Opportunity gives us power to move forward, live with purpose, and reach our true potential.
This is a belief that Baroness Martha Lane Fox and JP share passionately.
In this episode, Martha – a pioneering tech entrepreneur, philanthropist, public servant, and Chancellor of the Open University – shares insight on why digital skilling is so important in today's world, as well as the pivotal moments that defined her life's purpose.
Stream the full episode now - and don’t forget to let JP know on social media if it resonated with you!
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Hello! Before we begin, I wanted to let you know about the launch of a brand new series from top business and careers podcast 40 Minute Mentor. Hosted by James Mitra, founder of JBM and LinkedIn’s top voice for careers, there’s so much to learn from this series. From purpose-lead founders to Olympic champions, learn first from these leaders on what it takes to be brilliant. Listen to 40 Minute Mentor on any of the popular podcast platforms.
I’m Jean-Philippe Courtois JP. This is Positive Leadership, the podcast that helps you grow as an individual, a leader and ultimately as a global citizen.
MARTHA: You know when I started my working life in the early 90s I think it was that you were projected to have 11 different jobs through your lifetime, about 11. And now I think it’s more like 40. 90% of jobs are advertised online or only advertised online. So if you don’t understand technology, you're not going to be able to get those jobs and it’s just a horrible cycle that you get into.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Baroness Martha Lane Fox, Chancellor of the Open University encourages people to be curious, to get qualifications, to get confidence, to move on in whatever aspect they want to in their lives. For almost 25 years, ever since she shot to fame as the co-founder of lastminute.com, she’s been driven by passion and a sense of engagement. The former digital champion for the UK, she’s overcome enormous challenges to become a globally recognized businesswoman, philanthropist and public servant, helping others to achieve their full potential and narrowing the gap in social equality is how she has the impact. After this episode, you may want to consider what impact you can have too. Martha, a very warm welcome to the Positive Leadership podcast.
MARTHA: Thank you so much!
JEAN-PHILIPPE: You come from an academic background with your parents. Your father Robin is a classical historian and one of the world’s leading experts in Alexander the Great. So to what extent have you been influenced by his curiosity and energy? In many ways what did your parents, I mean your mother as well and maybe grandparent shaped the values that you hold today?
MARTHA: It’s a difficult question to answer about oneself, isn't it? About where that genesis of you comes from and the heritage that you have also emerged out of, but I really have such a deep respect from both my parents and the world they built for us, but also the world that they lived in themselves. My dad is now 76 just last week and never stops. He sent me a picture yesterday of him on a horse, riding down the Appian Way into Rome and he said “Look! I’m riding the Roman syllabus.” So he has got such a zest for life, it’s quite remarkable and he never made me feel, especially as a young woman, young girl that my brain was any less valued than anybody else’s. So a huge influence on me. My mum as well, you know, always worked. She started a business with her best friend, an entrepreneur herself and very compassionate woman. So I hope the best of me is the best of them and the worst of me I claim as my own.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: You know, a few months back, I was talking to Arianna Huffington on the podcast and one of the key takeaways we had from the conversation was that fundamental system change begins actually with each one of us and our individual power to change the world and our capacity. But you need to feel secure in your power and that takes I think a certain degree of self-confidence, self-esteem. And so in the late 90s when you set up lastminute.com, there were lots of people who were questioning even the concept of shopping on the internet, right? If that really would take off. And how a female entrepreneur on top of that could pull it off. So how hard was it for you to get people to invest behind the idea and at the time, again you were only 25 and when you might I guess have felt what is being called today the impostor syndrome?
