Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Lizzie Jordan, CEO and Founder, Think2Speak

The rewards and challenges and of leading a social enterprise, as well as tips for budding entrepreneurs and insights into positive leadership characteristics

If you harbour ambitions of starting your own company, you should seek out extra learning opportunities wherever possible, says Lizzie Jordan, CEO and Founder of Think2Speak, a social enterprise focused on positive change. ‘Experience is essential in convincing anyone to use your services,’ she says, adding that would-be entrepreneurs should see what you can observe and learn from others, even in a voluntary capacity. ‘It will pay you back hugely in the future, expand your knowledge and your network,’ she reasons.

In this interview, Lizzie also talks about the importance of empowerment, compassion and respect to her style of leadership.  

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what it involves?

My role is to lead, grow and be the face of the organisation. I’m also one of the UK’s highest-profile HIV advocates, have spoken in the House of Lords and been interviewed by [popular English broadcaster and actor] Stephen Fry for a BBC documentary. Spreading the message about the work we do is a big factor in helping to grow the organisation.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and post-graduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

If I could only offer one piece of advice, it would be to gain as much work experience as you can; watch and learn from others. Volunteer to watch and learn, it will pay you back hugely in the future, expand your knowledge and your network.

It is difficult to stress just how important your experience and network are when you’re leaving university. A lot of students find themselves in a situation where the degree that they have worked so hard for simply isn’t enough to secure them a job that they want. A lot of those same students didn’t search for extra learning opportunities while they had more free time.

For students who are looking to start their own business after university, the same applies. Experience is essential in convincing anyone to use your services. The more you have, the happier people will be to work with you.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

I find mentoring incredibly valuable and insightful and have sat on both sides of that table, as mentor and mentee. As for choosing a mentor for myself, who I would have chosen at the start of my career versus who I’d pick now would be very different. At the start of my career, it would have been someone solely focused on business, career and success on paper, now I work with someone who is able to understand all components of my life and how they’re interwoven – being a business owner, mother, and friend, and how to offer a much more holistic approach.

There isn’t a sole person I can think of who I would consider to be ‘the’ dream mentor, and I don’t think you’ll find that in just one individual. Of course, there are people we look up to who can influence our decisions, but we shouldn’t attempt to copy them and their attitudes. I’m much more comfortable being myself, and my goal at Think2Speak is to help others feel the same way. I recognise I need advice and support in different areas and so I tap into that from different people.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

People are the key to my organisation’s success and we’ve recently secured social investment to add to our team. This brings both challenges and opportunities for us.

Recruiting for a social enterprise can be challenging; our values are central to what we do and we need anyone joining our team to be a great fit. Everyone at Think2Speak is fully invested in what we do and what we aim to achieve. We have to balance being a third sector organisation with social purpose at the core, with making profit to enable us to do more good.

Please outline the importance of sustainability to your company’s strategy and why you feel it is important to business approaches as a whole today.

Sustainability is of paramount importance in the third sector. Too many not-for-profit organisations rely solely on grant funding and this restricts them. There are, unfortunately, too many third sector businesses who simply can’t afford to operate without the grant income they’re reliant on. As a profit-for-good organisation, we trade using a blended approach to enable us to be sustainable with income coming from trading, donations, grants and contracted income.

Being able to create multiple sources of sustainable income is good for any business, but especially for an organisation like Think2Speak. The more money we receive, the more we can put back into the community and our projects. That keeps the quality of our work high, and allows us to expand, as well as invest in new projects.  

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership (or your management style) and why?

I’d be better asking my team to answer this! However, I’d like to think they’d say I’m respectful, compassionate and empowering.

Being a leader is all about respecting and trusting the people you work with. I have to be able to trust that they are going to do the best they can in the work they do. I know that if I respect them, I’ll receive that respect back in return, as well as the amount of hard work that they do.

Compassionate because understanding and caring is a core pillar of my being. I’ve always been compassionate to others and I believe that it is incredibly important in bettering ourselves. The people I work with at Think2Speak are more than just colleagues. We all care for each other deeply and always work to understand each other and celebrate our successes together.

The reason I do what I do is to empower others with the skills and confidence to achieve whatever they want to do. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am now, and with the Think2Speak team behind me, I believe we can do great things.

