Fair & Square in conversation with the Chairman of Cavendish

Our guest on this episode of the Fair & Square podcast is Lisa Gordon whose career has spanned financial services and the media and was at one time the youngest ever female director of a listed company.

Among her current roles, Lisa is chair of Cavendish which is a UK champion for ambitious growth and investment companies, but she has also been a financial analyst, a music industry executive and was co-founder of regional newspaper group Local World. Lisa told our host Adam Batstone that her career had taken unconventional routes.

“I took a fairly unconventional route. Many people do and I hope more people will because it is very rare that people do their entire career in one sector or with one company,” she says.

Journalism was her first love and she edited her university newspaper, but work experience at a stockbrokers made her interested in investing and after sending hundreds of letters to potential employers she landed a job in the City of London and later became an investment analyst.

Her executive career after leaving the City was mainly in media so she was able to combine her two passions. Her first role was at the music industry’s world trade body IFPI where her horizon scanning training as an analyst meant she spotted the rise of digital as a threat and opportunity to the industry.

“One of the biggest lessons in my business life was witnessing the reluctance of the major record companies to recognise what was coming down the road and address it and therefore they found themselves playing expensive catch up and ultimately that was a race that they lost.”

Music industry entrepreneur Chris Wright the founder of stock market listed Chrysalis – whose artists included Blondie and Spandau Ballet – was on the board of IFPI representing independent labels and had seen her in action and offered her a job. At 27 she became the youngest ever female board director of a listed business. She says while that was unusual then times have changed now and meritocracy – regardless of age – rather than time served is how modern businesses ensure they have the best people.

Lisa said the music industry taught her many things, including the capacity to take risks which can be missing in business, and she remembers Wright telling her:

“When the boat is leaving the harbour don’t be the one standing on the wharf.”

Lisa says businesses can suffer from short-termism and those that can ask the ‘What if?’ questions and redefine themselves can be the most successful. She says people can be so busy that they fail to look longer term and she encourages them to lift up their heads and look down the road and think where you are going as a business, as a country,  as a family.

“I just think people have got to be challenging, curious, questioning and reflective.”

Lisa says she is not complacent about the outlook for the UK economy and there is a need to be careful about the polarisation of wealth and lack of financial education in the UK. Growth must be encouraged and we need to get behind business, entrepreneurs and UK capital markets because without it we will struggle to tackle the demand on public services.

One area Lisa would like to see addressed is the unlevel tax playing field for private equity and tech companies who are not contributing fairly to the public purse compared to UK-listed companies.

Lisa believes media has a role to play in celebrating the success of businesses and highlighting what we as a nation are good at – entrepreneurism.