MHR News

Karren Baroness Brady CBE gives her Philosophy on Successful People Management


Managing people in any business is a challenge, at a football club, all of our assets are people after all we do not manufacture anything; not to mention the need to optimise the talents of a range of different people – from footballers on 15k per week, to ticket staff on 15k per year.

It all began in 1993 when, aged 23, I was appointed Managing Director of Birmingham City Football Club. I saw the football club for sale in the Financial Times took it to my boss at the time and suggested: “you buy it, I’ll run it”. To realise your dreams, you need to take risks and grab every opportunity that comes your way. This is certainly what we did there, and after buying the club in adminstration in 1993, we sold it 16 years later for £82 million in 2009.

Looking back to the early days at Birmingham City, everything was done by hand, including the payroll. And inaccuracies, wastage and inefficiencies, not only in payroll, but in other parts of the business, were rife. This is when I realised how much work needed to be done, and it dawned on me that “there are people that watch things happen, people that make things happen, and people that wonder what happened.”

Changing culture through leadership

The hardest thing to change is organisational culture, but it has to be the priority, and the only way to do this is through effective leadership.

Leadership means managing people’s hearts and minds.

In order to influence people’s thinking, they must know what the business is trying to achieve, and how they can help it to get there. At Birmingham City, the employees had no idea what was expected of them or anyone else, and this was the main problem.

You must create an entrepreneurial culture

In order to drive people’s passions and emotions from their heart, you must create an entrepreneurial culture where everyone feels included and like they have a vital part to play in achieving the company’s vision.

But how do you create an entrepreneurial spirit when your only asset is people?

My philosophy:

  • Play to people’s strengths: make sure everyone is doing tasks that utilise their skill set, and provide training to ensure they continue to excel in their role and others.
  • Make it their business: Make sure all staff are fully engaged with your business and its vision, values and objectives.
  • Enable a solutions culture: create a culture of problem solving, and encourage people to find more effective solutions to existing processes.
  • Get inspiration from outside the business: take people outside the company to learn lessons from other businesses, with the view to finding better solutions and making your company better. For example, send your ticket office staff to one of the biggest and most successful theatres nearby to get the full customer experience, and see how they do things differently.
  • Ensure cross-departmental understanding of roles within the business: awareness of how the business operates is essential for employees to be inclusive and ensures that people know how they fit in. This means that staff should understand how the different departments fit together and what the roles within these departments consist of.
  • Invest and reward your people: if you invest in your people, you are investing in your business. But you must also show appreciation and reward your people for their efforts, as well as understand their personal circumstances and try and be flexible to their needs in and out of work. For example: my attitude towards women in business is that they must be supported properly in terms of childcare options, maternity leave and flexible working. Some of my best and most talented people are women and mothers, and by allowing them the flexibility to spend time with their children and ensure their needs are met during the working week, the rewards for both themselves and the business are unbelievable. Trust and understanding is key here, and is sometimes the best and most important reward for hard work.

Finally, my philosophy for any successful business comes down to Operational Style – and when you’re under pressure, this is a true measure of style. 

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Biography: Karren Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge CBE

Karren Brady, businesswoman, peer, ‘first lady of football’, and Alan Sugar’s aide on The Apprentice, became MD of Birmingham City at the age of just 23 and is now one of the UK’s best-known business personalities.

After starting out in advertising, Karren’s first contact with David Sullivan, then owner of Sport Newspapers was through selling him air-time on LBC. So impressed was the businessman that he employed Karren, and she was quickly appointed as director. Upon hearing that Birmingham City had gone into receivership and was for sale for £1, she famously persuaded David that she could run the club. He bought it and installed Karren as Managing Director.

Within 12 months Karren had turned the club around, recording a profit. In four years, she became the youngest MD of a PLC when the business was floated with a value of £25million. She steered the club to huge successes on and off the pitch and through the many challenges the football and business worlds bring. Karren left the club when it was sold for £81million. When David Sullivan and his business partner David Gold bought West Ham United, Karren was appointed Vice-Chairman where, amongst other things, she negotiated the team’s move to the Olympic Stadium.

In her characteristically no-nonsense but entertaining way, Karren speaks about running the business side of a major football club – through promotion, relegation, controversy and even brain surgery. Known for her resilience and focus, she describes how to combat the fear of failure and energise the team, and why hunger is always your most valuable asset regardless of your organisation or industry.

Aside from football, Karren has served on the boards of Mothercare, Arcadia, Channel 4 and Sport England. She is an active member of the Lords, a Government small business ambassador and advises the parliamentary Women in Sport Advisory Board. She has written autobiographies, business books and novels and has written for a range of national and local newspaper titles.

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