I like to believe that using this approach I can ensure that Think2Speak is as efficient and effective as it can be, and I’m sure that these points can be easily utilised by any business leader.

Lizzie Jordan is the CEO and Founder of Think2Speak, a social enterprise that works to equip people with the skills and confidence necessary to have some of life’s most difficult conversations. Specialising in LGBT+ inclusion, Think2Speak promotes social inclusion and integration in communities across the UK.

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Danny Brooks, CEO and Founder, VHR Global Recruitment

Learn the dos and don’ts of running a successful business in your chosen industry before starting out on your own, says VHR Global Recruitment’s CEO and Founder

‘The key to any business is attracting and retaining the best talent,’ says Danny Brooks, CEO at VHR Global Recruitment (VHR).

With years of experience in the recruitment industry under his belt, Danny started his own company in 2003. VHR now trades in 45 countries worldwide and has an annual turnover of approximately £35 million GBP. Headquartered in London, the firm sources contract and permanent engineers for projects around the world and performs executive searches for C-suite roles.

In this interview, Danny stresses the importance of learning the dos and don’ts of running a successful business before launching a startup. ‘Gain some experience of working in a business in your chosen field before starting out on your own,’ he advises.

Can you tell us a bit about your current role and what is involves?

My current role is a combination of overseeing the running of VHR and its global operations together with meeting new and existing clients to gain an understanding of their current and future business plans to ascertain how VHR can support their project and workforce requirements.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and post-graduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

Gain some experience of working in a business in your chosen field before starting out on your own. This will equip you with some invaluable lessons of how, and how not, to run a business.

When you do start out on your own, ensure that you get everything in writing in relation to share ownership, and that you have a good shareholder agreement.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

Richard Branson – he has created a premium aspirational brand that transcends different sectors. His companies are seen as being fun or ‘cool’ places to work which makes attracting and retaining quality staff a lot easier. The key to any business is attracting and retaining the best talent.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

Challenges: like many businesses, one of the main challenges we’re facing is Brexit. Any changes to employment law either here or abroad will complicate our business, that’s why we have a dedicated compliance team to make sure we’re on top of any changes that may need to be made.

Opportunities: we’re in the process of opening new offices, and now have premises in the UAE, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic and, soon, Ireland. This enables us to engage better with our international candidates, and allows us to be closer to the work our clients are doing.

Danny Brooks is CEO and Founder of VHR Global Recruitment

Bridging the gap between intent and impact

Startups should be looking to solve genuine problems in society, say brothers and Co-Founders of The Startupreneur, Aakarsh Naidu and Adhikar Naidu.

The organisation works with entrepreneurs and incubators with the goal, as Aakarsh explains, of ‘training them and helping bridge the gap between intent and impact’.

The Naidu brothers both pursued master’s degrees abroad, at the London School of Economics (LSE), but always with the intention of taking their experience and skills back to India. ‘We wanted a global exposure and to come back to India and create an impact,’ Aakarsh says.

This impact includes trying to raise awareness of the organisation’s work among new audiences, through a hip-hop music video available on YouTube. ‘It was about reaching out to new demographics in a new format and a new language,’ Aakarsh explains. Read the full interview below to learn more.

Why did you both choose to study in the UK, and why management at LSE?

Aakarsh Naidu

Aakarsh Naidu: Our father has been an entrepreneur for more than 30 years, establishing and running some of the biggest companies in India’s green energy sector, so both of us have always had an interest in pursuing business studies.

Having studied business management at undergraduate level, I wanted to specialise in human resource management at a premier institution that offered global exposure, and LSE’s MSc in Human Resources Management was a top-ranked programme. My brother, Adhikar, pursued LSE’s Master’s in Management and Digital Innovation. He was a finance graduate and was working in the investments division of Goldman Sachs, before he discovered his interest in emerging technologies.

LSE’s Department of Management was the perfect platform for both of us to explore and specialise in our areas of interest. The exposure and the global network for a student at LSE is also one of a kind.

Adhikar Naidu: I used to visit my elder brother, Aakarsh, in London, during his time at LSE. I was always enamoured by the legacy of this great institution and the diversity it brings. My brother used to have friends from different parts of the world, who would ask me if I would join the School one day. I used to say, ‘I will one day’ – without realising that I would actually do it!

