Shaper: Vanessa Brady

Show aired on 21st November 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was the Treme Song from Dee Dee Bridgewater with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and a fantastic way to get the programme started too. Good morning, this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss, thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers I hear you ask, what’s that? Well, it’s the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul, alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a Business Shaper, someone who is doing great things and making waves. The person who is making waves who is joining me today, I am very pleased to say, is Vanessa Brady. She is the founder of the Society of British and International Design, she has her own design agency, she has done loads of other things as well. When I looked at her CV I couldn’t believe she’s packed it all in. You are going to have a treat today listening to great words of advice and insight from Vanessa. Lots coming up from her very shortly. In addition to that you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of wisdom for your business. And, as well as all of that, if you can take it, some great music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, including one of my favourites, Mr Jimmy Smith, Bobby Womack and this modern take on the classic blues sound from Eric Bibb.

The classic blues sound of Eric Bibb with Silver Spoon. Vanessa Brady, as I billed earlier, is my Business Shaper and she is a woman of many talents and indeed someone who stands up for talented women. She is the founder of the Society of British and International Design, she is involved in the Blue Plaque Trust, she does a load of charitable things, she is an Ambassador for Design to France, I mean I could go on, but I am going to stop, I am going to say hello.

Vanessa Brady
Hello.

Elliot Moss
Thank you so much for joining me, Vanessa. Tell me in your own words how you describe yourself when you meet people.

Vanessa Brady
Yes well I mean I started off with just being an interior designer but my interest has always been in business and when I started in the early ‘80s, interior design was very much more of an interest for people that perhaps didn’t need to earn a living, and rather than somebody that actually went out and wanted to earn money from it, so I sort of drifted into it. I started off wanting to be in fashion but I didn’t like the culture that went with it and I really liked the fabric and texture and colour but I am really driven by business so I found myself being an interior designer and running the business side of it and then that, over the years, has probably taken over much more for me that I like to set the standard so that helped me organise setting up the organisation and then we set the standards for interior design for the UK and then you know charitable things come along the way where I have a passion and an interest to do things and I think anybody who is entrepreneurial, when you feel that you can create change, it’s very difficult to sit down and not get on with it so you tend on, you know, I always said if I could just sit on my hands and put sellotape over my mouth I could just do one or two things.

Elliot Moss
But that ain’t gonna happen any time soon.

Vanessa Brady
No.

Elliot Moss
Now, but you said your craft skill, your love of texture as you described it, textures and colours and so on and so forth, enabled you to make a profession, make a living out of interior design. And you are right I think historically people have perceived it as a nice thing for someone to do but you took it to another level and creating the awards that you did, as you mention there, the Society of British and International Design Awards, the SBID, is that how you say it?

Vanessa Brady
Yes, that’s it.

Elliot Moss
Good. What drew you to going beyond setting up your own business, beyond, you know, servicing clients including the Hilton, the Sheraton, NatWest and JPMorgan and some fantastic names, what pushed you, Vanessa Brady, into the ‘I just can’t help myself’ campaign and create something bigger’ and, as you said, set the standards. Why you?

Vanessa Brady
Well, I have a really faithful team. I always think that, you know, everyone can have a good idea but you are as good as the people around you to get things, to achieve something. So I assembled really a great team and I thought, when I got to mid 40’s, I was thinking about my exit route and I started to think that I needed to plan, a lot of designers write a coffee table book but I didn’t want to do a simple book I thought I could do much more than that and I wanted to look after the people that have really helped me create the income that I have achieved and the assets I have gathered, so I converted my practice and the things I was doing to a profit share so that I could do, so that everybody had an interest in the profits of it and the benefits that it created and that gave me more time to go and diversify, and I think diversification is the key to, you know, creating more and more success. So I went off and started building the organisation to set standards in a world that has progressed, you know I am thirty years as a designer and when I started, as I said, you could just open in those days you could go out to get a job, there were more jobs than people so if you started a job at 9.00 o’clock and you didn’t like it at 5.00, you did something else the next day. These days people work as interns for a couple of years before they are actually even accepting that there is an opportunity to get a paid job in the area where they want to earn their living in their career. So I thought I would use the skills and repay the industry where I have earned my money by setting standards in the same way that many other professions have standards; interior design didn’t and I felt that it was a missing segment of the supply chain of a property.

