Businesswoman of the year kicks wall of testosterone

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The Independent Online
It would be an understatement to call the new Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year confrontational. Nicola Foulston, chief executive of Brands Hatch, loves nothing better than a scrap with the blazer-and-cravat-wearing male motor racing establishment.

For instance, Ms Foulston, 29, believes her fellow racetrack owners are wrong to concentrate on the sport. They should be in it for the money, she says.

"I have very strong views on this. We should be making a profit. This is a serious business. We should not concentrate on the sport as a priority."

Her jaundiced view of the sport and her unwillingness to pull punches owe much to her background. Her involvement with Brands Hatch began when she was 11, when her father suddenly fell in love with motor racing and brought his elder daughter along to help polish the cars and run errands.

John Foulston, the founder of Atlantic computers, built up a pounds 40m fortune through computer-leasing and, in May 1986, bought Brands Hatch to satisfy his new-found passion.

A year later, while testing an open-topped Maclaren, he crashed and was killed. Rather than putting her off, Ms Foulston, then 19, decided to drop out of her maths degree course and concentrate on turning Brands Hatch into a profit-making business.

As such, she has run into a wall of testosterone. "It's clearly a very male-dominated industry - in the pit lane and the paddock particularly. But there are a lot of woman working in the marketing and administration of the sport," she says.

Her life revolves around her business, and she is happy to remain single. She was briefly married to her helicopter instructor, Craig Sargeant, but they split up in 1994 after less than a year.

When she took over Brands Hatch it was "fairly run down", she says. Since then the headquarters and conference centre, named after her father, were built for pounds 2.6m. New pits were built at a cost of pounds 2.9m. A deal with BMW gave the Nigel Mansell driving school 40 new saloons. Renegotiation of television coverage meant the company stopped paying for coverage and instead received an income of pounds 100,000 a year.

And with her company now making over pounds 2m a year in profit, she clearly sees herself as the winner.

John Willcock