MARTHA: Do you know what? I think impostor syndrome has gotten worse through my life. I'm 50 next year and I feel much more of an impostor now-
MARTHA: Than I did age 25, yes. But we can come back to that. We can put a pin in that. You know, lastminute.com was an incredible experience. I am so lucky to have met Brent Hoberman, my co-founder and all power to Brent and credit to him. It was his idea, lastminute.com and he very generously asked me to do it with him and split the idea with me. And I think that part of confidence came from that very strong friendship and partnership. We were both young, but I think when you have that belief in your idea, you would have been customers of what you were trying to build and you have that excitement about it, the confidence is sort of secondary in a way, because you are so sure that this is something that people would want to use, because you would use it. And so you’re your first customers. So I think being 25 was actually a benefit at that point, because you don’t know very much, you don’t know anything. You're just sort of blindly carrying on and I think the pair of us together we reinforced each other and supported each other and he was an incredible friend and co-founder I’ve had, but you’re right, you know? It was a crazy ride and in 1998 when we finally finished the business plan and went out to raise money, there really were hardly any investors in Europe, let alone in London, which was one small city. Big but small city that were interested in ecommerce ideas. When I told my friends what I was doing, they would look at me blankly, think I was completely nuts and walk away from me and that was kind of characteristic of what we found some of the investment community to do as well. We sent our business plan to everybody. We sent it to everybody we knew was investing in internet companies, everybody that we knew was an investor. 99.9% of those people said no thank you very much and the few people that did even ask to see us were extremely sceptical, gave us a real grilling and most of them said no. So it was hard to raise the money and it was really only by chance, because of a whole series of events we ended up in front of the investor that did take that original gamble with us, but we had some crazy meetings on the way, one of which I’ll just recount here-
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Yeah, yeah.
MARTHA: We went to see a very, very old-fashioned venture capitalist. We walked into his office. I've got a streak of pink in my hair and I was 25. I looked ridiculous and he was sitting behind a big mahogany desk at the end of his office. Very grand and very wooden all this stuff. And he looked at our business plan like this, lifted his glasses like that, turned the pages over. Just said “I have one question” and Brent and I are like “Right, what’s it going to be about?” you know, we prepared every scenario about the travel margins. Was it about the cost to roll it internationally? What was it going to be? And he looked at Brent and he said “What happens if she gets pregnant?” It was unbelievable.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: So what did you respond to that?
MARTHA: I’m not often silenced, as maybe you can tell, but I was totally silenced and flummoxed and Brent looked at me just like “Why is he asking this to me?” He looked at me and I said “Well I guess I’ll have a baby.” I mean it was so ridiculous, but it does show you and I hope those questions are much more rare now, but I fear they may still be in people’s minds even if they’re not spoken out loud, so yes.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: That’s quite amazing, you know, in some ways you fitted well the emerging idea of a young entrepreneur that became popular. And so when that bubble burst you found yourself being singled out and blamed. And you were on the receiving end with a lot of personal hate and messages. So looking back at this very painful moment, what were the key lessons for you from the early rollercoaster experience?
MARTHA: Yeah I mean that was a brutal moment. There had been a quid pro quo in this equation, but I think I had not quite understood what the counterpart of it had been. So the upside was that for a period of time when we were building our business, everybody wanted to meet us, talk about us, write about us. I would walk down the street and people would say “Hi! Are you Martha?” People even asked for my autograph. So it was crazy and I think it just hits the zeitgeist of London having a bit of regeneration with the Blair government coming in. Everybody wanting to seem that there was this emerging technology that we were going to capture. Here were some young people doing something fantastic. Here was a woman in technology. All of these things just fitted a set of criteria that newspapers and media wanted to exploit. And that was phenomenal and there is absolutely no doubt we built that brand so much more cheaply than we had expected, because we got this massive burst of PR. The flipside of that of course was that we just became the boxing bag really when things went a bit more complicated and challenging. And you know, some of that is fair. We floated our company at a very high stock price, worth five pounds 35 and the stock market crashed and it went down to 19p and people were cross. And I get it, right? So I understand, but I think where it was tough was that it became very directed at me personally and it’s very hard not to look back on that and think there was misogyny and just again this latent, very old fashioned way of treating young women. And I was still only 28-29 at that point. Often Brent would be cut out of the photographs about the business and yet here we were building it together. So that was hard and I think on reflexion to finally get to the answer of your question, I think about two things from that. I think about firstly, about you know, the immense power actually, the positivity of being able to follow the zeitgeist. You know I've heard Eric Schmidt talk on many occasions about follow the puck. A nice hockey analogy. If you can be in the direction that the puck is travelling, you can go at warped speed. And we did that and that is advice I think that is extremely valuable for any start-up to try and get into that sweet spot of where people are looking. The second thing is you know, much more personal and I think when you are an entrepreneur, you don’t have a traditional set of bosses. Clearly, you’re the boss and you can be who you want to be. You can be yourself, which is an extremely rewarding and wonderful thing to be, but it can also mean that you give too much of yourself and I think when I look back, I wish I’d just contained myself a bit more. I wish that I had not thought I had to be, I didn’t have to be completely out there. I can be out there but keep a bit back and then you can retreat to the bit you’ve kept back when things get a bit more tough.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: For Martha, the way the lastminute.com story played out and the way she was treated was a wake-up call and it changed some of the things she wanted to do. It made her more aware of the challenges facing women in technology. It made her want to be a voice for them, as much as for entrepreneurship. It made her reflect on something else that is really important, the question of how much of herself she needed to bring to work. As you know, over the last decade also, it’d become common to say that instead of having aa workplace persona and a non-workplace persona, people should always be free to be their authentic selves. That’s something that I've adopted, but interestingly, that’s something Martha doesn’t completely buy.
