Karren Brady: 'I regret taking only three days' maternity leave'


I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit When I was seven, I remember sticking a sign on my bedroom window that read, "Manicures and massage, come on in." My mother rushed in, saying, "All these weirdos are knocking on the door." I used to write to my headmaster [at Aldenham School, Hertfordshire] too, with money-making ideas to raise cash for the school.

Loyalty is so important David Sullivan [the joint owner of West Ham United FC and former co-owner of Birmingham City FC] really took a chance on me at 23 to run Birmingham City and that's why we're still together now. I'd been working for him for three years on the Sunday Sport in charge of business and marketing. He knew what I was capable of, but it was still a risk, and it has meant so much to me.

I've experienced a lot of sexism in football I recall going up to the front desk at my first away game, at Watford, and asking where the directors' box was. This chap said, "Director's wives over there," and I said, "No, I'm the MD of Birmingham City FC," and he put on his glasses, peered at me, and said, "Oh yes, you're that woman; stay here and I'll find out what to do with you."

The brain aneurysm I had in 2006 put things into perspective It made me understand what was really important – to enjoy life, take more risks and stop putting things off. My best friend grew up in Hong Kong and she always told me I must visit and for years I'd say, "Next year, next year." Seven months after my operation, I went to visit her. It felt so good.

It's rubbish to say you can't be proper friends with the opposite sex I was at an all-boys' school – well, 600 boys and 16 girls, so most of my friends then were guys. A lot of them have since married and have kids, and we still hang out. It's probably why I find it so easy working in male environments.

There are lots of cuts you can make to UK plc without affecting front-line services If you take West Ham, when I went in, there were lots of excesses that had to stop if it was to have a future, and I think it's the same with the country. Look at what is essential and what isn't. At West Ham, there's a lot of debt there, but we've made a lot of efficiencies by asking what are the luxuries we can't afford. Cutting some of the support staff was quite hard, though.

Making players accessible to fans is football's biggest issue today My husband [the former, much-travelled striker] Paul Peschisolido used to get a bus home with the supporters when he was playing an away game. Lots of supporters want to be close to their players, but with the environment the players live in now, it's hard.

I regret taking only three days' maternity leave when I had my daughter, 15 years ago. But back then phrases such as work-life balance and flexible working hours didn't exist and I put pressure on myself to carry on as normal. So if I could go back and tell my younger self something, it's that a career lasts a lifetime. Taking time off is not the end of the world; the job is always going to be there, you shouldn't beat yourself up too much about taking a break.

Never look down on people unless you're helping them up It's what my grandmother used to say to me. It's why I'm helping AXA promote their youth awards. Sometimes you can use your life experience to encourage others. It's good to see big companies put up real money to help young people.

Karren Brady, 42, is vice-chairman of West Ham United and an adviser to Lord Sugar on 'The Apprentice'. To enter the AXA awards, visit ambitionaxaawards.com. Applications are open until 14 October, with winners announced on 30 November

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all