Leadership3Sixty

More from this series

Pamela Permalloo-Bass

Meet Pamela Permallo-Bass Head of Equality & Diversity at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

In Conversation With…

Claire Mason

Claire Mason is the uber smart and sassy Founder & MD of the award winning B2B PR and marketing consultancy, Man Bites Dog. www.manbitesdog.comThe success of her company illustrates the power of authentic leadership. Be inspired!

Claire based on where you are now in your life and your career, what would you consider to be your greatest achievement?

I feel that I have built something very magical with Man Bites Dog. There is just an incredible sense of team which is very different from anything I have ever experienced. When I walk into the office and see everyone happy and achieving, it gives me an incredible feeling of pride because it’s a team of people I really respect who are happy, get on and are doing outstanding things every day of the week. Together we have built a culture that's very different from anything I have ever experienced. We were recently named an award winner in PR Week’s Best Places for an unprecedented sixth consecutive year, and that’s definitely my favourite trophy in the cabinet!”

If you had to change something that you did or didn’t do in your life or career what would it be?

I think I would have started Man Bites Dog earlier. I was 30 when I started the business but actually I think I was ready when I was about 26/27. With hindsight I felt ready to do it then.

What makes you think that you were ready? What qualities did you have at that time? What was your mind set?

I was already a senior director in a company, so I knew how to run a business, manage people and lead major global client accounts from a public relations and marketing communications perspective. So I had all the technical skills. I also already had a vision for the kind of culture I wanted to create and the kind of work that I wanted to do. I saw a market opportunity to create a very different business but I hesitated to actually start up because jumping off that cliff is a really big deal.

That’s fantastic, I am going to use that as a sound bite, because that’s great and I think that’s about confidence as well, isn’t it?

Being an entrepreneur is all about confidence. We did a policy study for the Government a few years ago on why there are fewer women-owned businesses and why women-owned businesses don’t tend to grow as fast. And it’s around this issue of confidence and fear of failure. I had a conversation with my husband when I was thinking about making the leap to start up and he said to me, “Well, what’s the worst that can happen?” That made me realise that the worst case scenario was that I would have to get a job! Which made it so much easier to step off that career ladder and actually start my own thing. But fear of failure is a big issue for women and that anecdotal generalisation is backed up by the data. When I look at friends that run businesses, the women have perfectly formed, very well run businesses. In contrast, many of the male entrepreneurs I have had several failed businesses before the one that's really worked and they have been a lot less afraid to try/fail and try again. When they do succeed they succeed bigger as a consequence.

What did you dream of becoming when you were little?

A number of things, I would have loved to have been a fashion designer as I’m quite creative. I also went through a phase of wanting to be a ballerina but I am actually quite clumsy, so that one was a bit of non-starter! Oh yes, and I really wanted to be a journalist for a while, I think the likes of Kate Adie were inspiring and then over time that kind of morphed into actually wanting to be an entrepreneur. I think if I wasn’t doing this, I would probably be a professor of English Literature somewhere lovely. So I sort of have a geeky academic side as well as the business.

Do you think your parents have influenced the leader you have become?

Definitely. I think my mother has influenced me because she’s very smart and very focused and I think she really encouraged us to have ambitions and to go and achieve those dreams. My father actually set up a small publishing business in addition to his day job and us kids were duly put to work! That little business gave him the confidence to set up a telco consultancy in the early days of mobile technology and he grew it to employ hundreds of people, which was an incredibly inspiring journey. I think if you know someone who is entrepreneurial, making that leap is so much easier. It was so inspiring to see him grow the business, so definitely my parents have influenced me a lot.

My next question for you Claire is what is your leadership style?

I don’t have think I have a single leadership style: I focus more on being an authentic leader and just telling the truth. So I think I am quite approachable, very collaborative; I will be steelier if a tough decision needs to be made but what I would much rather do is have a collaborative decision making process based on the team and taking time to think through all the different types of solutions.

Claire are you a goal setter or do you just let things happen?

I think I am an informal goal setter, if that makes sense. So I am not the sort of person that has a 500 page business plan, supported by 100 spreadsheets, but I have a very clear vision in my head for how I want the business to grow and how I am going to take people with me on that journey. That really sets the blue print, but you could set that blue print in a 5 minute conversation, so from that perspective I do set objectives but it is more about the vision than the granular details.

What would you say is your most marked characteristic?

It’s very hard to pick one thing; I think I am massively, passionately enthusiastic and that enthusiasm comes across in my work. I am also very creative, my team treat my brain like a sausage machine, like if they give me enough input and information I can output ideas very quickly . But I am also quite strategic and insightful, so I don’t know, you would have to ask the team…

What about your family, what would your mum and dad say?

I think they would say she works too hard, she’s ambitious and very focused!

There is a lot at the moment about people’s mind-set and positive thinking etc…. How do you frame things? Are you a positive or a negative framer?

That’s a really good question, I actually think it’s situational for me, so I am actually very creative so I can see what is the positive vision, and that’s one of the most amazing things about being an entrepreneur because you have an idea and then you have to work hard to make it come true. But I can also be a negative framer, in the sense that I am actually quite risk averse. So I think am a little bit of both, what about you?

I was going to say you probably lean more towards the positive framer.

Yes, although I am not actually super confident, I am super enthusiastic, so I think that compensates in some ways, but that’s a really interesting question. I think it’s also about what mind-set you’re in; because if you’re thinking about the future and creative ideas that puts you in a positive expansive mind-set, whereas if you’re thinking about day to day operational detail that puts you in a more pragmatic mind-set, which can be more reductive.

And I suppose as organisational leaders we have to balance the negative and the positive…

Yes, there is a lot a lot of pivot between those two poles all the time.

Claire if you were designing a syllabus for a Business School what would you put on that syllabus? What would the key elements be for you?

I think what I would probably do is take it out of the business school and put it in the classroom. Because I think by the time someone is going to a business school, they are already seeing themselves as a manager or leader, and I actually think a lot of people, and women in particular, don’t see themselves in that role whereas if it was in the school syllabus, they might see themselves in that role more clearly.

Do you think that quotas for diversity on boards are good way for getting better representations for minorities, for women or do you think they work against?

I think there should be a quota for interviews but not for appointments. What we don’t want is a situation where the person who has worked very hard to get that position on the board feels that it’s a token position.  There are an awful lot of smart women out there in the world and I sincerely believe if they are actually put through to the final interview stage, it will naturally happen and that more women will be selected, and of course selected on merit. I think that would be a better way of doing it because then you’re giving women the opportunity and the exposure, and the women who make it through are respected for being appointed based on their talent.

Thank you Claire