Shaper: Carole Stone

My mother gave me some advice when I first started working at the BBC as what they called a copy taker, she said, “whatever you do, take an interest.”

Every Tuesday and every Thursday I had eight people at my table, with salad and cheese afterwards and inexpensive wine. I had John Bert, Tony Blair, my mother and my friends. I had people from business and from charities.

I loved it but of course I earned no money until one magical day Alistair Grant, the Chairman of a company called Argyll which owned Safeway Supermarkets, said, “can you do a lunch for my board?”

I knew I could do it because I liked people which was my starting point and I knew that I could be brave with my mix of people.

When the contract came in it was £8,000 for two lunches. I thought, hello, hello…

I started having a party for a thousand people every year and salons for a hundred people every week in my little flat. I could create an atmosphere that was an easy atmosphere.

Education is important but it’s no good knowing what you know unless you have the ability to communicate it to others. Otherwise it’s buried treasure.

I sold my shares in that company back to YouGov and at the end they said to me, “would you like to stay on, because we would like you to say on”.

It is often the things you don’t do in life that you regret more than the things that you do. If you can accept you may fail it gives you the freedom to have a go at things. 

It’s how people react to what life throws at them. Of course we’ve all got different backgrounds but you can still react in a way that will bring out the best in a situation. Learn from what you have lost, learn from what you are sad about and move on.

Carole Stone

Carole Stone has spent her life bringing people together, first as producer of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme and then as the producer of the BBC Radio 4’s flagship discussion programme Any Questions? where she brought together opinion formers from the words of business, politics, media, charities and NGOs.

Since leaving the BBC ,Carole has worked as a freelance journalist and broadcaster and as a media consultant. With more than 50,000 names in her electronic address book she’s been called London’s networking queen – she’s famous for putting people together to their mutual advantage, what Carole calls ‘good networking’.

Nowadays, Carole spends her time as Managing Director of YouGovStone Ltd, a joint venture with the online market research agency YouGov plc, where she established the YGS ThinkTank – a global panel of over 5,000 people.

Transcript of the show

Elliot Moss
That was the Jimmy Smith and The Cat, one of my all-time favourite tracks. A great way to start the programme here on Jazz FM. This is of course Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning from nine until ten, you can catch an edition of Jazz Shapers, the place of course where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, soul and blues alongside their equivalents in the world of business. My business shaper today is none other than Carole Stone, officially the queen of networking and lots of other things as well. The queen of networking in the UK and beyond. You will be hearing lots from Carole very shortly. In addition to hearing from her, you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that if you can take it, you will also be getting some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, soul and blues, including Dinah Washington, BB King and this from Derrick Hodge here on Jazz FM.

That was Derrick Hodge and The Real and he is of course the backing bassist for the Robert Glasper Experiment. He will be appearing live at the Love Supreme Festival coming up this summer. Carole Stone is my business shaper today and if you haven’t heard of Carole you will know lots about her before ten o’clock is up. She formed the Stone Club in 2009, a private members club we will be talking about. She was the managing director of YouGovStone, a joint venture and before that spent almost I believe twenty eight years at the BBC in various guises. Is known really though in the world for being an amazingly connected woman. Carole thank you very much for joining me.

Carole Stone
Glad to be here.

Elliot Moss
Now you were an employee for many, many, many years. What made you think about life differently? And tread another path?

Carole Stone
Well we called it SNF, Staff No Fee at the BBC where I was for just as you say, just over twenty seven years and I haven’t ever really planned or routed my career at all or even thought of it as a career but things… my mother gave me some advice when I first really started working and particularly when I first started working at the BBC as a what they called a copy taker, taking down the news in the Southampton and BBC News Room and she said, ‘Whatever you do, take an interest in that and other things surrounding it and if you never move forward you will always enjoy what you do. So take an interest.’ And it was really taking an interest and looking sideways at things and seeing what other people were doing within my line of business that made me curious and I think it was curiosity that made me start a lot of other things and after twenty seven years at the BBC I asked if I could do a pilot programme, like a Gloria Hunniford show or an Oprah Winfrey with an audience and actually doing my own chat show and they let me do it. It was called the age I was then, Facing Fifty and it went very well indeed. I interview Jeffery Archer, I interview Jilly Cooper and Audrey Eyton who had written the F Plan Diet. I interviewed people, talked to the audience. It went really really well. Everybody thought I was going to have my own show including me. I left the BBC.

Elliot Moss
And then what?

Carole Stone
Nothing. I did a little bit of day time television but nobody ever asked me to do another show with an audience. I probably didn’t push enough. You never know how much to push the barrier. I sent the tape round to one or two people and that first year of leaving the BBC I earnt £2,500.

