Sometimes the best business decision you can make is to step away

You can only compromise for so long, says Bombay Bicycle Club founder Sarah Willingham.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 02 Sep 2019
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Growing Business

Make no bones about it, running a business is hard; anyone who says otherwise is either extremely lucky, or telling a fib. 

Faced with a seemingly never ending to-do list of budget appraisals, strategy meetings and face-time with employees, bosses are forced to prioritise, which often comes at a cost to their home life.

Sarah Willingham knows this only too well. After a corporate career at Pizza Express she founded Indian restaurant chain Bombay Bicycle Club, which she sold in 2007. Since then she's had a stint on the panel of TV's Dragons' Den,  set up personal finance site Let’s Save Money and now works as an investor.


 

"Definitely the most challenging period of my career was having a family; that was really difficult and much harder than I anticipated. I just don’t think anybody can ever prepare for that. 

"When I had my first child, she came with me as I went around sites, that was no problem at all. But when I had my second, I could take her everywhere but had to leave my eldest at home with a nanny. There were not enough hours in the day, I was being drawn to London for long hours and not seeing my kids at all. 

"I needed to delegate in the business and I didn’t want to delegate from home. I had the responsibility of having all of these staff and these little children, and trying to balance that was just not working for me. The personal compromise was so big that I wasn’t doing anything well. 

"I knew I had to make a major change, so I decided to sell Bombay Bicycle Club way before its time. I didn’t need to sell, the whole team was set up and I could have opened another 20 sites, but the compromise of balancing work and home just became too much for me. 

"My lesson is really that there is always a way. I’m a very strong believer that you can’t fight nature and nature will always win. It doesn’t matter how you try to trim the tree, it is still going to grow.  

"If there is something that you really want to do you’ve got to make it happen and you can't compromise on it. For me accepting that was a really big moment; acknowledging that I couldn’t fight the pull of a home life, and therefore shouldn’t."

Image: Sarah Willingham

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