MARTHA: I think you can bring your work to work, do your work, right? If you want to bring yourself, that’s great, but I think it’s also fine to just do your work and that might be a slightly countercultural view right now, but I think it’s okay to have these different spaces. It's okay to have a work you and a personal you and I think that that’s what I take from that too.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Well you get some scars I guess from that time. But a few years after that Martha, you went to another crucible of your life and this is a term used by Bill George on my podcast, the crucibles of your life. And this terrible accident in Morocco where you’re left fighting for your life in a car accident. I think you broke 28 bones, including your pelvis. You suffered a stroke and you were told that you would probably never walk again. And so this early there’s a recovery, I'm sure had been extremely dark. So what pulled you through?
MARTHA: I was surrounded with so much love from my friends, from my family, from my partner Chris. I never felt alone in this. I felt like I was working in a team to rebuild myself and I will never, ever be able to repay that debt to my friends and my family. You know, my mother was completely extraordinary when she was going through a very dark time herself, thinking I might die, but she was there with me every step of the way, as well as my partner Chris and my friends were just astonishing. They came and broadcast movies on my hospital ceiling. They slept under my bed. They brought their new babies to put in my weird bed that I was in because of my pelvis. They came to see me everyday. There was not one day when I didn’t have visitors. One friend sent me a postcard every single day for the two years I was in the hospital. These are things that give you fight, because you don’t feel as though you’re just in a vacuum. You feel like you’re surrounded. So those are the things. I think nearly 20 years on from that when my life has been so dramatically changed and it’s permanently changed. You know I've just spent nearly 12 months battling with a very complex hip issue and bone infection, in and out of the hospital again. Actually it’s much more complex now, just living life and being resilient, because that early two years where you’re learning to do thins, you’ve got constant small goals, you’re learning to stand up, you’re learning to eat again, all those things, that’s such a structured program. When life then sort of- you emerge from that and you get used to the choppiness of a new life, dealing with pain, dealing with continence, dealing with hospitals, dealing with all these things. That's I think when the secondary part of it that’s harder, because then you have to get used to a different normal where there aren't the same supports around every single minute in that kind of crisis mode.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Yeah, yeah. It's actually very insightful what you just said. I mean you talked about who really helped you, what helped you to not just survive, but to actually go through that and you said basically you said it’s love. The people who matter the most in your life, the people who love you. And it reminds me of a discussion I had with a French philanthropist, entrepreneur, called Clara Gaymard. Clara used to be the head of French Invest Agency, so representing France, but she’s been also working at GE and now she has an investment fund and she’s also investing into philanthropy. Anyway and so at one point she said that the most important thing when my life went dark was to think about what would love do at the time. And that has become her mantra and actually even her daughter offered her a ring, they engraved actually what would love do, just to remind herself in those tough moments in her life, hey, those people love us, that’s what matters the most.
