Nottingham Business School Business Leaders

Nottingham Trent University

Nottingham Business School’s Business Leaders’ Podcast offers insights into how leaders and innovators achieve success. Hosted by Honorary Visiting Professor Mike Sassi, the podcast is broadcast every fortnight and features leaders and high-achievers from the NBS network, discussing the lessons they have learned.

All Episodes

Lee Kidger was made Managing Director of Raleigh UK during the first coronavirus lockdown – at the age of just 31.He joined the world’s best-known bike brand as an account manager, less than ten years ago. Today he runs a company whose last annual accounts show it turned over £38m. “The opportunity certainly came earlier than I expected,” he tells the Business Leaders’ podcast. So early, in fact, that Lee is still studying for his MBA at Nottingham Business School.Lee first fell in love with both bikes and business, while working on the tills at his local Halfords store, in Essex.Now – aged 31, cycling for fun, in an urban environment – he typifies the type of customer Raleigh aims to attract.“I’m the target audience for where Raleigh should be going,” he says.Lee talks openly about taking a significant pay cut early in his career, to move into a job he knew he would enjoy more. Since then, he hasn’t looked back.Raleigh once employed thousands of workers in huge Nottingham factories. Most of its bikes are now made in Europe and its Nottinghamshire headquarter has around 120 staff.But Lee says Raleigh’s great history and heritage, is an opportunity rather than a challenge.The customers who bought the iconic Choppers and Grifters in the 1980s – what he calls Raleigh’s long-standing ‘brand fans’ – are now spending thousands of pounds on gleaming new ebikes. Lee believes ebikes, together with cargo bikes and the huge investment Government has pledged to build national cycling infrastructure, are helping to create a dynamic, innovative industry.And as MD of Raleigh UK, he is in the right place, at the right time, to take advantage.He says: “We’re in the midst of a Raleigh rebrand. Coming in the next 18 months to two years, will be some really exciting bikes that are going to be pushing the limits…“As a business leader you have to be passionate about what you are doing. You have to come to work and really enjoy it.”

Dec 2020

18 min 38 sec

Marketing director Charlotte Cox is a woman who has had great success in the world of men’s international rugby union.She famously led the team that developed the Canterbury shirt worn by England in the 2019 World Cup, in Japan. The Nottingham-based global marketeer also helped develop a host of other international kit.Charlotte tells the Business Leaders’ podcast her most vivid memory of that World Cup was being sat in the Shizuoka Stadium watching Japan play Ireland, knowing she had been involved with the development of the shirts worn by both teams.“It was a really proud moment,” she says.Soon after, Charlotte won the Nottinghamshire Businesswoman of the Year award for 2019. There was then a promotion to the executive board of Pentland Brands, as President of Europe the Middle East and Africa.But she tells NBS podcast host Mike Sassi that her love of marketing started while she was at school, working as a Saturday sales assistant in a Kettering shoe shop.She would set herself personal sales targets – and make sure she improved her performance every week.Charlotte talks candidly about her career, highlighting the mistakes she has made – including a training manual for selling lingerie – the problems she has encountered and how she always needs to believe in the brands she manages.She also describes her methods for building “unstoppable teams”, that make the best decisions.“You have better outcomes with a more a more diverse group of people in the room,” she says.Charlotte sees her primary role as being to create a vision for her brands.But she is equally passionate about helping young women in business achieve their full potential.She coaches women, she says, to believe in themselves. Her aim is to give them enough confidence to say Yes, to every opportunity… before they have the chance to say No!Charlotte’s advice to any young person starting out in business?Focus on outcomes – on tangible, measurable achievements. And don’t rush your career. Building your skills methodically will give you a greater chance of success.Her specific advice for young women in business? Own your own career. Say yes to every opportunity. “Even the scary stuff!” she adds.“The moments when you feel most uncomfortable are often the moments when you are learning most.”

