20 QUESTIONS: Katie Powell, Mama Jeanius

The founder of the maternity jeans brand talks flying planes, her beginnings as a florist and bad behaviour on The Apprentice.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 14 Feb 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I would have been an equine vet. I have a passion for horses and the countryside. It would have been a completely different course, but I think it would’ve been very interesting.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

We did toy around with a lot of other ideas. Mama Jeans was one, but we just didn’t think that had legs. Jeanius didn’t have the maternity connection.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY WHERE WOULD IT BE?

New York, definitely. It’s vibrant and it works 24-7. You meet some incredibly interesting people, and it’s a real melting pot of different cultures. I love the different seasons – they’re quite dramatic. I’ve never been so cold anywhere as New York in January, and then it’s boiling hot in the summer.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

It was all self-funded, we didn’t raise any external cash. You’re always looking at your business and thinking of how to grow it. Often you would think of funding that growth, and it’s something we are considering.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

Bringing production back to the UK last year. Our first collection was made in Hong Kong, but I really wanted it to be a truly British brand in its entirety. We’ve seen an uptick in quality. When you’re in fashion and dealing with fabrics, you want to be able to touch and feel things and see your samples quickly. We can oversee it more easily now.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

Over-engineering the website to begin with. Technology changes so fast that you need to be able to adapt really quickly. We’ve actually gone back and rebuilt it and it’s all been brought in house - I don’t want to have to call up a marketing agency just to change a sentence on the website.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

Probably the iPad. It’s the most amazing piece of kit. I just think it changes the way people live their lives - that’s a little bit dramatic. It’s very interesting to watch as we all get even more embroiled in technology.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

The best thing to do is to give yourself time to think, and take yourself out of situations where they become stressful.  I find being really organised helps, because then I’m very clear about what my priorities are. It’s also about having some down time - I really enjoy cooking and horse riding and I’m also really into flying, when I get the opportunity. I trained with the RAF at university and I’ve got my private pilot’s licence.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

I was a florist when I was about 14. I worked there on Saturdays and really enjoyed it. They put me in charge of one of their shops, and I thought it was the best thing because I had responsibility, I’m quite creative and I really enjoy talking to customers.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

At university, I worked as an estate agent. I’ve actually got a couple of friends who are estate agents, but it just wasn’t for me. It was very competitive, but I did enjoy looking round the houses.

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

When Thomson acquired Reuters, I was responsible for integrating the two businesses and launching what is now the 34th biggest brand in world. Interestingly, I had worked for Thomson and then I was head hunted into Reuters prior to the merger happening, so I was a good candidate.

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE, WHAT WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

Team Vision. It’s all about having a vision and defining a strategy to achieve that vision. I really enjoy watching The Apprentice, I think the dynamics are fascinating. It does mirror to a degree what can happen in big corporates. When you get a set of fiercely competitive people together you also get some very bad behaviour. Not until they’ve been put through their paces do they realise how tough business can be.

13. WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

Small-cap funds - so foreign and colonial-type investments. Everyone should’ve got into Google at the right time. It’s about spotting those opportunities. I also think it’s important to invest in things that are quite stable and will always be required across various industries.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

A horse. They don’t come cheap, but I enjoyed every minute. The running costs of a horse are perhaps more expensive than the buying.

15. SUIT OR JEANS?

If I’m having client meetings it would definitely be suits. If I’m working from my home office then jeans would be fine. I’m quite relaxed, but there are times when you do need to be suited and booted.

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Definitely flexible working. As a Mum of two small children I can be working very early in the morning or very late at night, but that enables me to do the school pick up or drop off at nursery. A lot of that is based on trust, that you trust your team can work from wherever they are, but I don’t think you can be remote on a consistent basis.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

My home office is about 15 steps from my front door, in one of our outbuildings. It’s tranquil and a lovely environment, with glass desks. It’s quite feminine.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

Houzz, an interior design app. It has some really lovely interior ideas, and connects you with purchasing the products and interior design specialists.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

I’m quite the fan of Peter Jones from Dragon’s Den. He’s a true entrepreneur and businessman, and just seems to talk a huge amount of sense. Karren Brady is another person I admire, I think she’s done some terrific things in her career.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINISTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

Childcare costs and figuring out how to get women back to work without it becoming complex. I think a lot of women are put off going back to work because some companies still don’t embrace flexible working.

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