Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background/career path?
I started in agencies and worked my way up. Went client side and then joined Haygarth to start the PR offering. I became Group MD, then CEO and then Chairman. Haygarth is a creative agency specialising in brand, shopper and retail marketing.
Always a rebel, I left home young and dropped out of Uni. I was always one to take the more difficult path!
Tell me about your agency. What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?
I didn’t set up Haygarth but I did inherit it and then lead a management buyout (MBO) to become a major shareholder. Haygarth is an integrated creative agency – always very entrepreneurial and commercial. It was acquired by DAS (part of Omnicom) in June 2014 we are now part of DDB. We are based in SW19 with over 100 talented employees delivering best practice marketing across a number of disciplines.
What do you think are the most important issues for developing your company culture?
Integrity, honesty, minimal politics – open comms has always been an essence of the biz. We were in the Sunday Times Best Companies for 10 years in a row (one of only two businesses in the UK to achieve it) so we obviously got something right!
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in business?
I think there is still a lot of unconscious bias out there. Sometimes being heard, sometimes being portrayed as a ‘b***h’ when you’re just clear and assertive. When I was younger it was easy to be patronised and finding gravitas I think is essential to have presence and be respected. Juggling small kids is a huge challenge as well as running a home with a supportive husband. Many senior men of a certain generation have a stay at home spouse.
The Wow Company’s recent survey of 471 agency owners across the UK has the figures as Female 27% – Male 73%. Can you share your thoughts on this?
I think it is changing. Running your own business takes a lot of risk and isn’t for the faint hearted. You definitely need to compromise work/home balance but it’s totally possible to achieve happiness in both. Women often and naturally question their own ability and assume ‘imposter syndrome’. Its been a great honour to head up an agency (and group of agencies!) and think that you can lead by example and set a real standard for everyone – male and female – on avoiding a macho culture and encouraging an inclusive and supportive environment, whilst still being clear and fair on the standards we all need to achieve.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
The best thing I did when I became CEO was to have a non-exec director on board who gave me a huge amount of help both in my own development, but also providing an objective view on the business.
Do you feel as a female agency founder, they offer the level of support you need? Do you need additional support that isn’t currently available?
I personally don’t – simply because I’ve got through the toughest stages, but I can see that a network for newer agency chiefs is attractive. I have had a huge amount of support from peers – whether clients or colleagues and find that strong women always support each other.
What other female founders inspire you?
Camilla Honey at JFDI did launch her own business and I’m always inspired by her amazing energy and drive. Equally a couple of ex Haygarth women have launched their own businesses – Gemma Whates of www.allbymama.com and Jane Laurie of word of mouth agency www.grapeviners.com – it’s a great privilege to see their businesses grow and support wherever possible
What do you think makes a great agency?
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
Be yourself. Have relentless energy and lead by example from the front and have unwavering passion to do great work.
Show integrity and honesty and don’t tolerate politics – share the good and the bad news to bring people with you. Creating a sense of shared momentum is one of the most exciting things to enjoy.
Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something and surround yourself with a brilliant team who balance you and each other out. Be fearless in decision making – don’t procrastinate (especially on the hard decisions). Finally, be commercial and know your business and your numbers inside out.