Speaking to the superpreneurs
future, Huffington took the opportunity to put across her message. “Speakers are traditionally expected to tell graduates how to go out there and climb the ladder of success, but I want to ask you, instead, to redefine success. Because the world you are heading into desperately needs it. Lead the third women’s revolution and remake the world in your own image.”
If the 1980s were all about the shoulderpadded working girl, the 1990s the rise of the dotcom chick and the 2000s the kitchen-table start-up, the 2013 version of women in business is different again. At the recent Oxford Forum forWomen in theWorld Economy, it was all about the ‘superpreneur’. Unwilling to have her creativity and self-starting skills stifled by big business, she has typically left her corporate career and struck out on her own instead. She is feminine but knows how to play with the boys (as one superpreneur said, “I call myself a silent assassin”).
Intelligent, ambitious and with terrifying determination, the superpreneur is a million miles from the cupcake-making yummy mummies of the past few years – her business is brokerage, consultancy, solutions. Whatever you do, though, don’t mention the ‘mumpreneurs’. “I mean, if you want to do that kind of part-time thing then fine,” one woman muttered over coffee. “But I don’t want to be tarred with that brush.” Surely working for yourself means you can build your hours to suit your life? Not at the beginning, it seems. “Work/life balance doesn’t exist for me right now,” says Shelley Hoppe, 36, the founder of the creative content agency Southerly. “I don’t even have time for a relationship. Like women who become obsessed with their children, I think the same is true with your business. I am obsessed with my business, and there is no business in the world as interesting as mine.” Formerly inhouse in corporate communications, Hoppe recounts holidays where friends have been furious with her for calling the office. But for her, and other superpreneurs, running your own business is a game changer.
“Working all weekend for someone else is never fun – I’ve done that,” she says. “Now, when I sneak away to check my email on holiday, it’s because there’s something exciting happening in the office and I want to find out about it.”
Their way of life is less leaning in, more diving in – giving your all, 24 hours a day. The difference is, this time it’s for something you truly believe in, and you’re the boss. The result? Balance just isn’t on their agenda.
“I wouldn’t care for it,’ says KresseWesling, 36, who set up her business recycling fire hoses into luxury bags in 2005 and is a former Cartier Women’s Initiative award-winner. “I wasn’t forced to do this – I love every minute of it. For me, everything is tied up in my work.”
The “merge”, an always-on way of working, where business and personal time blur into one, is a reality for these new entrepreneurs, especially in the early days of their business, when structures and teams aren’t yet in place. Consequently, the sacrifices can be huge, especially around children and relationships. Lara Morgan, 46, built up Pacific Direct, a provider of luxury goods to hotels, before selling her majority share of the company for £20 million (Dh115 million) in 2008. She had her three children during the growth of the business, which she admits was hard.
“I turned up to the playground one day and a mother I didn’t know said, ‘Are you picking up Kate’s children?’ She assumed Kate, my beautiful blonde nanny, was my children’s mother. It hurt, but I had to steel myself. I made this choice.”
Rana Harvey, 36, started her first company, Dazzling Dummies, from her bedroom and is now the MD of Monster Group. She remembers not being able to let go, even when giving birth to her first child. “I think I was in denial. I was sending emails as the contractions were coming. They were a minute apart, and it was frustrating me because I couldn’t get my work done. I was so annoyed when they took the laptop away from me, I was halfway through a quote.”
Morgan, who now runs companyshortcuts. com, says that when it comes to husbands, you need to choose wisely. “My husband took the kids to school and I went to work two hours earlier. There were days when I was jealous – they would play I-spy all the way to school, and I didn’t have that relationship – but it’s the same for men. Any parent who has to call to say good night to their kids knows that it’s tough. Still, I don’t think I have any lesser memory of my child growing up than a woman who spent morning, noon and night with their child, but was miserable because they never had adult contact.”
And if you don’t choose wisely? The rate of divorce among these female high-flyers is, perhaps not surprisingly, high. “I thought my husband was more attuned to my ambition, and he was while I was working for someone else, but he wasn’t supportive of me setting up my own business,” says Julie Boyd, 56, the managing director of TR Fleet. “I think there’s a lack of faith in our ability and a certain amount of caveman attitude. My new partner is different, he’s totally behind me and very supportive. It’s about finding the right person.”
Could intrapreneurship be the future?
These women might work all hours, but that doesn’t mean they expect everyone else to. When it comes to being an employer, they know how to treat their staff. “For the right person, we would be very flexible,” says Wesling, the former CartierWomen’s Initiative award-winner. “We want amazing talent. We want someone who loves being here. If they’re unhappy because they don’t get to see their family, that’s not going to work.”
Having been there themselves, when it comes to demanding schedules, they are rewriting the rule book. “I work best in the evening, so I’m open to that with my people. I allow complete flexitime with my employees, some of whom are working mums,” says Hoppe, who doesn’t have children herself. “I’m fine with that, as long as the work is done. It means