Monday, 2 July 2012

The mums who are beating the FTSE ...

Louise Makin
Louise Makin, BTG
13 women currently lead FTSE 350 companies and as a group they are beating the index. In the case of Louise Makin (BTG) and Angela Ahrendts (Burberry) quite massively so - whilst the 350 stands at just 85% of its June 2007 level, Louise Makin has grown BTG’s share price by 345% and Angela Ahrendt, Burberry’s by 193% over the same period.

“When people tell me ‘It can’t be done’, you just do it,” Cynthia Carroll FT2012

Angela Ahrendts
Angela Ahrendts, Burberry
Behind this group performance are some outstanding fundamentals.  Dido Harding at Talk Talk has turned a £3million loss into a £141 million profit in just 2 years in a flat revenue market.  Louise Makin has more than doubled BTG’s revenues and more than trebled its profits in the last 5 years.  Within the same period Carolyn McCall (easyJet), Ruby McGregor-Smith (MITIE), Harriet Green (Thomas Cook), Marjorie Scardino (Pearson) and Angela Ahrendts have all grown profits by over 150%.

"Angela is ... very modern, very human. She gets people to work harder than they ever have, just by letting them know how important they are, how much the team relies on them.” Andy Janowski Burberry Supply Chain Lead, Wall Street Journal 2010

Dido Harding
Dido Harding, Talk Talk

The group is achieving this success in some very challenging sectors, (for example, Cynthia Carroll in mining with Anglo American and Dorothy Thompson in coal power at DRAX), and in companies with decidedly difficult trading records.  Dido Harding who took over at Talk Talk less than 2 years ago keeps on her desk the wooden spoons the company won for worst customer service from a national newspaper.  When Kate Swann took over WH Smith in 2003 it was issuing profit warnings and on the brink of collapse.  Carolyn McCall at easyJet has had to manage the infamously acrimonious relationship between its founder and its board.  Harriet Green has joined this group of trouble shooters moving from Premier Farnell  to troubled travel firm Thomas Cook.

"When I joined I might not have looked that attractive to people, but the alternative was probably going out of business. It was a burning platform." Kate Swann, Telegraph 2011

Harriet Green
Harriet Green,
Thomas Cook
Obviously, the 13 are a diverse group, (ranging from early 40s to mid 60s), of very individual women but there are some common themes in their experience.  9 of the group - Cynthia Carroll, Louise Makin, Angela Ahrendts, Kate Swann, Ruby McGregor-Smith, Dorothy Thompson, Caroline Banszky (Law Debenture), Marjorie Scardino and Harriet Green (at Premier Farnell) - had deep expertise in their sector before their appointment. And  Alison Cooper (Imperial Tobacco) although originally at PWC had been at Imperial for more than 10 years before becoming CEO.  Of interest for the identification of future women CEOs is that 5 of the group - Alison Cooper, Lynn Fordham (SVG), Caroline Banzky, Ruby McGregor-Smith and Dorothy Thompson - had financial backgrounds as CFOs or in Thompson's case Group Treasurer.

“To have that cost control discipline as part of the DNA is, for me, a great strength ...” Alison Cooper, Imperial Tobacco, The Financial Times 2011

Marjorie Scardino, Pearson
But the most striking thing this group share is their individual authenticity.  It's this, that as women we are sometimes afraid of in ourselves - we fear being different, standing out - but it is this, that gives these women their personal charisma and leadership authority.  It shines through in Cynthia Carroll's stories of her early days as a petroleum geologist - “It was great fun - there were lots of helicopter rides and mountain climbing”; in Marjorie Scardino's past kicking up a storm against corruption as a local journalist in Savannah Georgia;  in Dido Harding's former life as a race horse owner and jockey; in the 10 years Lynn Fordham spent working in West Africa; in Ruby McGregor-Smith's energetic tweeting.  But also at the other extreme in very hands on leadership whether its Carolyn McCall picking up litter as she talks to passengers and staff on flights, Dido Harding taking her turn on the phone in her besieged Talk Talk call centre or Kate Swann redesigning the card displays in WH Smith.