What were the highlights of the programmes you studied?

Aakarsh: The top highlights for us were getting a unique global exposure and a cultural immersion with access to some of the most talented brains in the world alongside friendships that can span across continents and memories which will last a lifetime.

For me, the HR management programme I took was interdisciplinary in the sense that it gave me the opportunity to study subjects on management, economics and international relations at the same time. I particularly enjoyed the course on ‘Negotiation Analysis’, which was experiential and gave me the opportunity to work with peers across the globe, helping me understand the business and cultural nuances.

Adhikar Naidu

Adhikar: I had the opportunity to study concepts in emerging technologies like AI, augmented reality (AR) and VR, the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain to name a few. I also received a distinction for my thesis on the VRIO (value, rarity, imitability and organisation) framework for startups in business incubators. The programme and experience as a whole helped cultivate the spark to create an impact through entrepreneurship.

Was returning to India after completing your studies always the plan? Please explain your answer.

Aakarsh: Our reason for studying in the UK was very clear right from the start. We wanted a global exposure and to come back to India and create an impact. We wanted to create an impact in our own country while also being global citizens.

True to this goal, I’ve worked with some top startup incubators and educational institutions, such as, IIM Bangalore and the Indian School of Business. Meanwhile, Adhikar has worked with organisations like Goldman Sachs and the angel investor network, Keiretsu Forum.

Having specialised in our respective fields, we are now pooling our strengths and understanding through our own venture, The Startupreneur, through which we are building a platform to nurture entrepreneurship and innovation not only in India, but also across the world.

You’ve talked about the ‘triple bottom line’ in previous interviews. What does this term mean to you and how does this align with your organisation’s ambitions?

Aakarsh: ‘People’, ‘planet’ and ‘profit’ – these were the magical words that we learnt at LSE while studying the concept of the triple bottom line (TBL). For centuries, the term ‘bottom line’ has been synonymous with money, profit and other monetary markers such as return on investment, shareholder value and cash flow. The TBL approach adds a new meaning to this word by using the combined power of people, planet and profit to measure the health and quality of a business’ impact.

The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little ‘extra’ that can make you stand out as an entrepreneur among the crowd. It can take the form of social impact, issues you take up, or an organisation’s ethics and values. The organisational value for us at The Startupreneur is simple: ‘Startups shouldn’t just be about making millions but also helping millions by solving a genuine problem.’ We want to help startups develop sustainable business models that have a social impact.

What would you say is the biggest challenge facing startups and entrepreneurs in India?

Aakarsh: The biggest challenge for startups and entrepreneurs, according to us, is in moving from ‘zero to one’ [the name of Peter Thiel’s 2014 book that stems from Thiel’s teaching on startups at Stanford] and understanding the concept of product/market fit.

This is a mindset problem and requires first-time entrepreneurs to experience the process of starting up before actually starting up. This experience clears a lot of myths around business models, hiring and funding, all of which are necessary for building a successful startup. This is where Startupreneur directly works with entrepreneurs and incubators in training them and helping bridge the gap between intent and impact.

Can you tell us a bit about the startup you are most proud of being able to help get off the ground?

Aakarsh: Singling out one particular startup would be difficult as there have been quite a few startups that have excited us, and we’ve been committed to nurturing and helping them get off the ground.

A few such startups have been an AR/VR startup looking to make curricula and content more accessible to students, a startup which is developing a pollution-control device, and an app which identifies the quickest routes for ambulances to take to hospitals.

We’ve seen Aakarsh’s Startup Song video. What were the reasons behind taking up the mic in support of The Startupreneur’s goals?

Aakarsh: The reasons for coming up with the Startup Song are quite simple; it was about reaching out to new demographics in a new format and a new language (vernacular content). We wanted to create awareness about ‘startupreneurship’ and democratise the concept of ‘starting up’ to different parts of the country.

To our surprise, it achieved what its goal – the average age group of people watching earlier videos from The Startupreneur was about 25-35. However, viewership for the Startup Song was primarily in the age range of 18-25 and was spread more widely across India, thereby reaching new demographics. The best compliment we have received was a startup founder mentioning that her three-year-old was also singing ‘startup, startup, startup’ after listening to the song. That was heartening to hear!