Jan 19

17 min 3 sec

Former banking executive Robin Foale enjoyed a hugely successful career with both Barclays and Santander.But, given his time again, he says he would probably follow a different path.He has been inspired by the young entrepreneurs he has met in recent years, as he coaches and mentors at universities, including Nottingham Business School.“If I’d known then what I know now I would have backed myself a lot earlier,” he tells the NBS Business Leaders’ Podcast.“I’d have gone off and been an entrepreneur. I like the idea of risking everything in backing oneself as a business.”After more than three decades in mainstream banking, Robin is now heavily involved in education, including as chair of the NBS advisory board.He is intrigued by the increasing number of young people he talks to who want to work for themselves. He is also impressed by both the quality of their ideas and the strength of their self-belief.The most important attribute they will need if they are to be successful as leaders is integrity, he tells podcast host Mike Sassi.During a fascinating conversation, he goes on to talk candidly about the dark days of the 2008 international financial crisis – and how he stood down from one role because he feared he was being asked to compromise his own integrity.Robin is now a director of the Reliance Bank, that was founded by the Salvation Army.He believes customers increasingly want to use more benevolent, compassionate organisations, including social enterprises. In his own industry, he sees the closure of High Street branches continuing. But he is certain the large volumes of data we give our banks every day mean we can still have a detailed – even personal – relationship with the people who look after our money.

Feb 2

24 min 26 sec

Sara Blair-Manning has the job of turning Nottingham Castle into one of the biggest visitor attractions in England.The castle is scheduled to reopen in 2021, after a £30m redevelopment.In this episode of Nottingham Business School’s Business Leaders’ Podcast, Sara talks to host Mike Sassi about her career – from bingo-caller at Nottingham’s Goose Fayre to stately home manager with the National Trust.Speaking at the castle during the summer of 2020, Sara talks about carefully planning and researching her career moves – but reflects on the importance of seizing opportunities.She is also candid about the mistakes she has made and the lessons she has learned.Outside of work, Sara talks about her love for singing and, unusually, her skills as a conductor. She also pays tribute to Nottingham Trent University, where she studied music as an undergraduate in the 1980s.At the end of the interview, Sara has tough things to say about the city of Nottingham, which she describes as being vibrant, brave and exciting during the 1980s – but now lacking in ambition.She hopes the reopening of the castle will help Nottingham “raise itself up”.This podcast was recorded late in 2020, before the third lockdown started in January 2021.

Feb 16

25 min 54 sec

Jonathan Sims believes green technologies will be a good place to build a career in post-pandemic Britain. And as chief procurement officer with international energy company Engie, in Britain and Ireland, he should know. The Government has decreed its economic recovery plans will be spearheaded by clean technologies. And many big international businesses – including Engie, traditionally a utility company – have chosen to focus their global energies on “making zero carbon happen”. Jonathan tells the NBS Business Leaders’ podcast: “When I look at the evolution in the Engie business in the last two years, the pace of change has been enormous. “The (UK) Government has been very supportive in driving the green agenda – it has shaped our business activities. “It’s an exciting sector… And the organisational purpose of doing good is compelling.” Jonathan started his own career in the family construction business, after leaving school in Mansfield, in the 1990s. “Like a lot of young people, I was probably lost and unfocused about what I wanted to do – and where I wanted to be,” he tells Visiting Honorary Professor Mike Sassi.“But I’ve always been driven by opportunity. And as a youngster in a construction business, surveying seemed like one of the most professional sectors open to me.” He began shadowing the company’s surveyors, studied for the first of his four degrees – then embarked on a business career that has taken him to half a dozen companies. Along the way he has picked up a wide range of business skills but believes most of his successes have been based on his ability as a manager. He says: “As a primary skill, good management probably comes first. The technical aspects of a role, you can acquire over time. “Good business acumen – the fact that solutions are delivered through people – is at the heart of all areas.” And, despite the pandemic, Jonathan is optimistic for young people starting out in business now. He says: “They will be trying to build their own personal brand over Teams or Zoom and that’s probably a challenge lots of managers have never had. “But remote working has also broken down geographical barriers, enabling people to work from anywhere, which is going to open up huge opportunity.”

