Strong Woman – Karren Brady [Book Review]

I have always had a lot of respect for business woman Karren Brady CBE, and this has only increased now I have read her autobiography “Strong Woman – The Truth About Getting To The Top“.

For anyone who isn’t familiar, Karren Brady is now CEO of West Ham United Football Club. Her career in football started in 1993 when, at the age of 23. she became the MD of Birmingham City Football Club and turned the club around. Alongside Nick Hewer, she is also adviser to Lord Sugar on The Apprentice.

I enjoyed reading more about her life and career and her no nonsense, practical approach and outlook, even when faced with a life threatening condition.

I found myself nodding and smiling throughout the book but there were 6 thoughts which resonated with me particularly strongly, which I have quoted below.

The Qualities of Entrepreneurs

“Becoming an entrepreneur is nothing to do with your education. It’s about your spirit. It’s about your desire. A burning spark inside you that’s your pride. If you have an idea, and the energy to see it into a business, you’re an entrepreneur.”

Karren Brady makes this point to protest about the expectation and requirement that you need a degree to get ahead, and that you must go to the right university to secure a job at some of the most prestigious companies. Having not gone to university she passionately makes the point that this route isn’t for everyone and that go-getters like her benefit more from starting work and climbing the ladder, rather than losing 3 years or more studying. Particularly with the high fees of studying nowadays these are great words of encouragement for anyone who doesn’t feel that attending lectures is for them.

This resonated with me for a different reason though. At a business event many years ago there was a heated discussion when someone commented that only those from privileged backgrounds can set up in business. I wholeheartedly disagreed with this statement, believing that the important thing is the vision and determination of the individual. Michelle Mone and Alan Sugar are testament to this. It is your spirit and spark that makes the difference and determines whether you go for it or not.

The Importance of Small Business

“I think it is really important to create respect for business and entrepreneurs among a new generation. It is crucial that we create an environment in which budding businesspeople can thrive. I still don’t think enough is being done to champion small and medium-sized businesses, or to really argue on their behalf and articulate what it is that they need to be successful.”

Children and young people need to realize that setting up a business is an option for them. They need to hear inspiring stories from people like Karren Brady to expand their horizons. Karren Brady was 23 when she became Managing Director of a Football Club. I was 23 when I set up my small business. How many other 23 year olds realize that it could be an option for them too?

In my opinion the Government do not understand small business. Furthermore, they particularly do not understand small businesses located outside of London! It is refreshing to hear someone cherishing the important contribution SMEs make to the UK economy and championing us. Thank you!

The Recipe for Success

“With energy, determination and hard work you can achieve. You can build a career, a life, that both challenges and rewards you. That exhilarates and fulfils you… Have confidence. Walk tall. Be direct… And at the root of it all, have faith – in yourself.”

These are wise words for anyone, with regards to their career or starting out in business. I don’t like dwelling on whether you are male or female. In my opinion you can do the job. Or you can’t. End of story. At the same time though, we are not the same and for whatever reason (or a whole host of reasons!) it is often women that have more crises of confidence. Karren Brady is a great role model to EVERYONE.

The Importance of Hard Work

“Success is about the relentless pursuit of what you want… You need to accept that hard work is going to be a vital ingredient… This take self-discipline and energy, and you’ll not meet anyone successful who doesn’t have both.”

I don’t buy into the 4-hour work week mentality – the thinking that you can be amazingly successful without putting the hours in. It frustrates me that so many people (in particular public sector workers) think that it is easy to make money in the private sector (please try it yourself before commenting!) and that private business is bad. Karren makes the point that perhaps the banking crisis has fueled this mistrust of the private sector. Maybe it has, but this unhealthy opinion, sometimes bordering on hatred, of business needs to be addressed.

The reality is that to have any chance of succeeding in life or in business you need to work your socks off. If you are not a “grafter” you won’t last long on my team. Fact.

At the same time this book also made me think that maybe it is actually OK to be a workaholic?!

Think Like a Small Business

“The best businesses, whatever their size, have a small-business mentality. People who work there know what things are costing, they understand the difference small margins can make to the bottom line.”

It was fantastic to hear that no matter what the size of the company, you still need to look after the pennies and have a small business mindset in terms of cost savings. Karren has cost saving committees looking at where money can be saved and a purchase order system to approve any expenditure.

A Lesson to Event Managers

“It led to an understanding that not every detail can be controlled at all times – even though I’d like it to be!”

All OCD Event Managers, and business owners, will identify with this. Although we try to plan for every eventuality, sometimes things happen outside our control. It is important to accept this and to be confident that you can deal with the unexpected, when necessary. You cannot be everywhere at once but be assured that you can make the right decisions and take action, as demanded by the situation.


I devoured this book in a couple of nights and recommend it to anyone in business (or aspiring to be), regardless of whether you are male or female!

I would love to hear what really stands out for you after reading the book, in the comments below.

1 comment

  1. Fantastic post, thanks for sharing and the recommendation. I attended her talk at the Confex few years ago and she’s so inspiring. Haven’t read this book but the takeaways from her talk were that to be successful in business you need to have ambition, pride, passion, respect, dedication and commitment.

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