IT’S tough at the top.
Ask businesswoman Jo Haigh. Better still – because she’s a very busy businesswoman – read one of her books on the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.
Jo, who lives at Denby Dale, has brought her own experiences to bear in books such as The Business Rules and – more especially, perhaps – Tales From The Glass Ceiling, which charts the experiences of enterprising women trying to break into the male-dominated boardroom.
The book starts with Jo’s own story – from failing the 11-plus in 1968 to graduating in law at Leeds University.
It goes on to tell of her first job – dealing with the bills for a funeral wreath maker – to forming her own business in 1989 as the mother of two small daughters.
It tells how Jo went on to sell the business to her management team in 2000 before joining a national accountancy practice and becoming head of corporate finance for a London-based media management firm.
Today, Jo heads the corporate finance division at Sheffield and London-based accountancy and financial management firm ATF Group.
She is also a partner at training and consultancy organisation FDS – which she founded – where she focuses on director training and development.
She has been involved in multi-million pound merger and acquisition deals, management buy-outs and buy-ins as well as funding deals for firms with business angels, government agencies and mainstream banks.
More recently, she was appointed a non-executive director of Sheffield-based magnet manufacturer Anchor Magnets, a company with more than 40 staff and annual turnover exceeding £40m.
And she has won several awards, including being named 2005 Yorkshire Businesswoman of the Year and the Institute of Directors’ Business Adviser of the Year in 2006.
In between all that she is one of a select band of Ambassadors of Huddersfield, a much in demand speaker and is a visiting fellow at Leeds University, where she delivers the corporate governance development programme for academic staff.
Tales From The Glass Ceiling includes the experiences of dozens of other successful women, including TV presenter Clare Balding; Deirdre Bounds, founder of ethical travel company i-to-i; Sarah Deaves, chief executive of the Coutts; and diet and fitness guru Rosemary Conley.
The book also provides tips and advice on issues such as juggling home life and work, coping with office politics, “power dressing” and how to make the most of networking.
Advice for budding entrepreneurs – male and female – has never been more timely, says Jo. It’s just that a lot of that advice is not particularly useful, she believes.
“There are a lot of people going into business on their own – often because they cannot get a job themselves,” she said. “But there is no funding for them and there are tremendous risks involved.
“I advice people wanting to start-up in business to look at running a franchise because there is a lot more support. The financial systems and networks are already in place and there is a greater chance of success.
“If people ask my advice, I warn against going into partnership without taking proper guidance. Partnerships are like marriage – you don’t know what you’ve got until you get it home!”
There’s no shortage of enthusiasm among the would-be tycoons, says Jo. “People are passionate about their product, but they have less knowledge about business.
“There are plenty of mentoring schemes, but most are unsuitable. A lot of organisations providing those kind of services are not credible.The best recommendation is to get a non-executive director who has some practical experience.
“Someone with experience can spot problems before an inexperienced business person can. That means you have a chance of stopping things before they get bad. If you have been in a number of businesses, you can see the warning signs.”
Jo doesn’t knock people for having a positive attitude, saying: “I’m not risk-averse and I’m very much a ‘glass half-full’ sort of person, but you have to be a
little savvy and if you have been in business any length of time, you will learn that.”
Another piece of advice is to get organised.
“I am very organised. If I was to blow my own trumpet about anything it would be that I am great at time management. I have lists of lists.
“I also have a lot of energy. Stamina is probably one of the most important traits for someone in business by themselves.
“At the same time, you cannot do it all on your own. It’s very lonely being in business.”
Britain will need more hard-working, realistic and well-organised entrepreneurs, says Jo.
“We are not out of the recession yet,” she says. “I am optimistic that we are heading in the right direction, but everyone is talking about a ‘W’ or ‘double dip’ recovery.
“One thing I am positive about is that the people who will take us out of this economic crisis are not the government but those in business who make sacrifices – the owners and directors who take pay cuts, remortgage their homes to keep staff in work and come up with innovative ideas.
“And it is probably the owner-managed businesses – which make up the majority of firms in our area – who will be leading that recovery.”
Role: Partner and head of corporate finance at ATF Group
Family: Married with four children
Holidays: Anywhere hot
Car: Mercedes SLK
First job: Trainee accountant at funeral wreath manufacturer
Best thing about job: No two days are ever the same
Worst thing about job: I am a perfectionist. l delegate OK, I never truly let go.
Business tip: Just do it
Work: FDS and ATF Group
Employs: Four in FDS and 80 in ATF
Sites: Huddersfield and London
Phone: 07850 475878
Email: fdsgroup @jo-haigh.com