If there’s one woman to give advice about starting a business, it’s Karren Brady. She began her journey as a trainee at Saatchi & Saatchi before moving up to director at Sport Newspapers aged 20, and then made headlines when she became Birmingham City F.C.’s Managing Director at 23. Impressive. Aside from her early success, she was awarded CBE in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to entrepreneurship and women in business, and recently joined The Lords as Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge in the City of Westminster.
But of course, we know her as Lord Sugar’s aide on one of our favourite shows, The Apprentice. In the current series so far, we’ve had shock double eliminations, the usual snide comments and some questionable product inventions. She amazingly found time to chat to us about careers, young people (that’s you – hello), being in business and of course, how she’s finding the current series.
What did you see yourself doing when you were growing up?
I was at boarding school from a very early age, so I think by the time I was 18 there was only one thing I wanted, and that was independence. I wanted go out into the world, make my own decisions, and be financially independent as well, and that meant having a job. So that’s what I did, and I started my career at the very bottom of the run; I always say to people, it’s not about the first job you get, it’s about getting your foot on that ladder, because at least then you can climb it.
So would you say your career took off when you got your first job?
Definitely! You know, I was full of enthusiasm for having this job; I was the first person in, and the last person to leave, and I was engaged in my business and the business I was working in. I wanted to do well and I think those are really good basic skills to start with.
How do you think young people can stand out in this competitive job market?
I think it’s really important to start young; if you start at an early age and get work experience, you get to start understanding what happens in an office. You also start to understand how people do business, and actually having a personality, being enthusiastic, engaging with other people and being able to communicate is really important. When your potential employer is looking across all the CVs and wondering who to give an opportunity to, you’re got to be prepared to invest spare time into yourself and get the skills an employer is looking for. As a mum to an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old, I understand how important it is for us to encourage young people to do that. There’s still a lot to do because youth unemployment is so high, but at least they have the power to try and take responsibility of the situation for themselves.
Being a successful businesswoman, what skills would you say are most important for young people to gain?
I think it’s about experience, and you can get that from an early age with work experience. You can work anywhere and learn something. Even if it’s small things; like knowing not to use your mobile phone at work, not taking long breaks, knowing how to answer a phone, and engage with people. Those are skills a lot of young people don’t know about, and there is this big transition – the hugest transition I think you have in your life, between leaving school and starting working, and if you’re not ready, and you don’t know what’s expected of you, it makes that transition even harder.
If you were looking back and giving advice to your 16-year-old self, would you tell yourself these things?
I think that’s quite a hard thing to do because I’m 45 now, and you forget your own 16-year-old self, but I do have a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old so I’ll share with you the advice I’d give them. Very, very, very few people in the world know at 16 what they want to do because they don’t know what they’re capable of. So I always say to my kids, “Don’t think about the job, think about the pathway to the job”; what kind of environment would you like to work in? A career lasts a lifetime, and if you can find something you really love, it makes life so much better for you.
Obviously everyone is glued to The Apprentice at the moment. How have you found this series?
I think it’s amazing. We’ve got more candidates this year, because being 10th year, Alan (Ed note: Lord Sugar to the rest of us) has decided to give 20 young people the opportunity to go into business with him, and it’s interesting. It’s made it a bit more manic for Nick and I running around after all these people, but it’s interesting that we know when they come into the boardroom and we see them for the first time, that they have some level of success. The tasks Alan devises are all there to test whether they can actually start the business and see if they have the skills, the know-how, the energy, and all the strategy. And as we often see, some people clearly don’t.
Are there any skills young people think they’d need to do well in the show but are actually mistaken?
No, not really. Business is about getting on with people, being able to communicate, having an idea, being able to execute it, being able to converse, and having transferable skills; so if you’re a good sales person, you have to be able to sell yourself to an employer if you want a job. You have to be able to sell your business in a corporate fashion, maybe to your financers, you have to sell your product to your customers, so you have to have a different strategy to deal with all those things. But actually, there’s a common thread among them all, to know what you’re talking about, be able to converse, practise what you’re doing, and be prepared to learn as you go along.
There are many young people who want to start their own business but don’t know where to start. What are some of the first steps they need to take?
Well the first thing is to spot a gap in the market; why is your product or service different to anybody else’s? Also being able to articulate clearly what it is, because if you can’t articulate it, your customers can’t understand it. You need to work out a business plan, and more importantly, have your action plan. Then you have to test the product, or the service, and I don’t mean on your mum! I mean on someone who will give you an honest opinion about whether you truly have spotted a gap in the market, and then you need to test that. And I think the 5th thing is, really understand that the Government has put things in place to help business than ever before; you can get a £10,000 start-up loan and a business mentor.
Karren Brady is the chairman of LifeSkills, and initiative funded by Barclays. Just like GTB, LifeSkills is all about helping you guys get on that career ladder. The scheme focuses on the skills you need to succeed, such as how to be confident, doing a good interview (pretty important!), and writing a great CV that will wow employers. From the massive 650,000 young people who have been on this programme, they all admit to becoming more work-ready, tackling the age-old problem of youth unemployment. Because in all honesty, the more help they can get, the better. Work experience is high on their agenda, too, after finding that 90% of young people have learned something they didn’t know before while being on a placement. It’s allllll about experience!
If you liked our interview with Karren, check out the other people we’ve met: