“I am inspired by people who have the courage to attack a problem in a very innovative way. It takes a long time before people see them as geniuses. Those entrepreneurs are often the start of a real innovation that truly helps people’s lives. Entrepreneurs are pioneers, they start new things.”
With a dual British and French citizenship, I hold an MBA from Oxford University’s Said Business School and have gained +15 years of business experience in France, Germany, Hungary, the U.K. and the U.S.A., mainly for small to medium size enterprises.
From 2004 to 2010 I was executive COO of one of the U.K.’s leading social enterprises, The Ethical Property Company Plc., delivering financial success as well as environmental progress and social benefits. I moved to France in September 2010 to launch Ethical Property’s model in that country and beyond: ETIC. Alongside my executive roles, I have been a non-exec for a few organisations.
Recognition: Who’s Who of Britain’s Business Elite (2008) – Talent des cites (2010) – Women Entrepreneur EWPN (2011) – Trophee J Gaudry (2012) – Femme en action (2013) – Trophee Sustainable Development LVED (2013)
Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?
I don’t have any one person in mind in particular – most entrepreneurs we know of are male and I’m always annoyed by that. I know there are many women entrepreneurs out there, but unfortunately they are not as prominent as their male colleagues. I am inspired by people who have the courage to attack a problem in a very innovative way. Often they are alone and people think they are a bit odd or sometimes even crazy, and it takes a long time before people see them as geniuses. Those entrepreneurs are often the start of a real innovation that truly helps people’s lives. Entrepreneurs are pioneers, they start new things.
“People need to believe in what they want to achieve – it’s good to recognise our limiting beliefs and avoid them to achieve great things – everyone can do it!”
What is your greatest achievement to date?
I would say it’s building the first environmentally-friendly social enterprise buildings in France. We build properties set up as business centres, focussed on charities, social change entities and social enterprises. Even though it is similar to the property business where you have shared services and equipment, the way our buildings are built and laid out inside is completely different. We try to organise synergy between the tenants and aim to lower costs so that rents are as low as possible, while doing this to the highest environmental standards and as a viable economic model. We have been doing this in the UK for the last 12 years now and it was difficult when we first started in France, because people felt that if you are doing good, you can’t be making money at the same time! We promised a 5% return to our investors so they just didn’t understand! I was told that I was a dreamer, or that was hiding something in our model. Now that we have finished organising our first centre, called Mundo Montreuil, we have proven that it works! This first building, located in the east of Paris, will be 2000 m2 and will house 30 different organisations, with offices, a conference centre and an organic café. The works have started and it will open in November 2014. We also manage 2 centres, one in Lyon and Paris – (that we don’t own) and in this way, we already prove that we can successfully manage this type of building and it has a very good environmental and social impact.
“Being a women in the property sector has brought its benefits, because there are a lot of women in this sector who have been discriminated against, so we tend to really help each other. I receive a lot of support from female entrepreneurs and investors.”
What has been your biggest challenge as a Women Entrepreneur?
It has been difficult to be taken seriously, especially in France in the property sector. I have faced sexism every day! It really took going the extra mile to convince investors who were more used to seeing men in this industry, to invest in me. Even though it took a little more effort in the beginning, the fact that I am a woman wasn’t an issue in the end because I totally convinced them. In fact, being a women in the property sector has brought its benefits, because there are a lot of women in this sector who have been discriminated against, so we tend to really help each other. I receive a lot of support from female entrepreneurs and investors. That’s also why I went to see the female business angel network – Femmes Business Angels.
“With every decision we take, we consider the social, environmental and economic impact. It’s a way of thinking that is very easy to get used to. It doesn’t actually create any additional work to think this way and every employee and partner we work with now thinks in this triple bottom line way. That makes our projects more sound and sustainable.”
What in your opinion, is the key to your company’s success?
It’s our focus on the triple bottom line. With every decision we take, we consider the social, environmental and economic impact. It’s a way of thinking that is very easy to get used to. It doesn’t actually create any additional work to think this way and every employee and partner we work with now thinks in this triple bottom line way. That makes our projects more sound and sustainable. We may advance more slowly than others because we take a more prudent approach, but at the same time, we get a lot of loyalty from our stakeholders because we take them into account. We create a lot of efficiencies because all our employees, suppliers and stakeholders really care about what we do – it’s a special relationship. Our success really comes from this good energy between all the key stakeholders. This is a very innovative approach, particularly in the property industry where people tend to try to take more than they give.
If you could do one thing differently, what would that be?
I would try to shorten the length of the process – each project takes between 2-4 years to come to fruition, which is really long. On the other hand, if we did it any quicker, it would not be done well. We do tend to have a bottleneck in finding the right building at the right price – it’s extremely difficult. I am working on my network to help us do this better. It’s all about who you know!
“Jump in and just go for it! Once you have done it, you know that it is possible to do.”
What would you say to others to encourage them to become entrepreneurs?
Jump in and just do it! I regret that I didn’t become an entrepreneur sooner. Often I find that you need a lot of self-esteem and reassurance to decide to create build a business – sometimes it’s easier if there are two of you. At the same time, you need good governance. I often speak to people who want to become entrepreneurs and they have the fear of actually taking that step. But once you have done it, you know that it is possible to do. Most of us are wannabe entrepreneurs but the fear of taking up new things holds us back. If everyone got to try being an entrepreneur out at school, eg as a project, there would be far more women entrepreneurs. So – just go for it!
How would you describe your leadership style?
I tend to lead by example and infuse people with enthusiasm for our vision by reminding them why we do things our way and what are the benefits for everyone. I share our vision towards building a better world. My team share the same values as me and we all believe in our work and mission.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t waste time on fear. Believe more in yourself!
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
I really hope that there will be a trend towards more responsible business. I hoped that after the 2008 crisis, people would move away from a short term view of quick gains. There has been a short turn, but people still have short term memories. I wish the media would look at this trend of social business and help build more awareness around it. Every time I talk about this way of working with entrepreneurs and students, the majority think it is the right way to go and they start to change their habits, and things start to have impact on society. I think the media and politicians should take this on and create more awareness for social business. It really would solve a lot of root problems in our society.
3 key words to describe yourself:
- Holistic approach (take all stakeholders into account).
“ People need to believe in what they want to achieve – it’s good to recognise our limiting beliefs and avoid them to achieve great things – everyone can do it!“
Love this post?
Get useful weekly opportunities and resources for women entrepreneurs, including:
- Top awards and competitions to apply for
- Tips for getting funded from seasoned entrepreneurs
- Experiences shared by women founders