Elliot Moss
How did you survive though? Did you have money in the bank?

Carole Stone
I had… I left the BBC and I was able to take my pension early so, and I took a little lump sum so I did have a little bit to tied me over but then miraculously I decided to start having lunches in my flat. It was my then boyfriend, now husband’s idea. ‘Have a little tuna salad, cheese, you can’t cook’ he said and have eight people round the table. So I did every Tuesday and every Thursday had eight people at my table, salad and cheese afterwards and inexpensive non-head making wine and I had anybody that I used to have on the programme I used to produce for ten years, Any Questions for BBC Radio 4. I had John Bert, I had Tony Blair, I had my mother, I had friends, I had people from business, from charities and I loved it but of course it earnt no money until one magical day the Chairman of a company called Argyll which owns Safeway Supermarkets, the late Alistair Grant said, ‘I meet so many people I have been to two or three of these, can you do one for my Board?’ and off I was.

Elliot Moss
And you are going to be hearing a lot more from how that ‘off I was’ story really really did take off. Time for some music, this is Dinah Washington and Baby Did You Hear.

That was Dinah Washington and Baby Did You Hear. If you have been hearing earlier, Carole Stone is my business shaper today and she is the woman apparently with fifty thousand people in her black book. It must be a very big black book these days. You were talking about those lunches and you were saying you know, you followed your interest, you followed the people that were interesting, you brought them together and then the magical moment as you said where actually someone said, ‘can you help my Board get connected.’ What made you sense it was a business? I mean apart from him saying, ‘I’ll pay you some money to do this’ how did you know it was replicable? Because actually not doing it for money and profit is one thing. Would you come and meet people, that’s interesting. Doing it in a more engineered fashion, that must have been different?

Carole Stone
It is. As soon as money enters it people want to know how big the cashew nuts are if you are running a club or they want to know exactly what they are getting for their buck and quite rightly to. But I knew I could do it because I knew basically I liked people which I think was my starting point and secondly, I knew that I could be brave with my mix of people. I didn’t mind having people who were the top of the tree with people at the bottom of the tree and people from very different worlds because a lot of people at the top of the tree are quite isolated and it was a nice way to mix people. I had about eight round the table sometimes ten I think. Mostly eight. And he offered me, he said ‘I am going to give you eight for two lunches’ and I said to my mother, I said, ‘It’s £800 for two lunches’ and she said, ‘Do you have to pay for the food’ and I checked and I didn’t. In fact I could even have it outside in a restaurant the lunch and when the contract came in it was £8,000 for two lunches. I thought ‘Hello, hello…

Elliot Moss
This is good.

Carole Stone
…there may be other people’ and there were.

Elliot Moss
And then how did you find the other people or did they find you as well?

Carole Stone
Well I did some for the BBC on I think on Europe and on the interest in Europe. I did some for a Water Company, really really commercial. I did the Readers Digest, I did Camelot, the National Lottery.

Elliot Moss
And what did they all think they were getting from this?

Carole Stone
They thought they were getting a girl who was known because by then I had started having a party for a thousand people every year, and salons for a hundred people every week in my little flat and so they knew I was someone that was good with a mix and that I could create an atmosphere that was an easy atmosphere. People took their hats off and just became themselves and I think they liked that because you know these stiff, stilted meetings, and I could just sort of, I suppose in a way, break the ice socially so that people enjoyed it.

Elliot Moss
And really really, you know, if ever there was a phrase that was true, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. You really brought that to life?

Carole Stone
A little bit although I did a debate at the Oxford Union funnily enough a year ago with people like Lord Butler and Stephen Dorrell etc., about it is who you know not what you know and I argued, and we lost by six votes that that was the case but my argument was that it doesn’t matter of course education is important, I didn’t go to University but of course education is important but it is no good knowing what you know unless you have the ability to communicate it to others. Otherwise it is buried treasure. That’s what I really feel.

Elliot Moss
Lots more from my business shaper Carole Stone today. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliott Moss every Saturday morning, nine o’clock to ten o’clock, bright and early if it is indeed early for you on a Saturday. It is relatively early for most people. You will get to hear someone in the world of business being asked hopefully useful questions which they will answer in intelligent ways, generally that’s what happens. You can hear some of the previous guests who have done just that on iTunes if you fancy that or if you are in the mood you can check out some interviews on Cityam.com as well. Carole Stone is my business shaper today. She is the network extraordinaire but also a lot more than that. Carole you have a lot of interest in, or some specific interest in the charity world. You give back a lot. Tell me a little bit about how you have ended up doing things in the not for profit world and why you have chosen the charities you have chosen?

