What does it take make it in the big, bad world of business today? Working Girl-worthy shoulder pads? An ice-cold countenance that instils terror in all within a 10-metre radius? A penchant for ruthless manipulation? If you answered yes to any of the above, we urge you to kick these assumptions into the long grass, throw some think music around the situation, and give it 110%. You can even synergize if you must.
In plain English? Lose the clichés. We tracked down the capital’s hippest and most successful female entrepreneurs and asked them to pass on the one piece of advice that changed their direction and made them who they are today.
All you have to do? Read, digest — and then go forth and conquer. We just ask that you remember to thank (read: reimburse) us when you too become a bonafide high roller….
Sharmadean Reid, founder of WAH nail salon, style blogger and trend consultant
“The best thing I've taught myself is to be absolutely fearless in your decision making. It's only with fearlessness that you can step into unknown territory and push things forward. And if you're not pushing things forward, why bother? When I told everyone I was going to open a nail salon, a lot of people laughed at me saying nail art was tacky, or that they were really front businesses for organised crime and I wouldn't make any money. I didn't have the first clue about opening a salon, managing staff, or dealing with a customer-facing business... But I got my head down, did my research and look at WAH Nails now!”
Photo: Courtesy of Sharmadean Reid
Sophie Hulme, womenswear and accessories designer
“My father has a favourite saying: 'Always question the conventional wisdom'. In fact, he said that to me over Sunday lunch last weekend. So, I always try to question generally accepted ideas, as they don’t always tend to be true.”
Photo: Courtesy of Sophie Hulme
Sarah Curran, founder of My-Wardrobe.com
“You can achieve anything you want with hard work and complete self-belief because the sky really is the limit. I was told this at school when I was about 12, by one of my teachers, and it was the best thing that I learned during all my school years.”
Photo: Courtesy of My-Wardrobe
Mawi Keivom, co-founder of jewellery house Mawi
“After we won the Walpole Luxury Brand of Tomorrow award in 2010, Harrods managing director Michael Ward and Sara Elton, former chief executive at Smythson, took us under their wings for a year. They helped us carve a new position in the fashion world and encouraged us to become more luxurious — even though all our competitors were lowering their prices. It was a leap of faith and we are indebted to them for pushing us to redefine our expectations. We wouldn’t be who we are today without them.”
Photo: Courtesy of Mawi
Kate Percival, founder and CEO of women’s private members' club Grace Belgravia
“I was a rebel at school and could not wait to leave and earn my own salary. After some polishing and secretarial training, I replied to an ad in the Telegraph to work in the chairman’s office at Lloyds bank and somehow I got the job. My boss Penelope Wyatt told me after two months that if I worked hard I could have her job as the chairman's assistant. This was the first time anyone had really understood me and it was all the encouragement I needed to work harder and smarter. She was the most powerful woman at Lloyds and all the tough types and city boys treated her with a respect they certainly did not show each other! The defining moment came when the chairman himself said ‘Catherine, you should be employing people, not an employee'. It took me another 20 years, two children and a divorce before I set up my first company, an advertising and design agency, but I never forgot his kind confidence in me.”
Photo: Courtesy of Grace Belgravia
Anna Laub, editor and founder of Prism eyewear and swimwear
“Put 200% into something — I know this sounds pretty obvious but it's about putting your all into something for the sake of doing a job well and not because you'll get paid 200% more, or even get 200% back… My mentor and great family friend Maryse Boxer, who is an interior designer, told me this when I was starting out in the fashion industry. Also, just trust your instinct; it's the only thing I really rely on. Whenever I’ve made bad decisions it's been again my gut instinct. I always trust myself now!”
Photo: Courtesy of Prism
Millie Kendall, co-founder of BeautyMART boutique
“When I got to my late 20s I realised that half the things I was trying to do were simply not very good quality and rushing things made me make some horrendous mistakes. My dad told me to "put off until tomorrow what you should have done today". Which is a complete flip on an old saying, but it works. If it is an important task I wait a day or so regardless of deadlines to ponder what it is I need to say or do. It makes me far more conscious of my actions and the results are usually far better."
Photo: Courtesy of BeautyMART
Missy Flynn, co-founder of Rita’s Bar and Dining
"I had a really great boss and mentor at Hawksmoor in its founder Will Beckett. He didn't necessarily offer advice, but he led by example. The company motto is 'work hard and be nice to people', which sounds pretty open ended, but I've found that this can be applied to most aspects of work to good effect. I find it satisfying making sure that employees know that we’re all in it together, and that as a business we are always accessible to those who make Rita’s work: our customers. My idea of success has changed a lot in the year since opening Rita's. It's not just the glowing newspaper reviews or celebrity guests, it's about undertaking a journey that makes you truly enjoy your work and know your business. It’s also about being calm, productive and getting a good night's sleep!”
Photo: Courtesy of Missy Flynn
Avid Larizadeh, former venture capitalist and co-founder and COO of jewellery and fashion accessories site Boticca
“When I was 17, right before I left my parent's home in Paris to study 9000 km away at Stanford University, my father took me out for a long walk through some of my favourite streets of Paris. We walked and spoke for a long while and one advice he gave me: ‘Always surround yourself with people who inspire you, who are committed and passionate and from whom you can learn. Do so with your bosses, your mentors, your colleagues, your employees, your friends and your husband. And don't forget to always give back and make them feel valued.’ He still regularly reminds me of it and I am still grateful for it.”
Photo: Courtesy of Boticca
Dessi Bell, former banker at JP Morgan and founder of sportswear company Zaggora
"I have received two great pieces of advice, both of which could be applied to entrepreneurship or building a career. Firstly, a great man with whom I worked in my early 20’s at the Ministry of Sound, told me that you must force their way into life and organisations -- no one will invite you in if you don’t. This has saved me a lot of time over the years that I would have otherwise spent waiting. Secondly, one of the best bankers I ever worked with told me that if I did not know something, I should always make it my business to find out. Both seem pretty obvious but it is amazing how easy it is to slip up and make decisions on assumptions. Facts always win."
Photo: Courtesy of Zaggora
Cassandra Stavrou, founder of gourmet popcorn brand Propercorn
"When I met Richard Reed, founder of Innocent, I was trying to launch my company but felt incredibly frustrated and full of self-doubt. He said: ‘Business is essentially people, so never underestimate the value of building great relationships and staying true to yourself…if you don't believe in what you are trying to do, no one else will.”
Photo: Courtesy of Propercorn