Julia Cleverdon - If I Had to Start Again...

I'd like to be reincarnated as someone who didn't operate so closely to deadlines, just to see how different things could be. I don't think anyone could describe me as terribly strategic.

by Julia Cleverdon, chief executive of Business in the Community
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

When McKinsey came to write my business plan in 1992, they were impressed with the strategy behind the campaigns I'd initiated. It was, in fact, complete happenstance. I'd simply gone with the wave breaking on the beach at each time. But I've always had a fascination with the new thing that companies need to be aware of, and that has served me well.

I had an extraordinary change of direction when I was at Cambridge University.

I applied for, and was offered, jobs as assistant governor of a prison, assistant secretary in a hospital and something so secret in the Secret Service that it was hard to know what it was. But I was advised that if I wanted to change the world, I should go into industry.

I thought it an extraordinary concept - my father was a BBC radio producer, and I'd never met a single person in business. But that's where the challenge was. So I joined British Leyland in 1972 as an industrial relations officer.

At Cambridge, I'd read history. What I'm fascinated by, and what history teaches you, is the impact of personalities on a situation. I love the crackle of business, people who are excited by how to make things happen.

How do they cope with the complicated business world? It has changed enormously since I started out. British Leyland had 35,000 people in one plant in Swindon. When the hooter went, the whole town ground to a stop because of the volume of bicycles coming through the gate. Now, everyone has laptops.

Of the whole of my senior management team, not one lives in London - and it doesn't make any odds. It's great fun to be part of this changing world and to influence the enormous contribution business makes.

Julia Cleverdon is chief executive of Business in the Community

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