IWD2018 Unsung Heroines | Anita Brightley-Hodges

To mark International Women’s Day, LEAD is running a special feature showcasing women who go above and beyond the call of duty – those who deserve a little recognition and thanks. We were delighted to be inundated with nominations and after much inspiring reading present your LEAD Unsung Heroines.

Anita Brightley-Hodges,
Co-founder and chair, Family Business Place

Did you know that six out of ten businesses in the UK are family owned? And that in 2014, they employed 11.9m people – a figure that equates to 47 per cent of all private sector employment?

So, when Family Business Place calls these businesses the “backbone of the UK economy”, we’re inclined to agree with them.

Life in these firms is not always easy though. Due to their often insular and sometimes complex nature, family owned firms encounter many unique problems that without the proper guidance can often result in business loss or failure; or worse, irreparable family damage.

This is where Anita Brightley-Hodges comes in. The founder and chair works tirelessly to support family business leaders all over the UK, whether this is by advising them through difficult issues of succession, encouraging them to share their unique experiences with others at events, or using her design background to breathe new life into a brand.

While she was nominated for her “passion, energy and undying enthusiasm for her Family Business community”, it was her philanthropic spirit, and her ability to engender it in others that helped her to stand out as a truly inspirational and compassionate woman and leader.

Whether it’s raising money to support people living in poverty overseas, or to help parents closer to home who are trying to cope with the heartache of rare disease in their children, giving back is essential, as Anita explains here:

I’m Founder and Chairman of Family Business Place, the UK’s most vibrant community dedicated to supporting and promoting Britain and Ireland’s family-owned businesses. Since handing over the day-to-day running of the company to my daughter, Amalia, my exciting new role as Chairman gives me the opportunity to act as a spokesperson and ambassador for the family business sector.

I’m also a specialist advisor to family firms who need help with succession planning, conflict between family members and mentorship of the next generation.

One of my biggest passions is the work that we do to help make the world a better place.

I’m incredibly proud that our ‘WellGood Campaign’ has resulted in over 30 borehole wells being built in Ugandan communities – giving safe, clean water to thousands of families. For me, making an impact and leaving a legacy is a responsibility that comes with being a business owner.

Over the course of a week at Family Business Place, I get to meet and speak with some of the most fascinating, innovative and successful people in British business. From interviewing families up and down the country for our magazine, to going behind the scenes with businesses for our YouTube channel, I also spend a lot of time networking and connecting business leaders with each other. In this day and age, it’s all about collaboration not competition.

When I’m working as an advisor to families in difficulty, I spend a lot of time one-to-one understanding each person’s frustrations and ambitions and making a plan for how they can all work towards a better future for their family business. It’s safe to say nothing is 9-5 here – my week is always hectic and on-the-go but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

As with most business owners, time is never on my side.

We have so many brilliant ideas and projects to work on but never enough hours in the day to get them all done. We’re extremely lucky here that we employ super-talented people and, as a family business, we’re all working towards the same goal so the work always gets done.

Cash flow is tough for any small business and we’re no different – as an events-based company we have peaks and troughs so it’s about being innovative and constantly increasing the value we bring to our family business community. We’re celebrating our 10-year anniversary in 2018 so, as well as looking back at what we’ve achieved, we need to ensure we don’t stop moving. With my next generation at the helm, I’m unbelievably excited about what the future holds.

Family businesses are fantastic at encouraging people of all backgrounds to grow and develop within their company – most are passionate about investing in their people through training schemes, apprenticeships etc.

My background is in design and communication. For over 20 years I ran I branding agency working with some of the most famous brands around the world including Virgin, British Airways, Pret A Manger, Boots, GlaxoSmith Kline, Wallis and Tilda. We won amazing awards and worked on some brilliant projects.

Some of the businesses we worked with included substantial family-owned companies and it was here that I realised families who go into business together face unique challenges. There was a need for a place where they could meet, share and learn from each other, not to mention they wanted to do business with others who shared their ethos and family values. After attending a family business conference in Bristol, I was sold. Along with my friend Paul we started Family Business Place and, although Paul has since moved onto other things, I’m very proud to be celebrating our 10th year.

There is no greater satisfaction than working with ambitious leaders at the top of their game. So, if you want to run your own business make sure you surround yourself with great people who can act as mentors, sounding boards and a general support network.

Running a business is tough, really tough.

So no matter what industry you’re in, you have to be the best. What are you doing that’s innovative? How are you building a sustainable company for the future? How will you inspire great people to join you on that journey? As an entrepreneur, the stakes are high – you might have to remortgage your house, borrow from friends and family or even take out a loan. So, you have to LOVE what you do and truly believe you can disrupt an industry.  

Family businesses are fantastic at encouraging people of all backgrounds to grow and develop within their company – most are passionate about investing in their people through training schemes, apprenticeships etc. My mother is Chinese and came to the UK barely able to speak English. We grew up in a dodgy part of Kent where it was unheard of for people to go to university, let alone start their own business. So, my sister Julie and I are both great examples of how your background is irrelevant if you’ve got the fire in your belly to do something extraordinary.”

Anita Brightley-Hodges and her daughters Olympia and Amalia
Anita Brightley-Hodges and her daughters, Olympia and Amalia