MARTHA: That’s funny actually, because my mother’s name is Louisa, and my friends have a joke, they say WWLD, what would Louisa do? The same as what would love do. Because she’s always so smart in situations. So WWLD is something that we always refer to.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: So now talking about more of the day to day- in a way you build your energy. I mean you probably get a lot of positive energy in the things you say, in the way you say things. How do you do that? Do you have some practical techniques, physical, mental, cognitive that you’ve developed day after day that you do during your days?
MARTHA: Well the first thing is I do a lot of exercise, right? I start my most days and I know everybody says this same thing, but that’s because it works, it really does, especially when you’re very broken like me. I feel like the difference between a day when I'm sort of contained and I can’t move or walk or do not very good strength exercises, because I'm not that brilliant compared to most people, but I'm getting better- so that is a fundamental piece of everything, right?
JEAN-PHILIPPE: The start of the day.
MARTHA: And I feel physically like I’m achieving something that’s a starting point for me. But then the second thing and this is where I am so super lucky in my working life and my life-life is feeling as though there is some purpose to the things you do and enjoying the people that you work with. So you know, a day where I’m lucky enough to meet interesting people like you or have conversations with some of the- across the different topics that I cover, that gives you energy, because you’re always on the backfoot. And I mean this in a good way, right? I don’t ever feel I know anything. I am constantly learning and that gives you energy, because you’re constantly feeling like oh that’s you know, this and so I think that’s also part of it.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Martha is completely right there. And it’s something I've spoken about before on podcast. There is tons of research showing how effective learning new skills can be to help improve and maintain our sense of wellbeing, boosting self-confidence and self-esteem. Setting targets and hitting them can create positive feelings of accomplishment and achievement and can also be motivating to do more. Learning does not mean enrolling in courses or getting formal qualifications. There are so many different ways to bring learning into your life. You know, we discussed together Martha obviously, some very challenging moments of your life, but also sometimes failure when you know, lastminute.com had some challenges obviously. Can you give us another example of a failure- and I mean all of us fail badly from time to time for whatever reasons. Can you tell us what you learned from that failure? What was it first and what did you learn of that?
MARTHA: There’s a lot to pick from.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Yeah, just pick one of your favourites.
MARTHA: As you know, because when you do a lot of different things, particularly there’s a lot of failure. I think this may sound strange, because in some ways it lead to positive things, but maybe that’s part of things. You said I was lucky enough to be appointed the digital champion for the UK in 2009. I worked for two prime ministers, Gordon Brown and then David Cameron. So very different political shades, but actually both united in some things that they shared around the importance of technology and innovation in this country. And one of the things I was tasked with doing was helping all the people in the UK who had never used the internet to get access. I wasn’t only tasked with it, but I was, I weighed in there as something that was very important for making Britain digital. It wasn’t just about supporting start-ups and finding the next me and Brent. It was also about levelling the playing field, getting to that 100% connectivity and I believed that very, very deeply and passionately. And so I was appointed in 2009 and I thought well, 2012, that’s the Olympics. I'm going to say that I'm going to get everybody in the UK connected by the Olympics. And I went out there with this big ambition. I was like getting corporate partners to give me money. Microsoft was very generous in this. We did a whole bunch of projects and I supported charities and we did a big burst of work but I got nowhere near getting everybody connected by 2012.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Yeah, of course.
MARTHA: It was way, way harder than I had anticipated at the beginning of the journey and I was definitely guilty of thinking set a big goal, get everybody- doing the classic entrepreneurial thing like big vision and then failing miserably against it. And in a way I wish I’d approached that differently. I wish I’d approached that more button up. I wish I’d listened a bit more to some of the communities that had been doing this work for ages and people that needed to be helped and hadn't set such a big target that was never going to be met and I’m not sure if it set people back, but I definitely don’t think it moved things as much forward as I would like.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: No, it’s a great example. Obviously I can relate to it being myself, you know living in the tech industry for 40 years in my life and being very passionate, but technology being used as well for the common good actually. I think there’s so much more that can be done there, but in a way the lesson you kind of shared with us Martha is well, you know, when you have such big, bold, ambitious goals, hairy goals we call them, right? Make sure you start with the base. Make sure you start with the people who actually are living the problem I guess everyday who can actually teach you a lesson first on what is the problem you are trying to solve and probably get them involved as well, right? To find the most appropriate ways to find the social innovation of tech solutions to get where you need to go. So based on that, because I know you stay actually very close to that cause today, if you had another call from your new leader in the UK. I'm not going to talk politics, about-
MARTHA: Oh my God, I don’t know what I would do if I got that call, but there’d be many things I’d want to talk about. Let's leave it at that.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: But what would you- again approach the challenge very differently beyond doing what you just said right? I mean in the context of 2022 today.
MARTHA: Yeah, yeah. I think the first thing is I thought I was being pretty urgent back in 2009 but I would put even more urgency around it now. I think I would deploy much more- maybe seen as traditional, but noisy kind of PR tactics to use rallying cry to say this is unacceptable. I’d share the House of Lords Committee looking at the long-term implications of Covid and one of the things that came out so strongly from it, it wasn’t just about digital stuff, but that permeated everything as you can imagine. And the fact that there are still so many millions of homes and children without access to technology. I mean imagine being in the pandemic, unable to use or afford the internet. Unbearable. We met mothers who said they were making the choice between feeding their kids and letting them have access to do their homework. I mean this is one of the richest countries in the world. So that’s the first thing I would put even more urgency behind it, because it is absolutely horrific to me that we are still in this situation and I think the second thing is I think we know what needs to be done. There are community organizations, there are charities. There are groups that are connecting very vulnerable groups of people everyday. We need to just ramp up their resources dramatically. So I would say to the government just put the money in. It's not complicated actually. Give it to the experts, don’t give it to me. Give me- whatever it costs, I think we sized it, it cost about a billion to finish the job, but give it to the community organizations that are doing the work.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Who know how to do the job, yeah.
MARTHA: Yeah. Exactly.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Exciting. And building on that, I mean obviously this is one of the causes that you are very passionate about. I think there’s another cause we discussed together before, which is a big one. It's not about digital equity, although I would say probably connected, is really kind of the skills, jobs, equity. In 2014 you’re appointed Chancellor of the Open University, which offers flexible, part time studies, supports distance and open learning for undergrad and postgraduate courses and qualifications and I think you told me last time we discussed together Martha, it’s one of your more rewarding and inspiring roles. So why is that? Tell us where you find that energy for the project and what’s going to drive you next with that project?
MARTHA: Well the Open University is a phenomenal organization. It was set up in the late 60s by Harrold Willson, the prime minister here in UK. Now if people don’t know what it is, the premise is that anybody can study. There's no bar to entry. You can study remotely and you can study for as long as you like. So I have given degrees, which is one of the bits of my job that’s most fantastic, to people that had been studying for 40 years with the Open University, because things happen, people die, families break up, whatever the thing is that had prevented them from studying. And so we have now many millions of students that have been through the university since the late 1960s and an amazing network across the country and people who are working in social work want to get to the next level, decide to do this extra course while they’re working. You know, it’s called part-time learning, but I always say to any of the students that I meet, it’s not part-time, it’s double time learning, because most of them are in work or they’re carers or they’re doing something alongside their studies and they come from a different socioeconomic background to where you might find most university graduates in the country. So it’s for me an incredible structure that was set up here in the UK and the fact that it had digital as it was in the late 1960s right at the heart of it is very appealing, because really it was always set up from the point of view that you don’t need a campus, you can work from home, you can use technology to enable that for people’s lives. So it’s an amazing organization and it’s really a national treasure. I meet incredible graduates. One of the job’s of Chancelor, I’m not an executive, I’m kind of like a symbolic head like the Queen and I do ceremonies frequently and they’re fantastic. And there’s always a lot of noise. I give prizes to different audiences for how loud they can cheer and clap, but the thing that gets me is you see people’s faces and they’re coming towards you across the stage where you give them their degree and they’re either terrified, because they’ve got to walk across the stage or they’re crying because it’s such a moment or their families are going nuts in the audience, because often they’ll be shouting mum! Mum! Mum! Mum! And that always gets me, because here are women that have brought up two children, maybe their husbands died and they’re in work and they’ve got a degree. And so that’s why it’s such a rewarding experience.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: There’s never been such an important time for an organization like the Open University. The need to close the skill gaps, to encourage people to be lifelong learners is vital. If we are going to build a more inclusive, healthier and sustainable society. And something Martha and I agree on is the way that access to tech and digital skills underpins that. Today, there are 2.9 billion people on the planet who don’t have any access to the internet, just access. And those people aren't just in developing countries, by the way. There are millions of them in the UK, millions in the US, millions in France and really, we need to bring together the world of digital scaling to make sure that people understand the tools they are going to use in whatever job they end up doing.