Mar 2

18 min 32 sec

Judy Naake MBE is best known for the St Tropez fake tan empire that she sold for £70m.But she was also one of the first entrepreneurs to use celebrity endorsements to promote her business.Judy told stars like Victoria Beckham and Cat Deeley they could either pay for their new tan or, if they liked what they saw, they could have it free of charge by allowing her to use their names.Her PR strategy worked. The stars told their friends and fans, St Tropez became a huge success – and Judy was feted as a beauty business guru. However, before she signed a contract with its American manufacturer, no-one was interested in the tanning cream.“Everyone in the industry thought I was crazy,” she tells the NBS Business Leaders’ Podcast.“Several distributors had turned it down… It was dark brown. I slapped it on my legs and thought, this is going to look like hell in the morning!”But it didn’t. In fact, Judy was so impressed she bought two plane tickets to Los Angeles, where she persuaded the manufacturer to make her St Tropez’s sole British distributor.Crucially, she also negotiated a distributor’s contract that laid the foundations for her future success. She says: “It was a very good contract. Because of my knowledge of the beauty business, I knew… if you’re not careful you can build a brand for someone then they say, ‘thank you very much, we’ll do it ourselves now’.”Judy now advises young entrepreneurs.In an entertaining interview with Honorary Visiting Professor Mike Sassi, she explains how she honed her business skills working in sales promotion as a 1980s “John Player Girl”.She also talks about her 25-year entrepreneurial career before she started with St Tropez – including running her dad’s restaurant, in Nottingham city centre.Judy admits she doesn’t suffer fools – and she only trusts herself. Her experiences tell her that “women still need to work harder than men.” Despite her business success, she regrets not going to university. Her dad wouldn’t allow it because, in his view, university was a place where “they all took drugs”. Ironically, Judy was later awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Nottingham.But her advice to aspiring young entrepreneurs is to trust their intuition.“Never underestimate your gut [instincts],” she says. “If your gut isn’t happy, don’t do it!”

Mar 16

20 min 44 sec

Shamshad Ahmed is a serial entrepreneur. He’s tried everything from importing cotton bath robes to dabbling in discount retail stores.But it was while working in clinical drug trials that he spotted tens of thousands of potentially life-saving stem cells – used to treat conditions such as leukaemia and cerebral palsy – were being thrown away every year.He immediately recognised parents would pay to have stem cells from their new-born babies’ umbilical cords stored for use in the event of future illness.So in 2000 he founded the Smart Cells company, to store cord blood and tissue for 25 years at a private blood bank near Heathrow Airport.The Smart Cells owner – who graduated from Nottingham Trent in 1982 with a Business Studies degree – says: “I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a businessman. But I surround myself with people who are experts in their [medical] fields. “I’m never afraid to say, ‘I don’t know the answer, I’ll have to go away and ask someone and come back to you’.”Talking to Honorary Visiting Professor Mike Sassi, Shamshad describes how, in the early years, his company faced opposition from NHS obstetricians and midwives.The Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians said there wasn’t enough evidence of stem cell transplant success, to support people being allowed to store their own umbilical cord blood and tissue. But the evidence has grown.“Well over 50,000 cord blood stem cells have now been used for transplants around the world,” he tells the NBS Business Leaders’ Podcast.“You can’t now say that it’s a waste of time and it doesn’t work. And in the future, we’re going to find more and more applications for these stem cells.”Today many NHS hospitals are willing, for a fee, to have their maternity staff collect blood to be passed on to Smart Cells for storage.For other customers, Smart Cells sends in its own phlebotomists to collect the samples.The range of blood cancers, genetic disorders and brain infections that can be treated with stem cells is increasing.“In the last few months there has been work which has demonstrated the success of using cells to replace damaged tissue in the lungs once you’ve had Covid,” Shamshad says. “It’s very promising – and it’s another potential use of stem cells.”Shamshad started his career as a management trainee with Dupont, before moving into banking with CitiBank. A friend invited him to work in medical research, from where he went on to set up a joint venture company to conduct drug trials – and then to found Smart Cells.Smart Cells is now a successful, global business with offices and agents all over Europe and the Middle East. Customers pay an upfront fee, then an annual charge for storage.Shamshad admits that in two decades running the company he has made mistakes.He says he was too eager to outsource finance and laboratory functions – and too slow to realise the value of taking on high-quality staff.He also had to buy out family members from whom he’d borrowed £250,000, after relationships turned sour.“The experience almost wiped me out. I almost had to start all over again,” he adds, candidly.His advice to young entrepreneurs is unusual – but chimes perfectly with his dynamic career. He warns would-be businesspeople not to over-think. “I don’t see how you can make any projections beyond a year. And five-year projections are just pie in the sky,” he says. “Over-thinking is a disease. Success is all about activity!”

Mar 30

24 min 41 sec

Theatre executive Stephanie Sirr has seen her leadership role change out of all recognition during the last two decades.“It used to be quite macho… never explain, never apologise,” she says.“Now your people skills and your emotional intelligence are absolutely paramount. It’s no longer about striding around invading small countries.“You’re trying to make something with longevity and relevance. And that involves talking to people and consulting with them.”The chief executive of Nottingham Playhouse tells the NBS Business Leaders’ Podcast that back in the 1990s and 2000s – when she started in theatre management – being a “tough nut” was part of the job description.But since then, expectations of leaders have altered radically. She no longer has to “put on a performance”.“There was an element of needing to show how tough you were,” Stephanie tells Honorary Visiting Professor Mike Sassi.“All leaders have to make difficult decisions. The last year has been full of them. But now I don’t feel the need to make decisions just to prove that I can. “When you go back a bit, I think that was the requirement. That may have been because I was a female leader.”The Playhouse – like every other theatre in Britain – has been closed by the Covid pandemic for 12 months, with most of its 100 staff furloughed. The previous year it recorded an annual turnover of almost £5m.Stephanie says her leadership role is more about business planning than a love of the arts.She says: “A passion for theatre and participation is no longer enough. It has to be underpinned by rock solid financial and change management skills.”Stephanie believes the most important part of her role is employing the right people, then helping them develop and flourish.And her advice to young, would-be leaders is very clear.She says: “Don’t ever think you can’t be a leader just because you don’t come from a family of leaders. “Ask yourself: Are you the person who makes clear plans? Are you the person who people come to with their problems? Are you the person who likes organising things and taking an overview?“If the answer is yes, you may well be a really great leader. “Don’t let anyone tell you are the wrong type of person. That’s not how leadership works.”

Apr 13

21 min 19 sec

International businessman Sir Ken Olisa believes post-pandemic Britain offers young entrepreneurs more opportunities than at any point in his lifetime.Sir Ken – Chairman of the Restoration Partners technology merchant bank he founded, and Deputy Chairman of the Institute of Directors – is excited by the business revolution he says is taking place.And he tells the Business Leaders’ Podcast that young people who have just endured more than 12 months of lockdown may well be perfectly placed to take advantage.“If you are a young businessperson now, this is the best possible period,” he says.“We are coming out of an economic winter, into an economic spring. The things that were frail before we went into winter will die. The things that are vibrant and strong will survive. In my lifetime there has not been so great an opportunity for innovation and change.”Sir Ken, who grew up on a terraced street in Nottingham, started his career with American computer giant IBM, before enjoying a hugely successful series of senior executive roles with Wang Laboratories. In 1992 he founded the technology merchant bank Interregnum. He tells Honorary Visiting Professor Mike Sassi about a time when Interregnum tested his leadership skills.He says: “2002 was a terrible year for us. We must have nearly gone bust every month! “I gave a leadership speech to the board… when I said: You only notice the rocks in the water when the tide is out! My senior independent director replied: Rocks? I can see the expletive supermarket trolleys!”Interregnum survived and prospered. Sir Ken – regularly in news headlines as the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant of London – now runs Restoration Partners. He believes we’re heading into a period of unprecedented economic change.“Today, we’ve just had a pandemic and the tide has gone out completely,” he says.“All the things that were wrong are now there for us to watch on the beachfront. “Why did we make people do two and a half hours a day commuting? Because we’ve always done that. No other reason. Why did we think people working from home were skiving? Because we always have.“The pandemic has exposed things that have been in plain sight, but we haven’t tackled. Seriously competitive businesses will look at those things, reconfigure and compete. Others will not look at them, will not tackle them, will fail to compete and will fold.”Sir Ken was the first British-born black man to serve on the board of a major UK company, when he joined Reuters. He has since served on boards in Britain and North America and is currently chairman of Africa’s biggest e-payments company Interswitch.He believes disruptors – businesspeople who want to do things differently – will dominate markets in the coming years. “For disruptors, it’s all about opportunities,” says the businessman, who has an honorary doctorate from Nottingham Trent University.“You already see it, for example, in food delivery across the country. An entirely new industry is being built as a result of the pandemic. This is a wonderful time for the disruptor.”Sir Ken predicts 5G will have as big an impact on our lives as the advent of the internet.He says: “We are in what I call the Age of Ubiquity. Everything is – or will become – a computer. Technology can do things that couldn’t be done before. “5G means we can now have an instant response to something. And access to the Cloud, means we have infinite computer power.“The applications this makes possible, across all sectors, are still largely to be designed, implemented and turned into businesses. “This is a revolutionary period of time… a new economic spring. It’s that big a step change.”

Apr 27

34 min 38 sec

Healthcare leader Peter Homa believes the most important thing for any leader is to believe in what you’re doing – even if it means walking away from a job to avoid being compromised.As Director General of the Defence Medical Services, Peter has been in charge of health care for every member of the British military for almost two years.But he also spent a quarter of a century running three of Britain’s biggest NHS teaching hospitals – and was founding chair of the NHS Leadership Academy.He told the Nottingham Business School’s Business Leaders’ Podcast: “Experience has taught me the fundamental importance of values – and not compromising them.“There was one particular occasion where I resigned. At the time, it felt like a very heavy decision. But… I was being asked to enact a role that wasn’t the one I’d applied for, in a way that I was profoundly uncomfortable doing. I chose to get out of it. “It was uncomfortable at the time, but it was entirely the right thing to do.”In this episode of the NBS podcast, Visiting Honorary Professor Mike Sassi asks Dr Homa how successful leaders maintain transparency, even under intense pressure.Peter says: “In healthcare we exhort our clinical colleagues to be open when things go wrong. As managers we need to lead by example. So, when I’ve done something wrong, it’s very important I demonstrate the behaviour I expect of others. “Also, through sharing adversities and difficulties, we build up levels of trust and confidence in each other.”Peter, who is also a member of Nottingham Business School’s advisory board, believes the most successful leaders keep a watchful eye on their own health.He thinks this will be increasingly important in the future.“I sense younger colleagues have a deeper sense of looking after themselves… a better sense of balance,” he says.“Many are concerned with working reasonable hours. I didn’t. I worked every hour I could… with downsides in having lost really important, irreplaceable time with family.“Younger colleagues recognise time has got to be invested in home, family and loved ones, as well as work.”And this is reflected in the advice Peter offers the next generation of senior managers and leaders.“One of the first tasks of a leader is to look after themselves,” he says.“If they can’t look after themselves, they won’t be able to look after those people who are looking to them for leadership. “On occasions I’ve been completely knackered… I haven’t been able to devote quality attention to individuals or issues… and that has led to poorer outcomes and results.“So, take care of yourself. Focus on mind, body and soul. And enjoy!”

May 11

18 min 19 sec

Sarah Walker-Smith isn’t a conventional company chief executive.She runs one of Britain’s Top 50 law firms, with an annual turnover of more than £70m.But in the middle of the pandemic, the CEO of Shakespeare Martineau decided to sing to her 900 staff.Accompanied by a company partner on the piano, she recorded her own ‘Christmas single’ version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.“It was an authentic representation of who I am – and my heart was aching, literally, for the world and for everybody in our business,” Sarah tells Episode 11 of the Nottingham Business School’s Business Leaders Podcast.“I’m definitely not your average chief exec in terms of my background… and how I speak and how I look sometimes. But what the pandemic has taught me is that you just have to be yourself.”It wasn’t the first time Sarah, who originally wanted to be an actress, had sung a song for her business.“In May last year I recorded a version of On My Own, from Les Miserables,” she said.“The response was unbelievable. I had 200 emails saying, ‘you’ve just made me cry’ and ‘we’re so in this together…’ It was best way I could say to people, we’re all going through some terrible stuff.”Sarah – a double alumni of Nottingham Trent University – started her career as an accountant before moving into marketing with Boots, then Browne Jacobson LLP. She became the first non-lawyer, woman CEO of a top 50 British law firm when she joined Shakespeare Martineau, in February 2019.Her leadership style is very open and she has established a big social media following during lockdown. But she believes, the most important thing for any leader is to let people know what they stand for.She tells Honorary Visiting Professor Mike Sassi: “I’m not going to be restrained by what you’re supposed to say or what you are not supposed to say as a leader, because I’m also a human being and people want to see human leaders. “I’m sure at some point it’s going to get me into trouble… but employees and stakeholders and clients want to know who they are dealing with.“The pandemic has taught me they want leaders who are authentic.”During the podcast, Sarah talks about attempting to establish “bubbles of certainty” for staff, allowing colleagues to continue working from home and the difficulties of restructuring a business during lockdown. And her independence of mind is reflected in her advice to Nottingham Business School’s young leaders of the future.She says: “The world is changing at a rapid pace, so find your own way. Have the confidence to be yourself. “Nine times out of ten your own instincts will be right. You will be a so much better – and happier – leader if you do it the way you want to do it.“And tune in to people. Develop a sense of empathy… to connect with lots of different working generations… Find out where people are at. It will pay back in spades.”

