Speak­ing to the superpreneurs

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

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

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