MARTHA: One of the difficulties is that’s shifting all the time. What that would have looked like in 1999 is different to what it looks like in 2099 and that’s what I think we have to start thinking about is how we give this constant shifting of skills training, because it’s not going to be set, it’s going to move on. There are going to be different things you need to understand and be able to use, but from every angle, if you look at things through the tech lens for a moment, we need more skilled tech workers. There's huge gaps in our sectors and if we don’t spread knowledge to more people and out of you know, the much more closed sociodemographic group that tech workers still tend to come from, we’re just not going to be able to fill those jobs. So it’s in everybody’s interest to try and have a more equitable tech sector, because we’ll just have more access to more people.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: For sure.
MARTHA: So that’s one of the first points. It's also that those jobs are going to be more highly paid and all of the things that you know-
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Go with it. Yeah.
MARTHA: So it’s just from every angle putting digital skills at the heart of those skill gaps. It is essential to me, because every job has digital now. It all has an element of digital and if we’re excluding people because of their access or their understanding, it’s a fundamental point of fairness and we will never reach the inequalities that we want to. I'm an optimist, but I have to be a bit disparate, because I look now and I think there are some plans. The UN has a track around this issue about digital access and skills, but it’s somewhat of a mismatch in my opinion. Partly infrastructure, partly access, partly skills, partly training, all these things. And if I look at our own country right now, there is no particular digital vision for the UK. I think we are somewhat delusional that we think we built a kind of digital superpower. I don’t think we have. We've done a better job at creating more start up businesses for sure, but I think it would be hard pressed to say that we are a digital powerhouse and we need urgently to have a view of what we’re trying to build in this country and how we’re trying to equip our people to be able to take advantage of what the next decade is going to throw at us. So I feel as though it’s still a huge job to be done and you can be a bit of that, but it needs much more joined up leadership across the public and private sector.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Let’s move on and discuss a bit another persona in Martha, one of your lives, your many lives Martha. You entered the House of Lords in 2013 as a crossbench peer and you are Director of Peers to the Planet as well, which seeks to climate change and biodiversity laws at the top of the political agenda. How does that fit in with your commission principles and how are you able to use that platform in a political landscape to bring about real, positive change?
MARTHA: The House of Lords is a strange kind of beast, you know. It's an unelected chamber that you come to in many different ways, political appointees or independent appointees, like me. I applied to be there. So you fill in an application form, you have an interview, bit like getting a normal job. And the reason I thought it would be a good place to try and lend my voice is because every bit of government legislation gets scrutinized by the House of Lords and the government can reject anything they want from it, but occasionally they listen to it, more than occasionally and it’s a good way of keeping checks and balances on the government, raising questions with the government and I felt as though I had gathered all this knowledge about the kind of digital world, digital policy especially in the UK and I wanted to have somewhere that I could channel it and so I decided that I would apply and try and at least lend a bit more of a technology baseline to some of the discussions in Parliament. And when I arrived in 2014, it was you know, most people looked at me and kept asking me whether the Wi-Fi was working. That was technology to be honest.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Can you help us Martha?
MARTHA: Yeah, exactly. Like it was my why isn’t my Blackberry connecting to the Wi-Fi. Oh God. But now it’s a very, very different place. There's many more young peers and many more people that have come, of course because of the shifting page of the world we’re living in, come from backgrounds with more technology and done an amazing work around tech, so it’s changed a lot already, but there’s still some way to go. But I think the main thing just on a personal level is it’s a place to contribute with policy ideas, challenges to the government and expertise and understanding and I wanted to try and use some of the things that I had learned through my journey as digital champion.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: And is there a policy that you’ve been incredibly passionate about and where you think your voice has been heard? Among others obviously and where you feel great about the time you spend in the House of Lords?
MARTHA: You know, again it’s a good question, because it’s a difficult place to feel great about, because many things don’t function very well there and sometimes governments most recently have had disregard for some of the things that have come from the Lords and all of that can make it a tough environment, but I think work I've enjoyed personally most is committee work and that can be powerful. I sat on the National Security Committee. It's a joint committee with MPs in the Commons and we did a lot of interesting work around threats to the UK and I know that my voice around technology just did spark sometimes different conversations and I really enjoyed that and hope it contributed to marginally better work. And similarly, as I said, I chaired this committee around the long-term implications of Covid. It was difficult, because it was still Covid when we were doing it and it was hard to see far ahead, but some of the things we learned and some of the importance of whether it’s resilience in local communities, how we make sure councils are prepared for the next pandemic through some of the technology things we discovered and some of the ways that we can unlock more of that resilience was very powerful and so I'm proud mostly of the committee work.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Yeah. So now putting the very last chapter among many others we have initially explored. We take a couple of different podcast episodes, maybe part one, two and three.
MARTHA: I think you’d lose all your listeners. So it won’t work like that.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: I think they get more excited as they listen to you, Martha. What I'd like to talk about is more the time you spent, you dedicate yourself to many charities, including Ability, Net, Reprieve, CAMFED and Just What Kids Allow. And a question I had for you, because there are many causes obviously. So many causes you could get excited about and want to support. How do you go personally about rallying and engaging so different people and stake holders to build a change, to address such critical issues? Because what I’ve learned myself, being involved in some also such charities, my own foundation and others as well, you know, the biggest challenge in many ways is how do you align both yourself, what’s inside of you, your personal mission with the mission you want to be part of and how do you bring together a lot of voices, very different people, very different parties, very different stake holders to build change together and to address the big challenge we see in society in the world. So I'm sure you’ve been building a lot of skills doing that. So tell us the way you build momentum that change and that force to have an impact that you feel drive about?
MARTHA: Well I think you know, you said some charities I'm really lucky to have worked with there, but the thing that defines all of them is great leadership and I think that’s where I personally feel inspired. I have a bunch of things that I care about and I'm interested in and it’s a huge, long list and it changes and you know, I’m a curious person then everything has some interest, doesn’t it? But I think the thing that defines why I work more closely with some organizations than others are the amazing social entrepreneurs or charity leaders that are doing often things in extremely tough circumstances and often in areas of the world that’s not, you know, it’s not sort of in quotation marks glamorous. It's not big cancer glamorous fundraisers. I’m not being glib. I know those causes are very important, but some attract more than others, right? And I've always been attracted myself personally to areas which are a little bit more gritty perhaps and certainly less perhaps headline grabbing and so on and I feel very lucky to have always had- I don’t know where it comes from, it’s just always been in me and I've always been particularly interested in criminal justice and it struck me that we’ve never quite got that right as society, without sounding arrogant and I think that a lot of my friends work in this area and my best friend is an extraordinary human rights lawyer and I became involved with this amazing charity, Reprieve, which helps people who face the death penalty around the world. I had some amazing experiences with this organization. So the thing that for me often is the definition of why I get involved is because of the great leadership. And to your point about how do you create change, well it’s not for me to create the change. It's those great leaders you want to help empower them as much as you can and sometimes that’s resources, sometimes that can be actual funding, of course, but more often than not in my experience-
MARTHA: Helping them make connections. It can be that you might think well, what’s the similarity between a charity looing up disability technology and a charity helping kids who are stuck in police stations? But the truth is they’re both small charities trying to raise money, facing difficult circumstances and often many points of connection. So I like bringing people together. I love mentoring and talking to people or just being a safe space for somebody to say “Ahh! I just can’t do it today!” So I think that that’s what I enjoy.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Wonderful. What piece of advice would you give our listeners who want to bring about positive change? And just to add to that question, you know, we just discussed before the fact that the new, I mean the Gen Zs are probably going to have 40 jobs or 40 experiences in their work life. Right?