Carole Stone
Well again it is rather haphazard more than thought out but my brother was two years older than me and really from the very early stage he was obviously a child who didn’t find life easy. He was angst. He was grizzly. He was anxious and he couldn’t communicate and he really lived his life, his whole life, between himself, my mother, my father and me. My father being a boxer in the British Army, he was middle heavyweight champion of the British Army in India and Dadda was a very straight forward person and couldn’t quite really understand Roger. My mother who was really, he was devoted to her. I was lucky that she was a woman that really did take life by the scruff of the neck and she took this situation by the scruff of the neck and his psychiatrist who I had breakfast with last week, in his ninetieth year said that Roger lived as good a life as he could have lived at the time he had it considering what he had because in his early twenties he was diagnosed with suffering from paranoid schizophrenia so he was a tormented child and I think Roger taught me to bring together people who you wouldn’t necessarily ever think of bringing together. People who were as awkward as Roger. There is a girl who is about two years younger than me and we share the same birthday, she lives in Southampton and I always now include that same friend because she was good when Roger was awkward. She was one of the few people that would sit with him in a coffee bar and talk to him when he would tell her to, you know, get out the way or throw a cup of tea over her or whatever. She said, ‘He’s just not in a good mood today’ and I have got a lot of friends who I would never have thought of and yet also, this was in the sixties, I am very old as you probably know, this was in the sixties, and Richard died in his forties of a stroke and I think there was no such thing as Sane Line. I am a patron of Sane now, the mental health charity which you can ring up and get advice. Mumma had nowhere to go and I remember the first person we spoke to was the late Claire Rayner who I had had on Woman’s Hour I think on a programme and she was so helpful, you need to speak to people and I think that’s what made me feel that mental illness has always been a particular thing that I would like to try and do what I can. A charity, another, well patron I think of a charity called Triumph Over Phobia. People who have got a phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder, it’s like a slimming club, we have groups all over the country that people can… run by ex-sufferers, who can talk to each other about what it is like and how we can perhaps get over our phobias.

Elliot Moss
Hear more from my fascinating business shaper, Carole Stone. Time for some more music, this is B.B. Boogie from BB King.

That was B.B. Boogie from BB King. Carole Stone has been talking about her own personal journey and the reason why she is involved in the charities that she is involved in. I just want to take you back to 2007 because the business which has involved you putting people together for not £800 or even £8 but £8,000 for a few lunches and so on, morphs into something else and your approach by YouGov, the big polling business. I mean it is still, still going strong. Tell me what they asked you and why do you think they asked you what they asked you?

Carole Stone
Well by 2007 I think I had become known as I said, as a person who brought people together either a huge party of about a thousand people every Christmas or at my little flat in Covent Garden, I could squeeze in about a hundred people every week and it was not just the gay and amusing as the Parisian salons, I like people who weren’t gay and amusing but would appreciate people who are gay and amusing. So I liked all types from all walks of life, all strata’s, top of the dogs and bottom dogs as it were and I think that because of that YouGov felt they had an on-line polling company, market research company but wouldn’t it be good to have a panel, not a scientific panel but a panel of influential people who could perhaps do, maybe answer rather more in-depth subjects or more in-depth questions on things and it was very seductive because what I had been doing, I hadn’t been clever enough to keep a note of the people who got together or made businesses or made relationships from my own networking, I didn’t write a peeps diary which maybe I should have and tried to do.

Elliot Moss
You still can, it’s not too late Carole.

Carole Stone
I still can but maybe I thought I can actually have a think tank and I asked people’s views on things and I added a little extra and when we formed it I by then had fifty thousand people in my contacts data book, by then electronic and I formed a think tank around about five thousand people and I said to them, we will only ask you to do a survey once a month; it will never be more than ten minutes long; it will be on a social or business issue and in addition most times I will do a debate around that very subject that you have answered questions on. And it seemed to take off.

Elliot Moss
And then in fact you sold a share of that business back to YouGov. How did it realise value? How did they quantify the value to broaden indeed the value of the company itself?

Carole Stone
Well I’d like to sort of sound a bit more of a smart business woman than I am but I didn’t know much about it when I was offered. I said twenty seven years at the BBC and then as a sole trader on my own for so long and they said to me that you can have a percentage of the company and then we will… it will be a joint venture and then you have a put option that they will buy it from me within three to five years. And I thought that was good, I was sixty five at the time, I thought not many people are going to offer a sixty five year old woman a chance in business. I was very very pleased and they offered me a multiple and which was a good multiple and so I did it and I think in 2011, as I say, I got my you know, I sold my shares in that company back to YouGov and it was very affable because at the end they said to me, ‘Would you like to stay on because we would like you to stay on’ and I now chair another think tank which is a rather unique think tank which is linked with Cambridge University so we have linked the polling company with the academia of Cambridge University. The students of Cambridge University where again we look at really public opinion worldwide and it is very exciting and I suppose I am a little bit of an ambassador and I chair the External Advisory Board of that. So I keep in enough, I work half the week and it seems to work. It seems to work as long as it works, you know.

