Book Review: Strong Woman

Karren Brady 2

Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge, Vice-Chairman of West Ham FC, one of Lord Sugar’s advisors on the Apprentice and formerly the youngest Managing Director of a PLC in the UK, is undeniably an impressive woman. In her appropriately titled autobiography ‘Strong Woman’, two key themes emerge.

First, Karren Brady’s primary concern is independence. From the outset she tells us ‘I have taught myself to rely on no one but myself.’ It’s evidently the key to her single-minded pursuit of success. But it also seems she has emphasised her independence to such an extent that she has driven others away.

Brady says of her husband ‘He will never say, ‘Where are you going tonight? What time will you be home?’ and I never question him like that either’. Well I’m not someone who needs to know where my partner is at all times of day, but I do like to know his plans and roughly when he’ll be home. Brady makes this sound like interrogation, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not clinginess either, it’s simply showing that you care.

After life-threatening brain surgery for an aneurysm her husband has her making calls from her hospital bed to help him out with a work issue. He appears to show an absolute lack of care and empathy for his wife. Her conclusion? ‘When the chips are down, you can only rely on yourself… The things in life that have never let me down are my career and me.’ The fact that she cannot trust or rely on anyone else saddens me enormously. Sure, it’s the key to her ‘success’. But if success means trusting no one, having no one care for you and only relying on your work and yourself, it’s not something I’ll be chasing.

The second theme is how incredibly hard she works. To quote, ‘I work from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep. I’m not exaggerating.’ I must confess that as impressive as this is, it is not something I envy or wish to emulate. In one anecdote she recalls making the decision to drink less water so that she can go to the toilet less and so have more time for work. This is not ‘success’. This is tragic.

Her level of commitment to her work is, to me, shocking, but for her it is others’ lack of commitment that is unbelievable. She is ‘shocked that some people can be out of reach in the evenings, or at weekends, or on holiday.’ Really? Shocked that people want to have a life outside of work? That not everyone’s life revolves around their job? That not everyone wants to be at the beck and call of their boss? For someone who places such value on independence, I’m surprised she doesn’t get this.

Let’s look at Brady’s idea of success for a moment. In her own words ‘For 13 years I didn’t have a holiday and barely took a day off. If you want to be successful, that us what you have to do.’ And: ‘Nobody got successful leaving work at five o’clock.’ I feel I should let Karren Brady know that I used all of my annual leave last year and often leave the office at five. I also consider myself very successful: I’m happy and have people in my life that I can trust. I wonder if she can say the same.

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