Aakarsh Naidu is an alumnus of the London School of Economics (LSE), Startup Ecosystem Enabler, and is Co-Founder and CEO of The Startupreneur. He has led initiatives at IIM Bangalore’s startup incubator  (NSRCEL) and is a mentor at the Founder Institute, World Resources Institute (WRI), and Catalyst for Women Entrepreneurship (CWE).

Adhikar Naidu is Co-Founder and COO at The Startupreneur. He previously worked at Goldman Sachs in India and the US, and has been a speaker at national and international events, such as Google for Startups and Esprit Entrepreneurs. He holds a master’s degree in management and digital innovation from the London School of Economics (LSE).

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Leyanis Diaz, Founder at Major Marketplace

A Cuban-American master’s in entrepreneurship graduate on how Business School has helped her company to support minority-owned businesses

‘I felt like I was more equipped to become someone else’s CMO than my own CEO,’ says Leyanis Diaz, who launched her own company on the back of a distinguished set of experiences in communications.

When Leyanis enrolled at Business School, she said she, ‘felt like I had no support or help in building my business’. However, by the end of her programme, she says the experience was, ‘the best thing I could have done for myself and for the business’.

That business is Major Marketplace, a platform that aims to change the narrative regarding minority business enterprises (MBEs) by providing them with support, marketing services and brand growth.

Read on to learn more about Leyanis’ work, what she took from her time at Business School and why she believes Oprah Winfrey, ‘is a champion for women and for people of colour everywhere and an inspiration to us all’.

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what is involves?

I am the Founder of Major Marketplace, which connects small minority-owned businesses with those who want to support them. It is a unique programme that is on a mission to keep more minority businesses in business by showcasing their innovative and cutting-edge products to a global audience while providing them with the support, connections and education to scale.

Currently, I am a solo founder, which means I do it all: marketing, operations, customer service, human resources, sales, finance, and so on. But I love what I do, and I know that I am making an impact on those who need it most – minority businesses are the heart and soul of communities like the one I grew up in [in Miami, Florida].

Did your Business School experience help get your business off the ground? If so, how?

My Business School experience gave me the tool box I needed to run Major Marketplace. I started the company before attending University College London’s (UCL) School of Management master’s in entrepreneurship programme.

Before attending UCL School of Management, I felt lost and felt like I had no support or help in building my business. Enrolling in the entrepreneurship programme was the best thing I could have done for myself and for the business. The School gave me access to experts, advisors, mentors, resources, funding, support and a global network that I can tap into today and in the future.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and post-graduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

You do not need to know it all and don’t be afraid to ask for help or to ask what you might think is a dumb question.

My background is in communications. During my undergraduate degree, I studied marketing, PR, television and radio and after graduating, I went on to work for companies such as Nike and Ford. While I was good at what I did, I did not know the first thing about business when I first started my own company. I felt like I was more equipped to become someone else’s CMO than my own CEO.

When I first started, I spent a lot of my time focusing on what I did not have instead of what I did have. [I now appreciate the importance of] understanding what your strengths are and more importantly, what your weaknesses are so you can build a team around you to fill those gaps and seek the help that you need when you need it with more clarity.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

My dream mentor has always been Oprah Winfrey because she is everything I am working to be, a media maven, a philanthropist, an activist, and a businesswoman. She faced many trials and tribulations during her childhood and early on in her career as a black woman in media, but she had a choice to make, she could give up and go home, or keep going and face her obstacles head on.

She did the latter and became the person we all know and love. Today, she is a champion for women and for people of colour everywhere and an inspiration to us all. With Oprah as my mentor, I would have grown as both an individual and as a businesswoman.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing as a leader?

As a leader, some of my current challenges include being a solo founder and managing my time effectively, filtering through the advice and feedback I receive, and managing my expectations and the expectations of others.

However, my opportunities include graduating from a world-leading university, my background and perspective as a Cuban-American immigrant and as a woman of colour, and the relationships I have made through my work in the community.

Please outline the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to your company’s strategy and why you feel it is important to business approaches as a whole today.

CSR is of great important to Major Marketplace. Corporations’ ability and desire to support initiatives, projects and businesses that align with their interests and values and that have an impact are both interesting and potentially fruitful for us.

CSR is important to business approaches as a whole today because our companies have an effect and influence on people and our planet. To me, CSR is about understanding that what you do has consequences, whether they are good or bad, and about trying to do right by others not because it makes you look good but because you care.

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership (or your management style) and why?

The three words that best describe my approach to leadership are ‘transparency’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘collaboration’.

‘Transparency’ because as the Founder of Major Marketplace, I have to be honest with my team, the minority businesses we work with, and our partners, customers and other stakeholders.

‘Empowering’ because I have to empower those I work with, so they can empower and encourage minority businesses that, in turn, empower their communities.

‘Collaborative’ because I know that there is no ‘I’ in team. In order for us to make the biggest impact on the world, we have to work with others who understand what we are building and are passionate about building a better future together.

Leyanis Diaz is the Founder of Major Marketplace, an online marketplace that works to support minority-owned businesses by providing them with education, merchandising, and connections to a global audience. An extended version of this interview has previously been published on Medium.

Why female startup founders find it harder to secure investment

Venture capitalists don’t ask male and female founders the same questions when making investment decisions, and hold a number of preconceptions, says the founder of a network aimed at empowering women

We hear a lot about getting more women on boards, more female CEOs, more girls to study STEM subjects. But there is another significant gender gap much less talked about.

It is the one affecting female entrepreneurs. Several reports have shone a light on this. For example, a 2019 study by the British Business Bank found that for every £1 GBP of venture capital (VC) investment in the UK, female founders got just 1p (£0.01 GBP). Mixed gender founder-teams got 10p (£0.1 GBP), and the rest? It went to all-male founders. That’s equates to £5bn of investment going to all-male founders.

The situation in the US is no different. One study, by Pitchbook, showed that companies with female founders only raised 2.3% of VC funding in the US.

As a two-time startup founder myself, I was invited to 11 Downing Street for the unveiling of the British Business Bank research, commissioned by the UK Treasury. It was also attended by VCs, so to my delight I got to ask that key question: ‘why don’t investors put their trust in women?’

Implicit bias and preconceptions

Their answers were honest, but brutal. Some confessed that when they see a young woman, they assume that her incentive to start a business is to leave the rat race to juggle a bit of work with the real job of being a mum. This is essentially labelling any women within a 20-year child bearing window as a ‘mother with a hobby.’

This is compounded by the inconvenient fact that the average age of founding a business is 42, according to researchers from MIT, the Kellogg School and the US Census Bureau. Among the fastest-growing tech startups, the average age is 45. This age is for men and women, so clearly it has nothing to do with wanting to make time for school runs. It takes life experience and industry expertise to run a successful business – 42/45 seems about right to me.

Another VC partner admitted he always sends a junior 20-something trainee to interview the female founders but is inclined to send someone more senior to male founders.

I’ve been in that pitching chair myself when I started to seek funding for my first startup in 2016. It was around the time that the #MeToo movement was gathering momentum and I thought, ‘it’s time to get big or go home’. Yet, when I started early conversations with investors, or people who knew about investing, I got a distinct feeling of doubtfulness. Their questions seemed to be negatively slanted: ‘don’t you think the bubble might burst?’ instead of the more positive ‘where do you see your business in X years.’ Other women have said similar things.

Lines of enquiry at investor interviews

My suspicions of this negative interview bias have turned out to be substantiated. A 2017 study by researchers at Columbia University and Harvard Business School looked at 189 videos of presentations to investors (of which 12% were given by female entrepreneurs). They found that 67% of questions to the male entrepreneurs were ‘promotion-oriented’, such as, ‘do you think your target market is a growing one?’ For female founders, 66% of questions were ‘prevention-oriented’, asking them questions along the lines of how long it would take them to break even or how they’d defend a business challenge.

Investors are supposed to be good at spotting trends. So you would think that they’d have taken notice of the many reports that show that female-founded businesses end up being more successful. Linked to the British Business Bank research, the UK Treasury also commissioned the Rose Review, looking at ways to promote female entrepreneurship. One of its conclusions was that female-founded businesses could be worth £250bn GBP to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men.

