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smashing barriers ‘Apprentice’ guru Karren Brady lifts lid on her 30 years in male-dominated football

"Asking me to pose in shorts was just normal"

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Karren Brady is vice-chair at West Ham United football club and sits in the UK’s House of Lords

Karren Brady is vice-chair at West Ham United football club and sits in the UK’s House of Lords

Karren Brady is vice-chair at West Ham United football club and sits in the UK’s House of Lords

When Karren Brady stepped forward as the first lady of football in 1993, the howls or derision could be heard from Liverpool’s stadium at Anfield all the way to Manchester United’s Old Trafford home.

The appointment of the glamorous 23-year-old as managing director of Birmingham City FC brought smirks and snide comments from many in the game, with her arrival coming at a time when women were still banned from entering boardrooms at top clubs.

Throw in the minor detail that she was working for David Sullivan and David Gold, who made their millions in the porn and the Ann Summers sex shop empire, and Brady appeared to be facing a credibility battle she could not win.

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Footie boss Karren Brady with husband Paul Peschisolido and children Sophia and Paolo after being awarded a CBE in 2014

Footie boss Karren Brady with husband Paul Peschisolido and children Sophia and Paolo after being awarded a CBE in 2014

Footie boss Karren Brady with husband Paul Peschisolido and children Sophia and Paolo after being awarded a CBE in 2014

Yet almost 30 years later, this 52-year-old female business icon remains at the heart of English football as vice-chair at West Ham United, while also taking at leading role in BBC1’s The Apprentice alongside Alan Sugar and sitting in the House of Lords as Baroness Brady.

She boasts a success story that has defied plenty of odds and as Karren spoke exclusively to Magazine+, it was clear that her eagerness to open more doors for the next generation of businesswomen burns brightly.

“Someone sent me a photo recently of me wearing a tiny pair of shorts and holding up a football on the day I went into Birmingham in 1993 and it remined me how things were back then,” begins Brady, speaking at an Simply Business event.

“Asking a woman to pose in tight shorts summed up how someone like me was viewed in a business world back them as you wouldn’t be asked to do that these days.

“Clearly, we have come a long way over the last 30 years and women are now viewed in a very different light in leading boardroom roles now, but the research put together by Simply Business shows we have a long way to go.

“The gender pay gap is going to take 100 years to close and there is still a lot to do.

“Only by talking about our experiences can we promote the change that is needed to make it easier for women as there is a lot more we can do to eradicate unconscious bias that still exists.

“I’m 52 now, I’ve been around a long time and I don’t get any issues with negative comments about my role at this stage of my career, but I know women who do face that on a daily basis, so we have to work to end that.

“If I have a voice that can help in that mission, I will use it and see it as a privilege of a lifetime to champion women and help to break down more barriers.”

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Karren with Alan Sugar and Claude Littner on BBC hit The Apprentice

Karren with Alan Sugar and Claude Littner on BBC hit The Apprentice

Karren with Alan Sugar and Claude Littner on BBC hit The Apprentice

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Brady’s role alongside the fearsome Alan Sugar as one of his advisers on the BBC business reality show The Apprentice has ensured she has remained in the full glare of the media spotlight, yet she insists a role as the back seat driver of success has always been more appealing.

“I have always been quite happy to stay in the background and that is predominantly where I am both at West Ham and on The Apprentice,” she continues.

“When I was growing up, I never imaged I would have a career in sport or on TV, but it has been a fantastic journey.

“I have worked very hard to build a career I’m very proud of. I’ve taken risks, taken my knocks and got back up.

“You only live once, but if you do it right, that is probably enough. In life you get your ups and downs.

“You have to have your vision, stick with it and even if people doubt you along the way, you need to stick to your convictions and believe in what you are working towards.

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Karren Brady is vice-chair at West Ham United football club and sits in the UK’s House of Lords

Karren Brady is vice-chair at West Ham United football club and sits in the UK’s House of Lords

Karren Brady is vice-chair at West Ham United football club and sits in the UK’s House of Lords

“There is no point in looking for your passion in life down the back of sofa. What you have to do is try different careers, take some chances in life and find your way.

“See what you are good at and ambition can grow from the ground up. If you have a career that you enjoy and are good at it doesn’t make work seem difficult and it can enhance your life.

“And women should not think for a moment that they can’t be ambitious or aim for more.

“I have never felt out of place in a boardroom. I’ve always known that I deserved to be there, but it was a difficult environment to be in when you are in a minority of one in a male-dominated space.

“That’s why I have spent my career championing women and bringing other women into my business to work with me.”

Brady, a mother of two children with usband and ex-footballer Paul Peschisolido, may have enjoyed enduring success in business, but she admits there is one big issue that remains unanswered.

Her beloved father Terry was adopted as a child and while he has been told his roots lie in Ireland, his full story is still an unsolved mystery.

“It’s often reported that my Dad is Irish, ut the truth is my Dad doesn’t know who his father was,” she revealed.

“Despite trying for many years to discover who his father is, we have not been able to find them.

“He has been led to believe that his father was Irish and born there and he has employed companies to try and find him and find out who he is.

“We have kept coming up against a brick wall. My Dad would love nothing more than to see a picture of his father and learn about who he is and it would be great to know if he was Irish, as we have been told.”

  • Small business owners have until 31 March to sign up for the chance to win a one-hour long, one-on-one mentoring session with Karren Brady at simplybusiness.co.uk/empowering-women-in-business

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