Martha Lane Fox: 'When I joined the M&S board I was still pretty broken'

YOU LIVE AND LEARN: The dotcom pioneer on the future of the internet, the perils of Brexit and recovering from her car accident.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2016

There was an overwhelming excitement about the internet during the dotcom bubble. Every business was being valued like it was going to be that one in 100 success story. Now everyone’s excited about Bitcoin or wearable tech or the Internet of Things. That’s good in some ways, but you have to remember not every business will make it.

The hardest thing when the bubble burst was keeping people in the company from being dispirited. was still a robust business. In 2004, I was involved in a serious car accident, so I was in hospital completely high on morphine when my co-founder Brent Hoberman sold the business the next year. He did an amazing job but I felt quite dislocated.

When I joined the M&S board three years after my accident, I was still pretty broken. It’s OK not to feel confident all the time. If I’m feeling a bit anxious or in pain, I just flip a switch in my brain. I start acting, and sometimes it works, but it takes an effort.

I’m so lucky I’m not in a wheelchair. In some ways you wouldn’t look at me and think there’s much wrong, but you can’t see a lot of the things I struggle with. I find it very difficult just to sit all day for board meetings. A role that demands me in one physical location wouldn’t be manageable. I actually work harder now than I’ve ever worked, but I don’t have a one-sentence job.

Being in the Lords is a treat. There are so many diverse views, so you get to see things from a new angle. I’m in favour of a more rigorous application process though. There are a huge number of people there who do a lot of hard work, but there are some who are less effective.

The internet is going to become more important, so it really matters that there are so few women in this industry that didn’t exist 30 years ago and had the chance to rebase itself. The focus should be on STEAM [STEM plus the arts]. We should encourage arts and science to meet. I studied ancient history not technology, but you can get a long way just by being curious and asking questions.

I really hope Brexit doesn’t happen. Europe is an amazing project that we should strive to protect. If it disintegrates, we’ll be much less able to cope with huge global challenges. The tech sector here benefits from being in, but it’s not just our position, it’s what it would do to the rest of Europe.

I’m not even going to say the word unicorn. We need a more sophisticated measure of success and value than just shareholder return. The wider impact on the planet matters more to me than whether another pension fund makes another billion.

Martha Lane Fox is founder and executive chair of and was co-founder of

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