Eliminating doubts

I can see why. I’ve had three children over five years, while running two businesses and I never took maternity leave. My businesses grew the most when I was pregnant. People joke that when women are pregnant they go into ‘the nesting phase’ because they are programmed to get their house in order but actually it’s a hyper-efficient state which applies to all areas of life, including their business. Think about it, you’re not likely to be attending parties or socialising in bars. You’re not distracted by anything else. Pregnant women get things done!

We can’t fully blame the funding gap on ‘old boys network’ bias though. Women themselves need to put themselves forward more. In the same way that women don’t ask for pay rises as much as men, on average, they also tend to harbour more doubts that they have the skills to grow a business. They can suffer from imposter syndrome and worry themselves out of things. If nine people say ‘yes’ and one says ‘no’, a sizeable proportion of women will listen to the one ‘no’.

Start early

So how can we address the problem? It should start at grassroots level, with teachers and parents. Gender biases stem from the messaging we give to children as they grow up. We need to instil in them the belief that they can make something of themselves regardless of gender.

Take the cringeworthy example of the covers of recent editions of teenage publications, Girls’ Life and Boys’ Life. The former flashed headlines that include ‘fall [autumn] fashion you’ll love’, ‘wake up pretty’ and ‘your dream hair’. The latter featured one bold headline, ‘explore your future: astronaut, architect, firefighter, chef?’

It will take time to fix this skewed messaging. But in the meantime, the VC industry could do a lot to help address the problem by educating their teams. They could put on workshops and seminars to hear from female founders, or invite successful female entrepreneurs to give talks that allow them to share their expertise and inspire others.

That’s what we are doing with the Sistr network, a platform to enable women to impart wisdom and offer advice, free from bias and judgment. My vision when I started the network was to harness untapped female talent by connecting strong, successful and knowledgeable women. Perhaps investors and VCs could learn something from this approach. They might even pick up some star-performing portfolio companies too.

Emma Sayle is the CEO and Founder of networking platform, Sistr.  

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Barry Moore, Cofounder at Party Hard Travel

When is the right time to launch a company? Ideally, it’s when you’re still a student, says Barry Moore, Cofounder of UK travel agency, Party Hard Travel.

‘While you’re a student you probably have more time than you’ll ever have once you graduate and have work commitments,’ he reasons. 

Barry set up his company (while still at university) in 2014 alongside business partner, Nathan Cable and Party Hard Travel has since been able to expand and take on new recruits, particularly during those all-important summer months. In this, Barry has found great value in personality tests: ‘We get every new hire to complete the Myers-Briggs test when they start. We’ve learnt from experience that what you think you’re good at isn’t always what you’re actually good at.’

In the following interview, Barry [pictured below, right] also outlines how his own role has evolved over time and why he believes mentoring should be a two-way street – ‘think about how you can make it beneficial for your mentor too,’ he advises. Read on to learn more.

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what it involves?

My role has evolved a lot from the early days. When we started Party Hard Travel, we fell into work tasks and I worked on social posts while Nathan [pictured above, right] dealt with details. It wasn’t working well. Doing the Myers-Briggs test [a questionnaire designed to identify differing psychological preferences] helped push us into the right areas with Nathan focused on sales and marketing, while I concentrate on operations.

Operating in such a competitive industry means constantly innovating. My preoccupation has been how we can adapt our operations to improve them and drive the business forward, and I’m forever reading business books and podcasts, all of which can spark ideas. The one thing we don’t want to do is stagnate or become stale.

We get every new hire to complete the Myers-Briggs test when they start. We’ve learnt from experience that what you think you’re good at isn’t always what you’re actually good at. Our growth so far has been phenomenal and we’ve taken on a number of new staff to help drive this period of growth. Nowadays, most of my role is helping to build systems and structures to enable the rest of the team to work as well as possible.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and post-graduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

Get started as soon as you can, ideally while you are still studying. We set up Party Hard Travel during our second and third year at university.

You might not realise it at the time, but while you’re a student you probably have more time than you’ll ever have once you graduate and have work commitments. It’s an opportunity to explore ideas and do the laborious research and planning stages for your business. There’s also a huge amount of support on offer from universities for students wishing to set up their own businesses. Get all of the advice you can while it’s there.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

At the outset of my career, my dream mentor would have been Duncan Bannatyne. He’s from a working-class (lower socioeconomic) background and started out with a single ice cream van, which became a fleet, before moving into care homes, nurseries and health clubs, building progressively more valuable businesses. After seeing Bannatyne on [UK TV programme] Dragons’ Den and reading his autobiography, what really impressed me was how he has built his businesses from nothing. Today, it’d be Elon Musk – what a legend!

