Known as the first woman of football, Karren Brady shot to fame when she was appointed managing director of Birmingham City Football Club in 1993 aged just 23. She took the club from the brink of bankruptcy to being a viable business.
Twenty years later with an estimated net worth of £82 million, she’s one of the UK’s best known female entrepreneurs. At the moment as well as being vice-chairman at West Ham, she’s also a regular on our TV screens, appearing on ‘Young Apprentice’ as one of Sir Alan Sugar’s sidekicks and has also appeared as an advisor on ‘The Apprentice’.
[Related feature: How Alan Sugar made his money]
Other roles include being a non-executive board member of Arcadia and a Sun columnist. She’s also a wife and mother; Brady married former Birmingham player Paul Peschisolido in 1995 and the Birmingham-based couple have two teenage children.
How does she do it?
Brady was brought up in Edmonton, north London. Her father, Terry Brady, was a self-made businessman and later became owner of Swindon Town FC.
However, it wasn’t her family background that led to Brady’s success; it was her confidence, tenacity and ability to break down barriers in a male dominated business world.
Brady’s career began at Saatchi & Saatchi, having been rejected from journalism college after leaving school at 18. By 19 she was working at LBC radio in sales.
Desperate to fill the 4am graveyard slot in the advertising schedule, Brady decided to target publisher David Sullivan, owner of the Daily Sport.
She tracked him down to his home, talked her way in and persuaded him to spend £2 million a year advertising on the radio station. This made the newspaper LBC’s best client and Brady earned more in commission than the rest of the sales team put together.
Impressing the right people
Sullivan impressed, so impressed he gave Brady a job, and within a year she was a director of Sport Newspapers Ltd. But she didn’t rest on her laurels.
Three years later, in 1993, she convinced him to buy Birmingham City when the club was in receivership – and let her run it. The sport was unsure how to respond.
"David did warn me that I would have to be twice as good as the men to be thought of as even half as good. I said ‘well luckily that's not difficult'," she told the FT in an interview in March.
"That was on the Friday and on the Monday we owned the club. Then it was head down, 16-hour days, seven days a week.”
In 1996 – with Brady at the helm - Birmingham City made a profit for the first time in the club's modern history and the football industry started to take Brady seriously as a businesswoman.
Turning the club around
Technically in administration, Birmingham City had run out of money when Brady was put in charge. So she did contra deals – or bartering in layman’s terms – for pretty much everything. Season tickets in return for fixing things, for example.
But when looking at the club’s run-down state, Brady only saw opportunities. She set up programmes to improve community links, such as “kids are a quid”, a family stand and a school dinners deal that meant children who qualified for free school dinners got free football tickets too.
When the club floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1997 Brady became the youngest managing director of a UK PLC. And when the club was promoted to the Premier League in 2002, she became the first woman to hold such a post at the top level of English football.
Birmingham City was bought for £700,000 in 1993 – it was sold for £82 million in 2009.
In January 2010 she was appointed vice-chairman of West Ham United by new joint chairmen, David Sullivan and David Gold. She worked her magic again and within 12 months West Ham was making a trading profit – for the first time in years.
Away from football
Brady’s success is not limited to the boardroom of football clubs, however.
Other board roles include being a director of Mothercare PLC, Channel 4 and Sport England, while working as a non-executive director of Arcadia.
She has also published four books – two of them novels – hosted her own TV show, presented shows for ITV and is a columnist for ‘The Sun’ newspaper.
Of course, there’s also her role as of Allan Sugar’s advisers on ‘The Apprentice’ – a programme she first featured on as team captain in the Comic Relief charity edition of the show (she won, naturally).
Brady has also launched her own magazine as well as doing charity work for The Stroke Association, WellChild and Teenage Cancer Trust.
Secrets of her success
Brady’s biography ‘Strong Woman: Ambition, Grit And A Great Pair Of Heels’, provides an insight into what makes Brady so driven. She describes it as “an honest account of how to get to the top in a man’s world”.
“I have a desire for independence, the need for control – or what others call sheer bloody-mindedness,” she writes.
The book details not only Brady’s professional life but how she balances this with her family life. In 2006 Brady was operated on for a brain aneurysm and had a 30% chance of not surviving. Now fully recovered, she says the operation influenced her outlook and priorities.
These are her 10 motivational rules: Ambition, determination, courage, charm, hard work, attitude, humour, confidence, focus and communication.
Definitely not your average Wag.