You have been a successful business leader in various sectors. How would you describe your management style?
Regardless of the sector, I believe it is about being open, honest, transparent, present, authentic and having integrity. You need to be vulnerable: the more you put yourself out there, the more naturally your team will connect with you. Great leadership adapts itself to 1500 people in a town hall meeting or to ten people in a board room. Your vision needs to be felt, to be trusted, to inspire, whether you are leading a board to a new strategy, or onboarding new young talent.
How do you think leadership philosophies have evolved over the decades that you have been in the workplace?
I look back to my early days in the fashion industry, and I always wore a tailored jacket and never wore my hair down. Back then, the perceived wisdom was that the more women emulated men, both in appearance and behaviour, the higher their chances of success – almost the exact opposite of what I describe above. As women gained the confidence to be their authentic selves, using ‘soft skills’ such as instinct and empathy, the more people came on board, and the world saw leadership in a different way, understanding the value of EQ alongside IQ. We learned about the kind of leaders we wanted to be around.
I think there has been a generational, cultural shift, too, where social media offers a forum to express ourselves. At Burberry we talked openly about love and trust to all levels of management, which would never happened in the early days of my career. The ultimate goal of humans is to build and maintain relationships. Even in business, we have workplace relationships and customer relationships, and we need to nurture those so they mean something to everyone involved.
Do you feel that women in leadership roles bring something different to the table?
I think the traits that are traditionally associated with femininity and women have driven a kinder economy and a more holistic way of doing things. Women add tremendous value and perspective and insight into the world. We are wired differently: it’s not about doing things right or wrong, but about incorporating diverse thinking that represent the world as a whole, so action becomes relevant and purposeful. However, I am not a fan of targets for numbers of women on boards though: I believe in being publicly accountable, so society can gauge what you are doing and how.
Every institution, government, education establishment or business has to be agile enough to move and adapt and understand legacy and how to take that forward: you have a higher chance of success with a balanced board from a gender standpoint. Listening to how things can be done differently and having faith in that can be amazing
When I was at Burberry, it was the “soft” strategies that made us more profitable. I guess those are the things we traditionally associate with female characteristics. At Apple, we had tens of thousands of people who talked openly about life phases and how that impacted their work. We listened. In that third phase, when the kids had flown the nest, they embraced their renewed sense of flexibility and many welcomed an option to move to China. When you have young kids, it’s hard to work from home, but you might want flexibility to perhaps work in an office with some autonomy over how you deliver your hours.
There has to be give and take: that is part of the ‘S’ for social in ESG, so you can explore options and understand how different ways of working not only attracts new talent, but retains it in a way that stimulates and adds value. You don’t want to work in a company where 80 per cent of the staff have been there for 40 years, which can feel stagnant.
You are the first independent Chair at Save the Children International: why the move into the charity sector and what do you hope to achieve?
The reason I am doing this is? It’s a calling. I always thought I’d use my corporate experience in the charity sector; and have always supported a variety of causes. I have worked with charity: water for a decade now, but issues around the world due to COVID, climate and conflict mean there is the most enormous sense of urgency. In two years, ten years have been lost of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals. We can see for ourselves what is happening in Ukraine and it breaks my heart. There is a huge desire to do something more – people want to lean in and help.
The charity sector has traditionally been governed very differently. The CEO and team have a new strategy to triple our impact the next three years. Instead of moving the 2030 goal posts, we plan to work three times faster, three times more efficiently, leverage technology and partners to ensure we help get back on track. We have 30 Chairs around the world and have a role to play in fundraising. More money has been made the last few years and we can be the connector.
As someone with years of experience behind you, and with children in their twenties, what can you learn from the next generation(s)?
I think we learn different things from different people at different stages of life. The next generation feel an enormous sense of responsibility, and they have deep expectations of governments, companies and NGOs to fix the things that are wrong. They are afraid of climate change and are wise beyond their years. They are opinionated, but not divisive. They don’t want rhetoric: they see things and what something done quickly, but they don’t necessarily understand that things take time, because their world has always been immediate and fast. The majority of Gen Z consumers will change brands if a business does not lean in to causes they feel are important: that wasn’t something that happened in our youth, we didn’t have the social platforms amplifying these issues.
My two eldest children live in London. My 26 year old daughter works for a new non-profit. My 27 year old son is a musician, and my youngest daughter is in college in the US. I feel the onus is on us to continue to stay aware of the rapid societal changes and continue to evolve. You want so badly to teach them life lessons, but they’re not always open to listen and many reach a phase where they think they know it all. I tell them it’s fascinating that the older they get, the dumber they think we get. Of course they need to experience life for themselves, but they also need to see that we as their parents are always open to listening and learning.
What do you believe are your strengths and weaknesses?
I have lots of fears and keep the lights on all night long because I don’t like the dark. By nature, humans are insecure. I’m one of the most insecure beings on the planet. Lots of people fake it, but I reached a point where I can talk openly and honestly about it. Most people can’t and I don’t think it’s good for our collective mental health if you hold those things in. Maybe my insecurity has made me work harder.
Maybe my strength is that I have been vulnerable and been open to working with people whose strengths compliment my weaknesses, trusting others who have expertise or skills that I don’t. I couldn’t do half the jobs I hired people to do at Burberry or Apple, I am just the connector and enabler in a collective that trusts and believes in all the component parts to function.
Who do you turn to for counsel?
I have always talked openly about the impact of my parents. My father passed a couple of years ago, but there isn’t a day goes by when I don’t quote him. When I was 13, he gave me James Allen’s As A Man Thinketh and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, both of which I still have. My father was an entrepreneur and loved how the mind worked, the idea of envisaging something and making it happen. My mother always had great faith and educated from a biblical perspective, and I often think of their teachings.
Along the way in life, you need a variety of people to turn to for different types of counsel. You don’t only learn the good stuff, you learn how not to do things too: sometimes by asking, sometimes by observing. You might learn leadership skills from someone senior to you, but also the mechanics of business acquisition from someone else.