May 25

22 min

Sam Thorne says Britain can rely on its artists to help guide the country through post-pandemic economic and cultural change.The director of the Nottingham Contemporary believes one of the biggest challenges for modern leaders is dealing with uncertainty. And his experience – he was director at Tate St Ives in Cornwall, before arriving in Nottingham – is that artists are peculiarly well-equipped to plot a path into an unreliable future.“I enjoy uncertainty,” he tells the NBS Business Leaders’ Podcast.“It’s often said we’re living in unprecedented times. I would imagine that anybody, in whatever decade of whatever millennia, would always think themselves living in uncertain times. “But it seems like there’s something particular about the current moment. It’s difficult to think a year or two ahead. Or even a month or two ahead. Because of the speed at which things are changing. We’re at a point now where we’re working in the dark. “This is when artists can really lead… when I would listen to artists most. Because artists are always in tune with not only what is happening now, but also what is going to be happening tomorrow. “Contemporary art centres have always, since their inception, been thinking about what happens next. It feels to me like this is a particularly resonant, particularly exciting time to be working with that kind of uncertainty.”Sam’s love of uncertainty – developed during a career as artistic writer, curator and critic – has served him particularly well as he attempts to raise £1m every year, to keep The Contemporary in business. (The museum does not charge visitors.)“Less than fifty per cent of our funding now comes from public money,” he tells Honorary Visiting Professor Mike Sassi. “A huge part of my role is about fundraising. Every year we have to raise more than £1m just to keep the lights on!”Aside from this commercial imperative, he believes leaders are also now more focussed on the wellbeing of their staff.He says: “Within the cultural field there has been more focus on mental health, on development, on progression. These are things that, when I first came into this field, were often overlooked.“It’s coming from a younger generation… people who were coming out of school or university in the wake of the financial crisis, into a very challenging jobs market. “There’s a real divide between people who graduated before 2008 and after. They [post 2008 graduates] have very different demands of their employers and the teams they want to the part of.”And Sam’s advice to Nottingham Business School graduates, who are starting out on their careers in this uncertain world?“Find your mentors. Build a family. If there is somebody out there doing work you admire, reach out to them,” he says. “Very few people are going to say no to the offer of a coffee or a phone call. And when you’re starting out, those conversations can be really helpful. “Don’t be shy! My experience is that leaders are really interested in what young people are thinking about.”

Jun 9

23 min 21 sec

Air Marshal Sir Baz North faced one of his greatest challenges in the aftermath of the Mull of Kintyre Helicopter Disaster when a Chinook flew into a hillside killing all 25 security officers on board.It was the biggest peacetime loss of life in the history of the RAF.And Sir Baz – who was a Chinook Special Unit Commander in Northern Ireland, where the helicopter was based – tells the NBS Business Leaders’ Podcast that dealing with the tragedy taught him a lot.“The challenge I had was ensuring the other operations we had going on elsewhere were successfully conducted… while ensuring right was done to the families of those bereaved,” he says.“One learned about handling one’s own feelings.”During a 35-year career with the RAF, Sir Baz took on a huge array of leadership roles, from commanding helicopter squadrons in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan – to leading flood relief operations in Mozambique. He tells Visiting Honorary Professor Mike Sassi he threw himself into every job.“You only get one life and you’ve got to put as much into it as you can,” he says. “If you’re not enjoying it, you’re not putting enough in.“My first role as a pilot was flying Wessex helicopters, but I wanted to know more… to get a better understanding of what I wanted to do.“So, I spent time beyond my contracted hours learning more. If you have a passion for wanting to do your best, it doesn’t matter what your contract says, you’ll get stuck in – to amass knowledge.”Sir Baz also stresses the importance of team-building. He says good leaders must always be compassionate – and good team members supportive.But the Air Vice Marshal talks about “the loneliness of command”.He says: “Never be afraid of making unpopular decisions. Making the right decision is the thing to do. “Whether a decision is popular or not is not very interesting. “But mitigating unpopularity by explaining to one’s team the reason why… that brings them into a recognition of… ok… we don’t like it, but we’ve got to do it!”Sir Baz – who was seven years a member of the Air Force Board, until his retirement in 2016 – says would-be leaders must, above everything, embrace change.“Change is the only constant we’ve got in life – and that’s a thing that quite a few people can’t accept,” he says.“Get comfortable with change. Exploit it for the betterment of your own organisation and your own people. “Where there is change to be delivered there will be people who are resistant. So, move swiftly and exploit the ambiguity.”@ Sir Baz North is a member of the Nottingham Business School Advisory Board. In 2018 he was presented with an Honorary Doctorate by Nottingham Trent University. The ceremony and Sir Baz’s acceptance speech are HERE (between 43:45 and 55:00)

