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Girls should want to own a football club, not marry a player, declares Karren Brady

4 min read

30 July 2015

Former editor

Some 22 years after being commended by a member of the media for her lack of penis but “great big balls” after masterminding the takeover of Birmingham Football Club, Karren Brady believes that the industry has changed for the better.

When Birmingham was sold by Brady and its owners in 2009 for £81.5m, she had brought about a change in senior management that meant 75 per cent of positions at that level were held by women.

“There has been a lot of progress over the last two decades. When girls tell me their ambition is to marry a footballer I say no, it should be owning a football club – and I’ve done both,” she said during a keynote speech at the Sage Summit in New Orleans.

Declaring that not all women want to own a big banking conglomerate, Brady emphasised that the overriding demand of women in business these days is respect. While there have been numerous initiatives, in the UK and around the world, to increase the proportion of women in both business and senior management roles, Brady said there was no magic dust – companies just need to employ more women.

“It’s an understanding that the best types of companies are those that have different people from different backgrounds and different cultures – all prepared to challenge things.

“If you have too many like-minded people who are afraid to question you, you are all going to be too busy patting each other on the back to notice falling off the cliff.”

In Brady’s business, she provides perspective and food for thought by requiring everyone to do a job share with someone outside the industry. “The moment you think you know everything is the moment you know nothing,” she said during Sage Summit, the largest conference for SMEs in the world.

Read more from Sage Summit:

Looking back to her first press conference having been installed as the managing director, Brady recounted the sexism and reluctance to accept women into a traditionally male-dominated environment.

She has famously said previously that, after boarding the team bus and being told by a player on her team that he could “see her tits from here”, she replied with: “When I sell you to Crewe you won’t be able to see them from there, will you?”

The success she enjoyed while heading up the team was down to having both short-term goals as well as long-term aims, she explained. Noting culture is the hardest thing to create and easiest to destroy, she oversaw the creation of a “great culture” and ultimate change to the industry.

Brady took up the position as the UK government’s ambassador for business in 2013, where she promotes and listens to all the people that “don’t always have a voice”. She also sits on the board at music mogul Simon Cowell’s Syco business, as well as at Philip Green’s Arcadia. Her life in football now sees her serve as vice-chairman of West Ham Football Club, which is owned by David Sullivan and David Gold.

“All these businesses need the same things, it doesn’t matter if it’s jewellery or fashion or football,” she explained.

“You need to understand what it is you’re doing, communicate well and love what you’re doing. You need goals and persistence. I always say to my children, don’t get to 46 and say I wish I would have done this. Every chance you get an opportunity, grab it.”