TV ‘dragon’ Jenny Campbell describes herself as an ‘ordinary girl from Manchester who happened to achieve some extraordinary things.’
The ex-banker turned entrepreneur spent most of her life in the banking industry before becoming an entrepreneur and buying YourCash Europe from RBS in 2010.
After selling the business for £50 million, the mother-of-two secured a seat as an investor on BBC show Dragons Den.
Today she is a formidable businesswoman and a self-confessed angel investor.
This week, Jenny – who hails from Manchester – spoke about her career at the two-day virtual Vision 20 conference hosted by the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
She also gave her perspective on the current challenges in business and revealed what she thinks businesses need to do to thrive in the future.
“For me, it started when I went to work at the subsidiary of the bank I was working at; I thought it was just for two years, but the global financial crisis came along in 2008 which gave me an opportunity.
“First of all I was asked to try and sell the business, then there was a lightbulb moment. I loved this little business that I was working in, so why don’t I and the management team think about buying it.
“It took about 18 months to do but we bought the business in 2010 and took it to another level.”
She added: “The biggest risk I took was buying the business out of RBS. I had to raise a significant amount of finance at a time when my own, personal wealth – which had accrued in RBS shares over 30 years – was worth a fraction of what it was worth before the crash.
“I had to put my own personal contribution into the business which meant raising a mortgage on my house, for a business that I had to persuade my family and investors that had a future at quite a difficult time as well.”
Jenny admits that it was never her intention to become an entrepreneur but says that it was ‘probably in her DNA’ as her grandparents were entrepreneurs – as are both of her sons.
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The 59-year-old – who was named Businesswoman of the Year in 2014 – said: “I’m an ordinary girl from Manchester who happened to achieve some extraordinary things through, I like to think, a lot of hard-work, dedication, resilience and a bit of luck. I used to think of entrepreneurs as young girls or boys starting a technology business in their bedrooms or something like that, but I’ve grown to appreciate the broader term, entrepreneur.”
And she is a strong advocate of women in business.
When asked if she thinks it’s harder for a businesswoman to succeed – in comparison to men – she said: “I have a phrase, ‘there is no such thing as glass ceilings only sticky floors’ and what I mean by that is, women are their own worst enemy sometimes for holding themselves back.
“When I interviewed people in my business, if I had a male and a female come forward for a job – and there was a pay range on it of £40-£50,000 for example – I would find that the man would come into the room for his interview and, I know that the man would have looked at the job specification and gone ‘I can do that’, and he would walk in the room and would be immediately persuading me that he’s worth £50,000.
“Whereas the lady would look at every bullet point on the job advert, and if she couldn’t tick every one off she’d say she’s not ready to go for the interview, whereas I would say if you could do 80 per cent of what’s on that job advert then go for it because it always needs a stretch factor.
“The lady would also walk into the room, and I’m generalising, but they would be much more amenable to being negotiated around the £40,000 mark, if they could have flexibility in their role.”
“But I say, if you can tick 80 per cent of the boxes, go for the interview and go for the £50,000. But we’re just not brave enough doing that sometimes.”
And she believes – particularly after this year – that the key to success is being able to adapt.
She added: “One of my sons is in the hospitality industry and he came home just after the first lockdown and, for the first week, had his head in his hands; but then the resilience and the vision shines through and he’s adapted his business to do takeaway, and that’s something that will continue now, even though he’s opening his restaurants again.
“So this year has really shown that you have to have a number of options available to pivot your business or grow other strands of business, whether or not it’s developing your e-comm solution or another product or getting your existing products into broader markets.”