Tue, Apr 17, 2012 - Page 16 News List

Book review: Karren Brady means business

The high-flying executive shines when she drops the corporate line and gets personal

by Barbara Ellen  /  The Guardian, London

Strong Woman: Ambition, Grit and a Great Pair of Heels, by Karren Brady.

Karren Brady is one of the UK’s best-known businesswomen. From the age of 18 she worked for Saatchi & Saatchi before moving on to David Sullivan’s Sport newspaper empire. By the time she was 23, Sullivan had put her in charge of Birmingham City football club, which she took from administration to profit. Now with London soccer club West Ham (bought by Sullivan with David Gold, founder of the Ann Summers chain of adult shops), Brady is, among other things, the new “eyes and ears” of Alan Sugar on television’s The Apprentice, a non-executive board member of Arcadia, a columnist for the UK tabloid Sun newspaper, a mother and wife (of soccer player-turned-manager Paul Peschisolido). Moreover, in 2006 Brady was operated on for a brain aneurysm. Feeling a bit lazy, feeble and underachieving yet? A few chapters into Brady’s book and there’s a good chance you will be.

Saying that, what a naff title! Alongside the heavy-breathing Sex and the City-style subtitle, it seems to promote a female version of cartoon corporate machismo. As does the cringeworthy screech of “Here come the girls!” on the back cover, nestling alongside admiring quotes from Sugar and Martha Lane Fox. All of which strikes one as a rather outdated “suited, booted and shoulder-padded” portrayal of modern businesswomen that elsewhere in the tome Brady, an avowed feminist, argues against.

The chapter headings — “My Mission”; “Learning to Lead”; “My Rules for Success” — leave us in no doubt that this is a memoir told from the perspective of Brady the businesswoman. Born in Edmonton, north London, her father was a self-made millionaire, and Brady went to convent boarding school, followed by another boarding school where there were six girls to 600 boys — which, with my cod psychology hat on, seems apt preparation for Brady’s male-dominated working life. Indeed, other women barely get a look-in, though this could just be a reflection of the business circles Brady moves in.

Performance Notes

Strong Woman: Ambition, Grit and a Great Pair of Heels

By Karren Brady

288 pages


Harkcover: UK

Certainly she gives short shrift to the question that’s clearly been the bane of her working existence: how could she stand up for women’s rights (which she does at length in this book) but work so closely with people with interests in the porn business (Sullivan, Gold and Richard Desmond)? It isn’t the stupidest question in the world, and Brady’s response isn’t the strongest — just some mumbling about organizations such as Sky having adult channels too.

Nor does Brady fully address her arrest as part of an investigation into football corruption in 2008. (Brady was released without charge, so why the edit?) Similarly, a modicum of self-awareness could have stopped her going on so long about her ongoing and rather yawnsome battle to win the London Olympic stadium for West Ham Football Club.

Brady’s prose verges on monotonous “business android” rather too frequently, but she’s gripping and often funny on such matters as being “first lady of football” at Birmingham City, and dealing with the hardboiled sexism she encountered on a daily basis. When a player yelled: “I can see your tits from here,” she replied: “When I sell you to Crewe, you won’t be able to see from there.” (And she did!)

Elsewhere, it’s admirable of Brady to admit that she was wrong to take only three days off after the birth of her first child because she felt fearful about her career. These days she feels that “having it all” is a ridiculous “pressurizing concept” that does women no favors. Go Karren! Let’s just hope that the female Apprentice contestants are listening.

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