You took a summer job in a hairdressing salon at the age of 16 and completely reorganised the place. How did you have the confidence to do that?
“I’ve always had an inner confidence. I knew jobs that needed doing and have never been afraid of getting on and doing them.”
Where did that come from? Did your parents encourage that spirit?
“Yes, I think so. I was at boarding school from a very early age. Being on my own a lot and being able to get on with things, I think that helped. Pushing myself.”
What’s the best piece of inspirational advice you’ve been given on leadership during your career?
“My grandma used to have a saying: ‘You should never look down on people when you could be helping them up’. So that’s about inspiring people to be the best they can be. When you run a company, it’s about caring where everyone is and helping them get to where they want to go. It’s about creating a truly entrepreneurial company and everyone doing everything within their skill set to make it a success.
“I wanted to create a business that’s the type of place I would have wanted to work when I was 18. A workplace that encouraged me, that listened to me, that was somewhere I enjoyed going rather than somewhere I had to go.”
How do you find time to make that happen when you are trying to run a business?
“You have to spend time with people and be prepared to listen. You have to be prepared to take the good and the bad. I wanted a business where everyone has ownership of it, where people challenge me and people can say what they think without fear of retribution. Someone has to be the leader and make the decisions so it’s not about being liked all the time. But listening and communicating are the two greatest skills you need to run a business.”
Do leaders always know that?
“People who are successful in business know that.”
What is the difference between leading a sports business and coaching a sports team?
“There is very little difference. Wherever you work, you want to be motivated, you want to be inspired, you want to be confident about your performance, you want to feel that people care about the contribution you make. That’s true on the pitch or off it.”
Who is your hero, business or otherwise?
“Mentoring is a modern phenomenon. When I left school at 18 I literally left school and started work. It was: ‘Go out and earn a living’. So there wasn’t somebody mentoring me. Women now have been encouraged to emulate people, to take inspiration from people and be ambitious, which is great.”
You had surgery for a potentially fatal brain aneurysm in 2006. How did that experience change your attitude to work and business?
“It puts things into perspective. The only thing I think the majority of people are scared of is dying. Life is short and you’ve got to make the most of it. If you are not enjoying something, you need to move on and stop doing it.
“I take a bit more time off. I have stopped worrying about the minutiae so much and concentrate more on the bigger picture.”
You’ve achieved a huge amount and are not yet 50. Do you ever look back and wonder how on earth it all happened or are you more of a forward-looker?
“I am definitely more of a forward-looker. I think most successful business people look forward to the next challenge as opposed to reflecting on past challenges. There are times you should reflect though, because life passes by so quickly and very often you don’t see what you have achieved. If I had jumped from leaving school to suddenly 30 years later being in the House of Lords, I wouldn’t believe it, but in between there has been an awful lot of hard work.”