Elliot Moss
You are smiling so it must be working. Final chat coming up with Carole plus playing a track from the Neil Cowley Trio, that’s coming up after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was the Neil Cowley Trio and Slims and in fact they are releasing a new album, watch out for that. Carole is my business shaper just for a few more precious minutes. You have done so many things in your life and unusually some people will sort of start early in the thing they are destined to do and I suppose there is another school of thought that says you couldn’t have done the things you did without the first twenty seven years and I am sure you would probably agree with that. You’ve written books, you’re a counsellor, you’ve now got this business, you are very very well connected. In all of that noise and all of those people and all of those connections and that whizzy brain of yours, what do you find is the most satisfying part for you personally now as you look back?

Carole Stone
It has always been bringing people together. I remember when I was three or four years old thinking somebody somewhere knows the answer and if it is not me, I can find someone who knows it and when I was a counsellor, I am a counsellor but not a counsellor in the sense of therapy, I am a counsellor with a charity called One Young World where we bring together young people in their twenties from all over the world to discuss issues of the day and it, it’s a very very pleased I am to be one and I think that I believe so strongly that it is often the things you don’t do in life that you regret more than the things that you do do but that don’t necessarily work and they may fail. I think if you can accept you may fail it gives you the freedom to have a go at things and I think that I always feel very sorry if I see people who say, even at my own parties, oh I saw Michael Palin or I saw somebody else, they wanted to speak to you but didn’t like to, have a go. The worse that can come is that someone will snub you and you are not going to marry them. When I joined the BBC at twenty one they said in two years’ time you will be an established star. I thought twenty three I will be married. Thirty five years later the first man ever, Mr Richard Lindley, the former Panorama television journalist asked me to marry him so I got married for the first time in 1957, well I was fifty seven in 1999.

Elliot Moss
Yeah because you are not that old… you look lovely and young.

Carole Stone
But whenever I talk about business, people say it can happen, anything can happen. What, the reason why I bring people together is because you never know. Of course that way madness lies because you will never stop but you never know and I think that despair is when you lose hope and I think when you’ve always got hope that there is something, it’s how people react to what life throws at them. It is their attitude to the similar situation. Of course we have all got different backgrounds but you can still react in a way that will make, bring out the best of it. Learn from what you have lost, learn from what you are sad about but you can move on. It is attitude in life. I feel so strongly about that.

Elliot Moss
Have there been people and there must have been many, just before I ask you your song choice. Of the many people you have met, who has impressed you or left an indelible mark and I am sure you will say well everyone has in their own way. If I was to prioritise right, if you had to do that right now and say there were three people that have really made me think differently about my life, who would they be?

Carole Stone
I wish I could answer that. I can’t. My mother was a most enlightened woman and in whose company I would always prefer to be than anybody else’s’ because she had a calm outlook on life and yet she had a tough life in so many ways with my father much older and not necessarily someone she might have married had she had the chance to go to University, had no money, a brother who was mentally ill, so I think she is the person on whom I would say that’s the person I want to be like. My husband who I really do feel I learn a lot from him too, he is a very different man to me, I learn a lot from him so I think there is nobody, I am not a hero worshipper. I don’t have fans, if only I could meet or not. I just… I meet people who I enjoy listening to, enjoy hearing what they had to say but I don’t think I have ever felt people that I get different things from different people. It is an awfully flabby answer but I don’t have anyone to say, that’s the person I always thing of apart from my family.

Elliot Moss
Wonderful. Just before I let you go Carole, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Carole Stone
My song choice is a song from an all-black film called Cabin in the Sky and I have watched it with my husband Richard and when she breaks in to ‘Here I go again, I am falling in love with you,’ Taking a Chance on Love.

Elliot Moss
Beautiful, Carole thank you so much for being my business shaper. This is Taking A Chance On Love from Ethel Waters.

That was the song choice of my business shaper, Carole Stone. A person who absolutely loved the difference in people, a wise person, many years doing so many different things and someone who is genuinely interested in everyone and what they have to say and what she could learn. Do join me again, same time, same place, for another edition of Jazz Shapers, that’s 9.00 am, next Saturday morning. Stay with us though in the meantime though here on Jazz FM, coming up next its Nigel Williams.