‘Hire people that terrify you’: The secrets of the UK’s most successful female business leaders

Anya Hindmarch, the British designer, started her business in the middle of the 1980s recession. Of all the challenges faced since then, she tells me that the pandemic has forced her to think “more bravely than ever before”. And she did, launching a five-store village, dedicated to her favourite things, from the art of organising to recycled plastics. 

The Covid crisis demanded bravery and innovation from all business owners. Not only have the past two years been extremely challenging to navigate, but the paths to recovery are also unclear against an ever-evolving economic backdrop.

Personally, Covid has tested me in every corner of my life; as an entrepreneur, a female business leader, a single mother and the daughter of a geographically divided family. Resilience, ingenuity and humility have been learnt and required at every turn. Despite the hardship, I’ve also witnessed exceptional leadership and success under pressure. 

And it is important to continue highlighting the success of breakthrough leaders, their persistence in the face of challenges, their ingenuity in seizing opportunity, and to identify where more support is needed. Beauhurst and J.P. Morgan Private Bank’s Top 200 Female Powered Businesses report “provides us with a deeper understanding of how we can help women tackle some of the systemic challenges they face and enable entrepreneurs, female founders and businesses powered by women to maintain and accelerate their success,” says managing director Oliver Gregson. 

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So, what are the secret success ingredients to this female-led business growth? 

Access to funding 

First up, and perhaps the hardest to achieve, is access to funding. As Gregson points out, positive progress is being made as “the UK’s top female-powered businesses raised a record £2.3 billion in equity investment, up 41 per cent year-on-year” and achieved sales of £34 billion. Despite this, many women are missing out on critical funding opportunities through the pandemic, particularly early-stage funding. 

As Anne Boden, founder and CEO of Starling Bank, comments: “When women founders do get funded, expectations are different. They do not get given the permission or privilege to lose a billion every quarter. There’s no ‘PayPal mafia’ for women who can support female founders, rally behind them, and push through their success.”  

With investment, women are often forced to overcome hurdles and to pivot and pursue less traditional funding options, such as crowdfunding, to great effect. Platforms including Crowdcube and Seedrs account for three of the top five investors in female-powered companies. Other alternatives include platforms like Swoop, founded by Andrea Reynolds, to offer entrepreneurs easier access to debt, equity and grant based fundraising. 

Big thinking 

Successful business leaders and founders think big from the outset and plan for growth. Boden implores women to think bigger. “Some surveys suggest that women aren’t thinking about starting businesses or planning for outsized success early enough,” she says. “And when they do, they aren’t dreaming big enough.” 

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Joining a growth accelerator, such as the Business Growth Programme or Entrepreneurial Spark, can help supercharge aspirations and possibilities. Thirty-seven per cent of the top female-powered businesses attended an accelerator, compared with 19 per cent of high-growth businesses. 

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