"As soon as you're out there you see what's happening. You speak to people - the crew come up and chat - and you know whether the standby levels are correct or not." Carolyn McCall Flight Global 2012

"Some customers have been so angry they have come in to see me because they wanted to let rip face to face, even though we had fixed the issue. That's fine too because then I will do a better job of fixing such problems for other customers." Dido Harding, The Telegraph 2011

Ruby McGregor-Smith
Ruby McGregor-Smith, MITIE
If it is their individual authenticity that is so inspirational to others then their own inspirations and influences are appropriately diverse.  Angela Ahrendts is a committed Methodist who reads the bible every day and Harriet Green a yoga devotee whilst Alison Cooper cites her girls' grammar school which "encouraged you to break the mould", Carolyn McCall being thrown into a sales role - "The most important thing was that I learnt negotiation"-  and Dido Harding her grandfather who "left school at 16, fought in both world wars and ended his military career as the head of the British armed forces. He taught me that if you try hard enough, almost anything is possible."

“I don’t know if I really understand what ‘role model’ means but I guess I am one now.  I found that quite hard. I didn’t know I’d be one, never thought I’d be one.”  Ruby McGregor-Smith, Coutts 2012

"I genuinely think, if you can't do something for yourself for one hour a day, you have become a slave ... whatever is your challenge in yoga is your challenge in life. My challenge is balance."  Harriet Green, The Guardian 2012 

Carolyn McCall
Carolyn McCall, EasyJet
And all these women have through very hard work achieved what many still fear is not possible -  combining leadership success and motherhood.   The group can certainly lay claim to a few stories of "super woman" prowess; Cynthia Carroll was on the phone to work whilst in labour and there are some large families - Carroll and Carolyn McCall have 4 children and Angela Ahrendts and Marjorie Scardino 3.  

Cynthia Carroll
Cynthia Carroll, Anglo American
But more striking are the stories of flexibility at both home and work that have allowed these women to "have it all". The husbands of at least 3 of the group, (Cynthia Carroll, Carolyn MCall and Angela Ahrendts), work from home and a close friend of Marjorie Scardino had described how her husband Albert took a lot of the responsibility for childcare - "Marjorie had the babies, Albert nurtured them". (The Guardian 2003).  Cynthia Carroll has credited her success to her husband's willingness to work from home after the birth of their 3rd child.

Dorothy Thompson
Dorothy Thompson, DRAX
In turn flexibility at work has and is making a difference for these mothers.  Dorothy Thompson works half the week at DRAX's headquarters in York and half in London where her children live.  Ruby McGregor-Smith took 18 months off work to care for her second child who was sick and has very publicly discussed the difficulty of succeeding at work whilst being a mother and the need for flexible work places.

Caroline Banszky
Caroline Banszky,
Law Debenture
Lyn Fordham
Lyn Fordham
"My children were six and four when I joined the company, I found it incredibly difficult to be away from them. You need to work with people who understand you have a family and that you are a mother first and foremost.” Ruby McGregor-Smith, 2012
“What got me through was having a lot of support and flexibility at work, and not having to feel guilty about needing time off when I did.” Ruby McGregor-Smith, Coutts 2012

Kate Swann
Kate Swann,
WH Smith

Alison Cooper
Alison Cooper,
Imperial Tobacco
Understandably, not all of these women leaders want to talk publicly about their family life and children but personally, I find refreshing Ruby McGregor-Smith's frank discussion of her decision to take a break from her career and of the very real challenges of combining work and motherhood.  Too often, it is left to those who have stepped off the career ladder to explore the issues rather than someone who has demonstrated so powerfully that despite these challenges, it is possible for mothers to succeed at the very top of British business and to beat the FTSE whilst they're at it!

1 comment:

  1. Very inspirational. And a ripost to all those nay-saying men who think that women become useless as soon as they become mothers.
    What a pity so many other companies are unable to organise themselves to allow mothers the flexibility they need to excell at both job and motherhood.