Elliot Moss
And you felt compelled to set those standards and we are going to hear…

Vanessa Brady
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…a lot more about other gaps that you filled with your fantastic energy and creativity. Time for some music, one of my favourite tracks ever from one of my favourite artists ever, it’s Jimmy Smith and The Cat.

Jimmy Smith, The Cat. I can’t stop myself moving to that particular track, it’s pathetic isn’t it, but it’s true. Vanessa Brady is my Business Shaper talking about standards and talking about moving from creating a business to creating an industry which actually said ‘you know what there is a proper way of doing things’. Your business has been going many, many years, you have been in the business a long time and, again, it feels like, well I know from the facts and from what you said that you are someone who really believes in, it’s more than giving back, isn’t it, it’s kind of shaping the industry and making sure it’s a really professional one. In terms of your own balance between earning money and creating the industry that you want, how do you manage it because they are both big jobs? How do you personally do that?

Vanessa Brady
Well, I manage my time, I have a set system and then it’s flexed so it’s never quite exactly as I want it to be but ideally Monday is my paperwork day so I set all my appointments, I don’t usually have appointments for a Monday, I give all my staff their brief for the week and so we have a meeting and we all get together and we all share what everybody’s done and that lasts no more than an hour and I am really strict with it, I have a timer on my iPhone, everyone’s allowed, they speak for five minutes, three minutes and that ‘ping’ if you haven’t got it out…

Elliot Moss
Don’t mess with Vanessa, she may sound smiley but I can tell there’s a steely, steely…

Vanessa Brady
Oh yes.

Elliot Moss
…Oh yes. Keep on smiling, they go.

Vanessa Brady
And then by the end of Monday everyone knows what they are doing and they are free to amortise to go and achieve it. Then on Friday we distribute a diary, a work diary, to everybody which just, basically, is a record of what everybody’s achieved and it means that you can always see what everyone’s done, even though you might not have met them but you don’t hear how well we are doing or not doing from other people, you will know it from within and that’s a very good way of recording progress and also you can catch errors, so we do that. Then during the week, the three days in between Monday and Friday, I then have, I go out and do all my talks and meet with people and I will have, out of those three, that and Friday, I will have two days where I am trying to, on an average, two days a week as my site visits and things for my projects in my practice.

Elliot Moss
Wow, now that is a lesson everybody in time management. Much more coming up from Vanessa Brady, my Business Shaper. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya.

This is Jazz Shapers, every Saturday morning I get the chance to talk to somebody who is shaping the world of business. If you have missed any of the previous fantastic guests go into iTunes, put in the words ‘jazz’ and ‘shapers’. If you are flying with British Airways in the future you can find the programme on High Life there as well and if you are near a computer, and you probably are, CityAM.com is another destination for you. Today though my Business Shaper, I am very pleased to say, is Vanessa Brady. She travels a lot, she talks to all the different sorts of people around the world about business and about women and about design and all sorts of stuff. She has created awards, she is setting standards, she runs her own business, it’s like super woman here. And also, I should have said, is an OBE – OBE 2014, not bad. And you’ve won, I think, the Women in the City Award back in 2014 for the Built Environment.

Vanessa Brady
Yes.

Elliot Moss
Wow. I mean, that’s not bad is it. What do they mean to you all these things? I mean you don’t do it for that do you, all the accolades?

Vanessa Brady
No. I mean I think that, first of all, as a woman in business in my industry it is regarded as fluffy. It has been dismissed as an expense for many years and something that property can do without and so, you know, an award like the OBE is, I got it for Services to Interior Design and the UK Economy, so it demonstrates the value that we can add and therefore that’s an accolade that actually endorses what I am doing as not being fluffy and an expense, that it is a real business. So, I think they can add value and to an industry-wide as well as to me as an individual and therefore I think that they also, you know, add zeros at the bottom line as well.

Elliot Moss
And substance therefore is important to you in whatever you do so, again, for women in business things are changing and things have changed dramatically but they still need to change a lot further. What are the key things that you as a person of note and someone that’s recognised and someone that’s respected. What are the things that you say to people who are less enlightened in industry?

