Q&A: Kathleen Saxton

Name: Kathleen Saxton

Role and company: Founder & CEO, The Lighthouse Company

Company turnover: Over £2m

Employee numbers: 12

Growth forecast for the next three years: minimum 40% growth yoy for next 3

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

What differentiates us is our application of psychology to talent search and representation, combined with our real life experiences as ex-practitioners in the sector. We offer deeply personal insights into human behaviour and are known for brave and lateral thinking when it comes to discovering leaders.

What’s the big vision for your business?

Ultimately we set the business up to change the reputation of headhunting in our sector and to introduce a talent agent style model to the way we look after and steer leadership talent globally.

We have ever evolving plans, from scale and geography through to product development and potential acquisition. As any entrepreneur will tell you, you flip between 17 new ideas a day that need filtering and ultimately executing to running and managing the growth of the business day to day.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations: 

We now have an office in London and New York and have a constant passion and curiosity to broaden into the Latam and APAC markets. There is always a risk of running before you can walk which you have to balance with seizing market opportunity.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it: 

In my late 20s I was involved in the start up of a new sales house and the incoming CEO who joined six weeks after me, decided, having observed me for only a matter of days, that I would be a good Head of Operations. 

Now, whilst I can commission a database and create macros on a spreadsheet, I work best in the commercial and interpersonal environment. It felt at the time like the waste of a year but I always squeeze out the positive from the most dire (and boring) situations and maybe it contributed to my current ability as a general manager.

What makes you mad in business today?

Whilst cowardice, laziness, unfairness and dishonesty raise my blood pressure, the trait that raises my hackles the most is overly cautious, slow movers – people driving with the brakes on. But the fast lane isn’t for everyone, so perhaps this is my challenge to master.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

The most obvious but necessary is the increase in digitalisation and therefore automation in the advertising and media space. Whilst there is a measurable amount that can only be performed and indeed improved by a talented and experienced individual, there are doubtless many areas of our industry which can now effectively and efficiently be performed by a super computer. However the same digitalisation has opened our world, both from a connectivity and creativity point of view, which ultimately allows a more global and collaborative perspective for us all.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

Through the very fact that the advertising and media industry breeds a disproportionately high number of entrepreneurs (who thankfully go on to successfully sell their businesses) the availability of seed/angel funding for start ups, I would wager, is better than average. However, when a successful SME decides the time is right to scale the business that is when the institutional investor and VC community are most needed – and in the last 3-4 years that has at times been testing. It feels as though the market is becoming a little more fluid which is good news for businesses like the Lighthouse, which has been born in and survived the recession.

How would others describe your leadership style?

Human, Bold, Precise, Mischievous, Direct, Fast, Collaborative, Honest, Creative, Open, Impatient, Fair-minded, Forgiving

Your biggest personal extravagance?

My avoidance of the tube and my love of long eye lashes

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

Whilst the Lighthouse in its first five years has yet to take investment I know from those around me in business that it has been incredibly difficult (other than through private individual angels) to gain painless access to investment when a business most needs it. Encouraging banks and lending institutions to be positively open (and straightforward) towards investing in businesses is crucial to any entrepreneur.

When a business has proven its ability in their domestic market it would be hugely helpful for the Government to offer straightforward and practical advice to business owners in how to export or open further offices overseas. When we looked to open in New York we found differing and complex advice slowed us down – this would be easy to change.

As an entrepreneur who has put themselves financially and emotionally on the line to start a business, I am naturally going to encourage any Prime Minister to look further at how they can incentivise and reward entrepreneurs who make a success of a business and in doing so contribute to the UK economy.

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