Nathan and I have had a number of great mentors over the years. Portsmouth University set us up with our first mentor when we were starting out. Then we met Paul Stanyer, who set up Holiday Taxis and previously worked as a rep in our industry, and his advice has been invaluable. Gary Lewis from the Travel Network Group is a current mentor and we have Richard Woods from [UK TV programme] The Apprentice as a consultant.

If you’re starting out, a mentor can be hugely beneficial for you, but also think about how you can make it beneficial for your mentor too. For example, we offered Paul a stake in the business, and our time to assist him with a new startup.

What are some of the challenges you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

The biggest challenge we have is when our team more than quadruples over the summer. From our core team of eight, we take on around 25-30 resort hosts between June and September. Party Hard Travel has been built on the product and the service and that means that each and every temporary resort host needs to buy into us as a company.

Yes, our customers will liaise with the head office team when they book their holiday and through other touchpoints, such as social media, but the majority of their customer experience will come through the resort experience delivered by resort hosts. In effect, we’re setting up mini businesses across Europe, and giving our resort hosts the skills and tools they need to deliver that optimal brand experience.

Please outline the importance of responsible management to your company’s strategy and why you feel it is important to business approaches as a whole today.

Responsible management is really important to us as a brand. We give great opportunities to everyone working for us and try to help them to develop new skills rather than just hiring people who already have the skills but might not fit our culture.

A good example is when we hire resort hosts to work for us over the summer. We give them the opportunity to develop skills and experience in a particular area, such as social media marketing,  supply networks, finance or event management, as well as real responsibility and influence.

It’s hugely important to have team members that fit your culture and believe in what you’re doing. If you just see people as a resource and don’t care about them, they’re going to be extremely unhappy in the office and/or they’re going to leave as soon as they get a better offer.

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership (or your management style) and why?

I went to the team to answer this one and the three things they came back with on my approach to leadership are honesty, positivity and independence.

Honesty allows staff to understand how their efforts are impacting the business as a whole. Nothing is off limits; the financials are there for everyone to see and we’ll even train staff to understand them better. This creates a culture of honesty.

A positive culture is paramount, both in work and personally. We have professional targets for staff based around the future growth of the company, but also personal targets like receiving a monetary bonus for hitting fitness goals. Positivity is also about [fostering the] belief that any task is doable and showing that each staff member can achieve their goals.

For me, it’s also important to lead in a way that enables each team member to work independently. It’s good for motivation, engagement and professional satisfaction – and ultimately, that’s good for everyone.

Applying original thinking to business

Business Schools must encourage independent thinking and bravery in their students to help prevent future financial crises, says Fiona Devine OBE, Head of Alliance Manchester Business School. Interview by Jack Villanueva and David Woods-Hale

What were the key points of your presentation at AMBA’s 2018 Global Conference for Deans and Directors? 

I wanted us all to reflect on the global financial crisis of 2008 because the causes and consequences of that crisis are still being felt today and will be for some time. 

I wanted us to think about its impact on the world with a particular focus on leadership and management education. We have to produce the leaders of tomorrow who still take issues of corporate governance very seriously. There are many examples in the business world and in all aspects of life in which we have to think about fraud, accountability, corporate governance and how we address those issues. 

In light of that, how do you think Business Schools should be preparing MBAs to be leaders of tomorrow?  

Business Schools should be producing well-rounded people. By that, I mean people who understand business in the wider context – the social, economic and political environments in which businesses are operating. 

They need to understand this external environment as well as the environments of the organisations in which they’re working.
I think business leaders of the future need to understand how to manage change, how to lead change, and how to deal with risk and uncertainty. 

How can we be sure that the skills that are currently being taught are the right tools to safeguard against another financial crisis?

We’ll only know that when there isn’t another one. 

I don’t suppose we’ll never have crises in the future. But there should be people who will have the independence of mind to step up and say when there is uncertainty about issues. It doesn’t have to be a big crisis for people to draw attention to something. It’s about having the independence of mind and the courage and bravery to say something different – and not be part of group think. It’s about reflecting on and challenging things that come along if they don’t feel right. 

