Alliance Trust's Katherine Garrett-Cox deserves her Veuve Clicquot award

EDITOR'S BLOG: The financier survived a brutal battle with an activist shareholder. That's business.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 08 Mar 2016

Well done to Katherine Garrett-Cox who was crowned Veuve Clicquot Business woman of the year last night at Claridge's. This has raised a number of eyebrows because Katherine The Great has been fighting a pretty nasty battle at Alliance Trust with an American raider over the last few weeks

This combined with the fact that last year’s winner Harriet Green made an unceremonious exit from Thomas Cook shortly after being crowned has raised a good few sneers. The Telegraph’s treatment, ‘From hero to zero - Nine Veuve Clicquot winners who swiftly came unstuck’, is especially shabby and inaccurate. Shame on you, ladies, you know who you are.

I’d better declare an interest from the outset here. I’ve been a Veuve Clicquot judge for 10 years and along with Stephen Quinn, the publisher of Vogue we’re the guys who are the longest serving judges. (Yes the men are way outnumbered by women on the panel now.)

This year’s debate was very vigorous indeed. There were a few harsh words. You don’t put Luke Johnson of this parish and Ruth Rogers, founder of The River Café,  on a panel and expect them to keep their opinions hidden under a bushel. But this is good. It shows people care and it shows that the VC is still regarded as important.

The award was first made way back in 1974.  I’d hardly have Carolyn McCall who won in 2008 as a hero to zero. Putting Easyjet’s share price up 400% is no mean feat. Likewise Laura Tenison’s (2010) JojoMamam Bebe is a brilliant business. Zahar Hadid (2013) is still one of the world’s most sought after architects.

But there’s another important point here. Business is very rarely a smooth ride. Like sport it’s dramatic and can go either way. It’s often a game of two halves, Brian. Many take an early bath after winding up feeling sick as a parrot. This is what makes business, markets and capitalism interesting. You have good days and bad days. More interesting than a Stalinist tractor factory from the 1950s.

It’s also to Veuve Clicquot's great credit that they could go for the easy option and give the award to a soft, privately-held, luxury business where you can’t get a proper look at the numbers. I’m sure their comms people urge them constantly to do this and get something nicely ‘on brand’ and Ab Fab. They don’t.

The widow Clicquot was a stubborn, principled business women who made an average business great after her old man died. In my time we've given the award to women who run companies making concrete floors, call centres and getting oil out of Siberia. They are real businesswomen out there fighting day-in, day-out. Katherine does this and looked thrilled, if knackered. (She was one of MT’s 35 Women Under 35 a while back, by the way. The winner of the Veuve Clicquot New Generation award this year, bike light entrepreneur Emily Brook, was on last year's list.)

As she said when she accepted her gong: ‘Over the last few weeks I've been doing my level best to keep a low profile. If leadership is about anything it's about resilience and what you do when things get tough... and the last few weeks have been all about that.’

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