Karren Brady's lessons for success
Former managing director of Birmingham City FC Karren Brady - now an author, novelist, TV broadcaster, politician and newspaper columnist - shared her knowledge of growing a business from the brink of administration to selling for more than £80m with Xerocon attendees yesterday.
Brady reflected on her experience of buying Birmingham FC as a 23-year-old. In addition to becoming MD of a club that was as she puts it, "falling down", she also faced the challenge of being young and a woman in a male-dominated world.
One press reporter at the time told her she had, in want of a more polite phrase, copious amounts of confidence usually represented by a certain male appendage. This, Brady said, was something any small business owner needs to have.
And her confidence stood her in good stead.
From accounting practises across departments to the accounts department itself, Brady found she was left with the challenge of modernising and bringing a good culture into a company that had no goals and no direction.
The first hire she made, she said, was her accountant - who to date, since 1993, is still acting for her. From her talk, the value of accounts and accounting within the football club was seen as one of the most important issues for Brady.
Manual accounts and payroll were still being done within the club - there were no PCs - which meant footballers and staff had to line up to be paid via brown envelopes every week. In one example, a player's sign on fee was given to another of a similarly spelled wrong name where the accounts assistant had written in the wrong box in the cash book.
"It was then I realised the enormity of my task," she said.
Figures were also being massaged in departments, with interdepartmental invoices being sent to try to keep up a 60% programme sales rate - when in reality one department was invoicing another for programmes given away to certain attendees of football matches for free.
One of the first things Brady changed, she said, was the culture.
"You need to motivate people's hearts and minds; give them passion and entrepreneurial spirit and make them part of the organisation, feel part of the 'inner circle'," she said.
"Nothing is ever achieved alone when you're running a small business. It's all achieved with team work and listening to people with an open mind."
She put goals in place and created expectations for people - and eventually things started to change.
The football playing and facilities of the club weren't much to offer to customers alone, she found. There was nothing different the club could offer next to bigger and better nearby clubs like Aston Villa. So she started to change the culture of the business from the inside, using the only real asset the club had - people.
And as, she discovered, there was nothing much to offer customers as the standard of both the football and facilities weren't up to scratch, she realised she had to work with the only asset she had, people, and started to build the brand.
The club decided to make itself known in the community, and hired 35 community officers to teach people about healthy eating and living.
In addition, it also started schemes to offer lower priced football matches to kids, lone parents and children who received school dinners for free. It also hired 12 full time teachers.
Brady was also faced with the challenge of bringing various parts of the club together in a spirit of unity. Using an example of two 18 year olds, one working for £15,000 a year at the ticket office, another for £15,000 a week as a footballer, how, she asked, could you get both to buy into the same ethos and make them see the value of one another?
One solution, she said, was to get the footballers to work one day a month in the ticket office to appreciate the value of hard work at the forefront. The result was that both footballer and ticket seller came to learn the value of one another's place in the organisation and therefore respect.
And those who did not learn respect, as Brady illustrated in a footballer who made a disparaging remark to her and was then sold to another team - would not be part of the culture.
After a bumpy ride bringing the club's management and operation into the modern world, Brady sold the club on in 2009 for £81.5m. That year was the club's sixth season in the Premier League, and Brady went on to become vice president of West Ham FC the following year.
In addition to her story, she shared some tips on what businesses - and accountants - need to do to succeed.
- Good leadership - The true sign of a good leader is how they behave when they don't know what to do. Those that weather for example recessions well, are those who listen to clients or customers and make the right decisions based on what must be done rather than what they want to do
- Ambition - Without this, no one would ever have started anything, Brady said. Using the example of Lord Sugar with whom she films The Apprentice, she says despite his success he is the first person on the set and the last one to leave. "The toughest thing about being successful is that once you are, you have to keep on being successful. You need to be driven by your ambition," she said
- Determination - This, Brady said, is the one key thing to her success. You will suffer defeat and even failure, but determination is how you pick yourself up. One of the toughest things to do is to find your backbone and grit your teeth, and to keep going sometimes, she said
- Attitude - If you don't like something then change it, if you can't change it, you need to change your attitude about it
- Direction - Know where you want to go. Brady said that since school-leaving age, she always knew she wanted to be independent and so took the work rather than university route. Know what direction you want to go in and your determination, persistence and ambition will bring you along the way
- Be positive
What are your top tips for success? Do you drive good culture in your firm - or like Brady, do something that bit different to give back to the community?