Vanessa Brady
Well, we have legislation to prevent, in place, to prevent many of the things that weren’t acceptable when, you know, years ago when I started. So, I think that we are okay in that and I have personally found that men treat women, usually, I’m not saying always, but generally men treat women very well. I think women are very competitive against women, they try not to allow each other to move up and I do remember the saying, which I have always kept, which is ‘It’s not the glass ceiling, it’s the sticky floor’. You can manage very well how to grow up but you have to make sure you do it with substance, you know that you are going to be quizzed and pulled down by everything you say by anybody who doesn’t agree with a woman in certain, you know, if there is negativity, you have to be able to stand out and you have to be able to prove, you know, whatever point you are trying to make really very well and I think that’s the difficulty is that women tend to leave half way through, they don’t finish it. That’s probably because of babies and pregnancy and things like that and therefore sometimes the focus has changed, it’s suddenly not as important to be, you know, head of the next team or to, you know, rise to the next level. And I think that…

Elliot Moss
Bur you’ve done it, I mean, you are a mum, you’ve got a more grown up child now but it’s not that that should necessarily stop you doing well, it’s just what you are saying there are moments when one has to reflect and then really decide to go again and not lose that confidence and that sense that you deserve to get the next promotion or run your own business or whatever it might be.

Vanessa Brady
Well, you know I made sure that when my daughter was growing up I still worked but I didn’t ever put my work over and above her. I made sure that I negotiated my time to fit around her school day so when I was working when she was in school I would work as a business consultant during that time and go and visit as a secret shopper at hotels and things like that, I worked on consulting things, I would drop her at school, do my work and then collect her. I didn’t ever miss a swimming lesson or a sports day or anything because my priority was always her but the necessity for income was there as well but I wasn’t going to do anything secondary so I set my rules and said if you want me this is what you will have to pay and I will do it within these dates and this time and therefore you can negotiate it. I am not saying for everybody and every practice but…

Elliot Moss
No, but your assertive approach to flexibility actually worked into putting your daughter first, fantastic. Time for some music before we come back to Vanessa, this is Jamie Cullum and Twenty Something.

The bouncy sound of Jamie Cullum with Twenty Something. Vanessa, we were talking about flexibility and the fact that you actually drove the agenda and you strike me as someone who is very much in control, not that you are not flexible and creative but you, once you are clear where you want to get to you generally strike me as someone who gets there. How have you managed to maintain that?

Vanessa Brady
I always work backwards from perfect so you start at where you want to end up and then you work out to get there, what do I need to do to achieve it and then to get there what do I need to do? So that backward approach means that you don’t channel too closely all the different avenues that you can. So I’ll try eight things expecting to only gain and complete one, for example. But it means that I don’t lose any of the opportunities and I see which one works the best so it means that I have measured everything and then I can find the best solution.

Elliot Moss
And is that your approach to when you advise companies on their strategies to grow their businesses? I believe that is another big part of what you do beyond the interior design side specifically there is a macro strategy view? Is that what you say to them, or is it more nuance than that?

Vanessa Brady
No, it’s more, it’s slightly different for a company. I look at what they are trying to achieve, is it profile or is it income? And it’s usually only one or the other and I look at, first of all, what are the opportunities, what’s missing in the market and what fits with what they already do so that they’ve already got a section already there, they just need to, you know, two steps to the right or the left to start to manage that. But you then have to look at your competitors and look at where the opportunities are within that gap and then work out how to get there. I think that you can do that, you have to be different, you have to be innovative and I think creativity and the world of, you know, the creative industries is really an easier way to generate income and build a business than manufacturing and any of the other, you know, banking, we can see that there’ve been all these other difficulties. The creative industries will get us, and have got us, out of the recession much more than anything else and I think it’s a very, creative people are not always business people, there is always either right side of left side of the brain and usually you will find that if somebody’s who’s a really great artist they don’t know how to sell it or vice versa. I think that if you look at, I try to blend the two together and I’ve always looked at, you know, not only doing something creatively but making money from it too.

Elliot Moss
That sounds like that the perfect mix to me. Final chat coming up with my guest, Vanessa, plus we will be playing a track from the late great Wilton Felder and Bobby Womack, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

Inherit The Wind from Wilton Felder and Bobby Womack. Vanessa Brady is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes. We talked about lots of things. A lot of people follow you on Twitter which may sound like a strange thing to say but you’ve got almost 40,000 people who listen to what you say. Why do so many people follow you because, again, if I look at all the different things that you do, you are a trail blazer, you are a woman in business talking about doing well in business as a woman and you do that on a global platform, you’ve got your own business, you are happily creating the standards, I mean, you keep pushing the boundaries. Why do all these people love that do you think?