Sep 29

20 min 23 sec

Ann Francke is one of Britain’s most high-profile women business leaders – and a passionate campaigner for gender diversity in the workplace.She has spent almost nine years as CEO of the Chartered Institute of Management, highlighting the business benefits of having more women in senior management.But her campaigning is also fired by her own personal experience as a woman executive in a world dominated by men.She tells the Nottingham Business School Business Leaders’ Podcast: “There were many instances where I was the first and only female on the executive committee or board and I felt very othered. “I was made to feel quite uncomfortable and excluded – whether consciously as it was in some cases or unconsciously, as it no doubt was in others.”Ann tells Honorary Visiting Professor Mike Sassi about an occasion when she decided to confront the sexism head-on.“I called it out…absolutely and directly… in front of everyone,” she says.“What I was really signalling (to my boss) was, we’ve gotten to a point where our values have diverged. What I value, is not how you are treating me.“Then there is a kerfuffle. People try to gloss it over. They say: Why don’t you just apologise? “In that particular instance I said, well I don’t really have anything to apologise for. And then, of course, you end up leaving the organisation.”But there is an interesting postscript to Ann’s story.She adds: “The good of it is that another very senior leader observed that incident. That senior leader later became CEO of the organisation. And when they did, they knew they had to change the culture. “I’d like to think that in a small way I helped that CEO.”One of Ann’s first roles was as a brand manager at Proctor and Gamble, leading the launch of the Always product that became the company’s first truly global brand.Since then, she has enjoyed a stellar career, including executive posts at Mars, Yell, Boots and BSI.Ann is also the author of The Financial Times Guide to Management and a former winner of The Louis Armstrong Award for outstanding leadership of a UK professional body.She has been CEO at the CMI since 2012 and in 2020 she was awarded an OBE for services to workplace equality.Ann uses her success as a platform to highlight how women are still consistently undervalued in the workplace. “Despite all the talk, there's been very little action,” she says.“There's been very little progress in 2021. It is still the case that only six per cent of FTSE CEOs are female in the UK and only eight per cent of the S&P 500 in the United States are female.“Yet 51 per cent of the population is female. Sixty per cent of university graduates are female. It’s actually pretty appalling. And it’s been stuck there for the last five or ten years.”Ann believes the answer may lie in legislation to force change.She adds: “We need transparency in the form of gender pay gap reporting… transparency with teeth. Companies need to be held to account, to have action plans.“If they don't make progress there needs to be consequences… financial fines. Business likes to achieve things voluntarily, but there needs to be transparency with teeth and consequences for those that don't meet targets.”And Ann’s advice to young women who are just starting out on their career?“Always be true to your values,” she says.“Because that's how you'll keep that fundamental self-confidence and self-awareness. “Find an environment that corresponds to your values, and that makes you feel valued. And if you get into a situation where you are very unsupported and feeling very devalued, don't blame yourself. Change the situation. [Switch employer!]”

Oct 12

24 min 36 sec

Successful businesswoman Eileen Richards didn’t have a high-powered upbringing.But thirty years after she walked into a recruitment agency and asked to try as many temporary positions as possible, she is now one of the East Midlands most prominent business leaders.She has also been presented with an MBE by Prince Charles for the help she has given to other aspiring women business leaders.And in this episode of the Nottingham Business School Business Leaders’ Podcast, she talks about the importance of building relationships and developing expertise.“We all need KPIs in business, to measure and manage performance” she tells Honorary Visiting Professor Mike Sassi.“But the old saying that people buy from people, will last forever.“Then it’s your expertise as an individual that takes that relationship to a different level.“People pay for a service or product because they can rely on you to be an expert in a field.”Eileen runs the ER recruitment agency in Leicester and is President of the East Midlands Chamber.Much of her time is spent helping big companies recruit executives and non-executive directors for their boards. So, she knows what organisations are looking for in their leaders.She also recognises why mentoring future leaders is important.“Without realising it [early in my career] I had a really good mentor who saw something in me and gave me a long piece of rope that I could have done one of two things with!“Luckily it worked out for me. I desperately didn’t want to let him down.”Eileen also talks about the influence of her upbringing in a big Northern Irish family, in Leicester.She says: “Being one of seven children was absolutely fantastic. We didn’t have a lot of money.“But we also didn’t have mobile phones and laptops, so we weren’t distracted. We learned to communicate.“I went straight into a job from school – started as an office junior and ended up in a senior position. “But the company was moving to Bristol and I didn’t want to leave Leicester… so I walked into a recruitment agency and said I’d like to temp as many businesses as possible.”A few years later, she was in senior management with a recruitment agency.She adds: “When I was 30 years old [and I was first appointed as MD] this lovely car arrived and suddenly my salary went up significantly. “I remember my dad saying: Jesus! Things like this don’t happen to people like us!”That was more than a decade ago. Now, as an experienced business leader, Eileen runs her own company and has words of advice for up-and-coming leaders: “You can’t do it all, so surround yourself with the right people. And believe in yourself!”

Nov 9

16 min 36 sec

The chief executive of 200 Degrees is proud he only had to make three redundancies during 18 months of the Covid pandemic and lockdown. Because Rob Darby – whose coffee empire employs 200 staff across shops, barista schools and a major wholesale business – guards jealously his organisation’s reputation as a caring employer. “It’s a two-way relationship. Without the staff’s hard work and graft we would have no company. We depend on them,” he tells the NBS Business Leaders’ Podcast. “But they’ve all got families and bills to pay. So, they depend on me too – and I take my side of that very seriously.” Like most leaders, Rob had to work harder than ever to guide his organisation through lockdown. He tells Visiting Honorary Professor Mike Sassi that it was the uncertainty generated by the pandemic that was the biggest test of his leadership skills. “We were fortunate that we were a strong business holding a reasonable amount of cash on the balance sheet. And we had a really strong management team,” he says. “We had constructive conversations with landlords and pivoted the business to do more online. “I would like to be sat here saying I didn’t make anyone redundant. But I’m very proud it was only three (the wholesale sales team). “I did it in the August, with a long notice period because I thought there was going to be a flood of job losses in October and if I did mine early it would give the people involved the best chance of getting new jobs.” And he was right. All three staff secured jobs elsewhere before they left the 200 Degrees payroll. Rob and his co-owner Tom Vincent met while they were both studying engineering at university in Nottingham. After graduating, they spent more than a decade running bistros, pubs and cocktails bars. They first started brewing coffee at their roasting house on the banks of Nottingham’s River Trent because they couldn’t find a reliable supplier. Almost a decade later – and with 200 Degrees’ annual turnover having recently topped £10m – Rob believes opportunities for their wholesale business are increasing as organisations try to entice their staff back into the office with, among other things, high-quality coffee. However, he admits to being nervous about what the future might hold for the city centres where 200 Degrees has its shops. “Our out-of-town destinations are trading very strongly at the minute,” he tells the NBS Business Leaders’ Podcast. “But some shops in community destinations are still well down on pre-Covid numbers. “I’m nervous of city centres. Not because I don’t think we can trade well there… I just want to see where the dust settles. There will always be a hub to every city, but it might shift over the next few years to a smaller focal point.” Rob also has advice for young entrepreneurs and leaders of the future. He says: “Do something you’re really passionate about. I was passionate about customer service and standards, which within coffee I felt weren’t happening. “That has driven us to make loads of great decisions. You have to be passionate about what you do.”

Nov 23

18 min 33 sec