ON GENDER AND CAREER
I don’t think I navigated gender biases in my youth or my career – I think I walked face first into them. I went to an all-girls school where we had to learn knitting and cooking alongside maths and physics. I then studied psychology when I would probably have preferred engineering if it had occurred to me, after which I went into PR, which is what lots of women do when they have studied psychology.
Fortunately, my mum was a career woman and my dad always treated me like an equal, which helped me develop some valuable self belief.
I set TopLine up after the department I was working in at my previous agency was going to be shut down. I didn’t really think or plan, I just got some investment and started the business! (And I made every mistake in the book.) The truth is that I only retrofitted TopLine’s business plan a few years later. Building the business was SO HARD.
The turning point was when we decided to completely change the strategy of the business two and a half years ago. We wanted to change TopLine’s focus to aiming to help businesses grow rather than only focusing on generating media coverage.
It was a tough process. We turned over most of our team, and lost a few clients. But it was worth it – we were finally selling something that businesses really needed – and things took off from there.
ON INNOVATION IN BUSINESS
I tend to take risks, but mostly calculated ones. At TopLine, the biggest risk was changing our business strategy. I’m always up for trying new stuff with the business – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at the very least we are always changing and learning. I think it’s important to do this.
ON SUCCESSFUL LEADERSHIP
I would like to think competence and effectiveness are the big factors in determining which people manage to get to top leadership positions and stay there.
I believe in leading by example. If you want your team to be in the office on time, you have to arrive on time.
I’m also always learning and trying to improve – I think I’m a much better leader now than I was two years ago. I’m kinder and more forgiving. I try to remember to say thanks. I bring my dog to work which improves my mood. I am hugely conscious of how my mood affects the whole team. I try to praise publicly, criticise privately. Hopefully I will be a much better leader in two years’ time than I am now.
At TopLine we also have a system for getting anonymous feedback and I am okay with bad feedback – so I regularly have the opportunity to improve how I operate.
I try to hire really good people and train them well – although I know I still sometimes dump too much stuff on them. I don’t always get it right, but I buy myself some room by being nice to people (when I remember). I try to keep the office positive – we don’t tolerate lying and shouting at TopLine.
ON WORK-LIFE BALANCE
I never used to balance work and personal life. I used to let work control me to the point where it almost consumed me and I had a near mental breakdown. That’s when I started to create boundaries between TopLine and me. That was also, incidentally the turning point for the business, and I don’t think that is a coincidence. Balance is important and instrumental to success.
Now that I make time for myself I pursue loads of hobbies: yoga, trail running, ballet, travelling and meditating.
ON STAYING ONE STEP AHEAD
To keep up with what is happening in the industry we go to conferences, we read and we watch what other people do and learn from it. We are always learning. You can never become complacent and believe that you now know everything.
One big change I see on the horizon for the next year is that creative budgets will be expanded, and we will finally see real creativity emerging – I can’t wait!
ON NEW HORIZONS/THE FUTURE
Of course! I think TopLine could be ten times the size it is now.
I also want to start a citrus farm. Drive a Vespa from London to Cape Town (where we now also have a TopLine office).
I want to learn to do a handstand – and a full pull-up – become a yoga instructor, and get a PhD. Write a novel, become fluent in Spanish, French and German, build a car, climb Kilimanjaro and cycle across Mongolia.