She is one of the UK’s hardest working women BUT love for the job and precious weekends with her family are all Karren Brady NEEDS
Karren Brady’s to-do list must be epic. In fact, it’s probably been epic since the late Eighties, when the ambitious teenager kicked off her career at Saatchi & Saatchi, rapidly moving onwards and upwards before becoming managing director of Birmingham City Football Club in 1993, at the tender age of 23.
Most people that age are still figuring things out. Brady however was on a fast-track to making history; under her, Birmingham City FC began recording profits for the first time ever and when she floated the club on the stock market a few years later, she became the youngest ever managing director of a UK PLC.
Since then, her fingers have been in many pies - multimillion pound businesses (the company she sold in 2009 was valued at over £82million), writing (she’s published four books and writes columns for The Sun and Woman & Home), TV work (most famously as one of Alan Sugar’s sidekicks on The Apprentice), and she took over as vice-chairman of West Ham United FC in 2010.
One of the most important deals she’s negotiating these days though, is a deal many up and down the country will relate to - parenting a teenage daughter.
“Any parent of a teenage daughter will tell you there are some difficult times,” she says, laughing.
“I still look at my daughter and see her as six,” she adds of her 18-year-old. “She sees herself as an independent, feisty woman who can do what she wants. It’s getting that balance between adult and child, it’s really difficult.”
It’s difficult to imagine Brady, 45, as anything but mega bright, but she’s convinced that her achievements are more about hard work, good attitude and good fortune.
“When I left school at 18, all I really had were my core values,” by which she means, “things like determination, enthusiasm, the ability to work hard, the ability to mix”.
Her immense drive is put down to a childhood spent at boarding school, where “nothing’s your own”.
“Someone tells you when to get up, when to go to bed, when to eat, what to eat; it can be very oppressive. When I was younger, the only ambition I had was to be independent, so that I would be deciding what I ate, when I took a bath...”
Of course, she’s put a lot of hours in over the years; still does. She stays in London four nights a week and will work long hours, often “into the night”, so that she can be at home - in the village of Knowle near Birmingham - on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays.
If she’s not at the football, these weekends are “all about spending time with the family, relaxing, cooking - I love to cook”.
She famously returned to work just two days after having her daughter, but there isn’t a hint of guilt or side-stepping when she admits that she never switches her phone off (“Never - I mean literally never”) and answering emails at 2am is normal for her.
Neither is there any hint of exhaustion; in fact she sounds calm, grounded and very happy.
“Well I don’t have to take calls I don’t want to take,” she reasons. “I think when you run a business and employ 800 people you have to be accessible, that’s just the way it is.”
She insists that she’s never felt a need to sacrifice elements of motherhood or her career in order to make things work - it’s just a question of making judgement calls. “Sometimes what’s happening at work is more important, and sometimes what’s happening at home is more important; you have to be your own judge of your balance.”
So does she balance out all that hard work with relaxation regimes? Regular spa visits, perhaps?
“I can’t stand stuff like that!” she responds.
In fact, her only “indulgence” is having her hair dyed. “I used to do it myself, because I’m a fidget and it takes so long [in the salon],” she says.
“I don’t work out either; naughty, but I don’t. I don’t have time and I absolutely hate it.”
She also enjoys a glass of wine (she’s refraining at the moment because she’s “on a diet”), but the regular medicals she has for her TV work keep things in check.
That’s pretty much the extent of Brady’s relaxation or wellbeing regime. But, while she may be a workaholic, she certainly isn’t a blinkered one, blindly ignoring crazy stress levels, for instance, as she forges on.
In 2006, a routine MRI scan revealed a potentially fatal aneurysm in Brady’s brain and she underwent urgent neurosurgery to prevent it rupturing. She was 36 and, yes, it did make her reassess - though it simply reaffirmed how much she loves her life and her work.
“It made he realise that life’s short. All the things you put off doing because you think you can do them another time, there may not be another time,” she says. “And it helped put things into perspective, you know, what’s important, what isn’t important.”
At the time, it didn’t make her overly anxious about her health, though now she’s getting older she finds herself thinking more and more about how “very fragile” health is.
She is also a judge of the Nectar Business Small Business Awards.
“When you set up a business as I did, you’re the managing director, the marketing director, you answer the phone, make the tea, clean the office... You’re busy promoting your business and you realise that there’s not that many people behind you.”