Do you think MBAs are being taught the necessary skills to succeed? 

I would hope so, as a Business School Dean. They will be taught what’s needed if the curriculum is up to date. An old curriculum doesn’t serve anybody, so we want an academic community that is abreast of the latest developments in the world of business and how it’s changing; and always bringing theory and practice together. 

Our strapline in the Business School in Manchester is ‘original thinking applied’ and it is really about defining theory and practice. Theory is often speculative and not grounded; it’s about connecting this to practice and this is very important and I know that many Business School Deans aspire to achieve it. 

How important is the continuation of learning after achieving an MBA? 

It’s hugely important. We all talk about it and we know that in a world of change, risk and uncertainty, it’s important to have the space to step out of your organisation, find a platform to talk to people about issues and challenges and get advice. 

Executive education and continuing professional development provide that space for you to do that. It’s easy when you’re in an organisation to think you’re the only person facing these problems and you’re the one who has to come up with novel solutions, but often when you join an executive education programme you’ll find yourself confronting similar dilemmas and challenges so it’s good to have those conversations and join that collective discussions about the best ways forward. 

In what ways have Business Schools adapted sustainable leadership into their programmes? 

Sustainable leadership is to do with resources and how you use them efficiently and effectively for the long term. One of our preoccupations is with environmental sustainability – but there are other forms – and in Manchester we have scholars working in this area. 

For example, there are lots of discussions at the moment about the need to move to a low-carbon future, but how do organisations get there? It’s a huge transition, especially if you’re a dominant player in a particular market. How do we get there? This has to be a core part of the curriculum [in Business Schools] whether it’s in the MBA or electives on specialist masters or undergraduate programmes. There’s a high demand for these programmes from students. 

What are some of the innovative teaching methods being used to prepare the leaders of tomorrow? 

Teaching has changed considerably over the past 10-20 years, most notably because of new technology. The days when you would go into a lecture for an hour of being talked at, as a passive audience member, are long gone. 

Technology has allowed us to do amazing things in the classroom and that learning engages students a lot more. It’s not about passive learning, even in large lectures. Material can be presented in innovative ways, using apps and gamification, to help people learn and think in active ways. 

Is the need for innovation a major challenge that Business Schools face? 

Like any other organisation, Business Schools have to think about change, evolution and relevance. Business Schools have to be useful to the business world, serving local as well as international communities. 

The biggest challenge is the politics of today – will the world remain as international as it has been for the past 20 years? Will we embrace people of all nationalities moving around the world and studying at Business Schools? Will people still feel comfortable to do this as the politics of the world changes? 

Which is the bigger issue for Business Schools: the volatile economic environment or barriers to student mobility? 

International mobility is important, not only for the Business School world but education in general. The academic world has enjoyed a surge of interest from students coming to Business Schools from all around the world and it would be shame if we lost that confidence people have to travel. 

We’ve got to think about keeping students up to date with current debates about politics, looking at international relations in terms of trade, how countries collaborate with each other, and all those sorts of issues. These are important for understanding businesses and what happens in the business world.

What innovations have you seen in Business Schools that have the potential to change the way businesses do things? 

There are lots of things out there and even as a Dean of a Business School, you hardly know the breadth of innovations happening in your own School. 

I’ve been interested in knowledge-transfer partnerships, in which Schools work with organisations. I have a number of colleagues working with legal companies at the moment, around legal tech. They’re exploring changes happening with legal technologies, how that’s disrupting the legal world and also how data is disrupting this sector, in the same way as fintech has disrupted the finance sector. 

Academics are bringing their expertise to the areas of solving business problems and helping companies through this. It’s important to be useful. 

How can a Business add value to a corporate with which it’s working? 

There are many ways we can work with corporates. Business Schools act as a platform to bring people together to discuss important topics. 

Manchester Alliance Business School recently held a talk on the industrial strategy in the UK, bringing people together to talk about this. What was gratifying about this event was that people were sharing business cards with each other. We can be a place where big ideas are discussed and we can bring solutions to problems as well.

Fiona Devine OBE is Head of Alliance Manchester Business School and Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester.