stuck at home with the children for 10 years and I don’t know what I’m good at.’ Well, for a start, you’re organised, can budget, and can manage people well.

6. As a parent with a career, you can’t be there all the time. Don’t beat yourself up. Listen to your children; they will let you know if they need more of you. Accept that you can’t do everything, and ultimately, you’ll make the right decisions at the right time about where you need to focus. Most important, it’ll make sure you never waste a second of the time you DO have.

7. In the office, I like to get everything up on a board, so I can visualise things more easily, and work out what needs to be done, by when, and who’s responsible. In the end, though, you need decisions, and that comes down to leadership. You can have the best team-work and planning in the world, but ultimately, it all falls apart unless the boss is prepared to take a decision when the pressure is on.

8. Good negotiation is also about persuasion. When we’re doing a deal for a footballer, we have more to offer than just money: an ethos; an exciting future; an amazing fanbase. But I always remember there are alternatives. The worst possible mind-set to have in a negotiation is to think: ‘I have to have that, I can’t have anything other than that.’ There’s always another option to help you achieve the same goals.

9. Most people haven’t got a clue about their company’s finances. Have an eye for things that will make and/or save money, and you’ll stand out. As a manager, you need to engage your staff with the financial side of the business and train them to think like entrepreneurs.

10. People want to know you’re doing everything you can to run the business efficiently and have faith in your ability. If there’s a problem, they want to hear: ‘I can resolve this, and here’s how.’ What they want, above all, is hope and belief in the people, the plan and the strategy.

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