Vanessa Brady
I think that I talk about family, I talk about standards and I talk about achievement. I think that because everyone’s got free talk, free speech, on Twitter and social media platforms, I have been very careful not to be negative and when I am I always try to give a solution as well so if there is something that’s not right and I say ‘I don’t think this is right’ I will usually say what I think could be done to make it right and therefore, you know, just being saying negative things just for the sake of getting attention is, I don’t think is helpful, and yet we live in a world at the moment where people say whatever they like regardless of the outcome. So I think it just means that if you are, I try to keep it on a very much of a business level as well but just to give an insight about where we are going and what we are doing in terms of business.

Elliot Moss
Well it’s been working for you so far and I am sure it is going to work for you in the future as well. It’s been great having you as my guest today, thank you so much for joining me. Just before I let you go though, before you tootle away, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Vanessa Brady
Well, I think, as we are approaching Christmas and we like to set change and why not one of the first songs this year, Christmas songs this year, for Jazz FM as Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, written by Mel Torme because Daisy, his daughter, is a friend of mine and I know that James is also a presenter here at Jazz FM and I’ve got his CD and listen to him so I think that because Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire demonstrates global as well, I mean, Mel wrote it in great sunshine in Los Angeles so that would be nice.

Elliot Moss
Excellent, well James is happy, Jazz FM is happy, I’m very happy too. Here it is for you. Thank you so much.

That was Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire from Mel Torme. The song choice of my Business Shaper today, Vanessa Brady, and in fact probably the first Christmas song you are going to hear of the year here on Jazz FM. She is a clear thinker, someone who is really strategic about achieving her ends and about achieving exactly what she wants to do and boy has she managed to do that, and beyond that, beyond the business success, a campaigner, someone who said ‘This is what’s important to me, you need to know it’s important and you need to change the way that you think, specifically, about women in business’. Absolutely brilliant stuff. Watch out for the Society of British and International Design Awards which are actually taking place next Friday, the 27th, at the Dorchester in London. Coming up next, and if we had a drum roll we would hear it right now, we are going to be going live to join Nigel Williams who is going to be enjoying the closing weekend of the EFG London Jazz Festival. He’s got some great guests, some live sessions, including José James and Barra Brass, not to mention a few others. So if you are in London and you have got the opportunity I would take it, get down to the Kings Place which is right next door to Kings Cross Station and you can enjoy it with him.

Vanessa is an international interior designer, business consultant and Founder of the Society of British and International Design. She has amassed an award winning portfolio including projects for Hard Rock Cafe, the Design Council, Kabaret Club, British Luxury Club, Unilever, high security government offices, His Majesty The Sultan of Brunei, King of Saudi Arabia, Head of State Palaces, as well as the private residences of numerous diplomats and VIPs. In 2014 Vanessa began a collaboration with Sunseeker International on the new Predator II yacht.

Writing for various trade publications Vanessa regularly contributes to other national and international publications as well as international broadcasts such as Sky News Paper Review and Radio. She is an inspirational speaker and spokesperson for interior design and an awards judge to her peers within the design profession across a variety of disciplines.

In recognition of her high standards and design flair, Vanessa has been acknowledged for a number of high level awards; most recently the 2014 Woman in the City ‘Woman of Achievement Award for the Built Environment’. She was also nominated in 2010, 2013 and 2014 by NatWest Bank for the NatWest everywoman Awards. Licensed by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) 2003 – now the Financial Conduct Authority – Vanessa achieved Corporate Governance qualification (2002), and represents the interests of interior design at cross-party meetings at the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  A regular visitor to the Bank of England she represents risks and current trading conditions of the interior design industry for business.

In 2014 Vanessa was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for her services to Interior Design and the UK Economy.

“…in the early 80’s, interior design was very much more of an interest for people that perhaps didn’t need to earn a living.”

“Anybody who is entrepreneurial…when you feel that you can create change, it’s very difficult to sit down and not get on with it.”

“I wanted to look after the people that have really helped me, so I converted my practice and the things I was doing to a profit share.”

“I do remember the saying, which I have always kept: ‘it’s not the glass ceiling, it’s the sticky floor'”

“I made sure that when my daughter was growing up I still worked but I didn’t ever put my work over and above her.”

“I always work backwards from perfect. So you start where you want to end up, and then you work out how to get there.”

“I’ll try eight things, expecting to only gain and complete one.”

“The creative industries will get us, and have got us, out of the recession.”

“I think that because everyone’s got free speech on Twitter and social media platforms, I have been very careful not to be negative.”