JEAN-PHILIPPE: And in connection to that, I had a great discussion with my friend and manager Satya Nadella at Microsoft in my podcast, early on actually, but a year ago now and I think he gave our listeners a very good piece of advice. He said you know, don’t wait for your next job to have a positive impact and to make it happen. It's not about your career plan, it’s about what you do today. So what would be your advice today for people listening to us Martha? They are from all horizons, actually, all kind of people listening to podcast to bring about the positive change?
MARTHA: Well, Satya Nadella is clearly the boss of an amazing corporation for a reason, you know? He’s got some smarts and I can follow in his coattails. You know, I often talk about everyone being an entrepreneur and people look at me sometimes like what are you talking about? I work in a customer service centre, I can’t be an entrepreneur. And I just think that it’s a mindset shift actually. It's about I know I'm not being kind of flighty about hard work with difficult bosses and hard situations, you know, I’m lucky, I've never worked on a factory line. I've never done that kind of role, but I would contest that for a lot of people, just being able to slightly free yourself from thinking of yourself as just the employee to thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur. If you see a problem, think about how you can fix it. Tell your boss, tell someone around you, tell someone you work with and have that curiosity that I think defines entrepreneurs because I always think that will stand you in good stead and don’t be shy to kind of poke your nose in somewhere, right? It can build the relationship so that you can think about things just outside maybe the box that you are being put in. So I think about that. I often talk about everyone being an entrepreneur and thinking like an entrepreneur and that comes down to me to asking questions, thinking about building networks, thinking about how to get stuff done that maybe isn’t just falling in the day job and that can be immensely rewarding I think and make you feel a bit more empowered at what you’re doing.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: What if you can also be an entrepreneur of your life? Everyday? One day at the time.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: So very last question Martha. I’m afraid this is the last one, because again as I said it could be a much longer discussion for sure. Looking forward, what’s next on your agenda and what does success look like for you?
MARTHA: Well, yeah, I mean you know, we started this conversation with me saying that I get more and more impostor syndrome and I mean it actually quite sincerely. I feel like the more you’re lucky to have exposure to amazing things, whether it’s what’s being going through at Twitter or whether I've just become president of the British Chambers of Commerce, an incredible organization where I am representing the voice of small business and I keep thinking, how can I do anything with these amazing organizations? They know way more than me, they’re actually running businesses. So I think for me success, you define it in different terms at different moments in your life. Where I'm at right now, I'm so lucky I have a kind of bedrock of resources and a platform and I don’t feel that kind of hectic need to what’s next? What's next? I feel as though I’m very lucky to be able to pick things that are meaningful to me. The things that I still care about deeply are around the issues that we’ve talked about so far, underpinning the world with a good way of digitizing is very important. I still think we need voices reminding us that technology we control, it doesn’t control us and within that I would say this, but we haven’t talked so much about gender, but pretty much in every world I've ever operated, whether it’s start up world, technology, in Parliament, women are in the minority and I think it’s beholden on women like me to keep making those arguments. It's tricky, because you don’t want to become the white noise. I don’t want to just be that person always talking about women’s issues, but they’re still so important for all of us to understand and unlock. So I think success for me is I don’t have some big masterplan. I hope- I just want to do a good job at the things I choose to do and I try and pull the threads between them. I personally believe that unless people like me who have had this luck are focused on some of the big challenges, then you’re not doing a good job. So that would be sometimes people want to talk about climate or it might be gender equality, but trying to keep aware of the biggest issues that we’re facing and not lose sight of the power that you might have even if it feels small to in someway keep the conversation moving or help organizations. That’s what I aspire to do.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: Don’t lose sight of the power that you have, even if it feels small and still focus on the big issues. Great pieces of advice there to head on from Martha Lane Fox. I got so much out of our conversation. The importance of feeling there’s a purpose in your life. How that gives you energy and a pleasure for working with diverse groups of people and bringing them together to get this done. And above all, keep on learning. We need to spread more knowledge to more people. Having access to tech and building skills is crucial. To enable you to move forward with your life and using your brain has the added benefit of improving your wellbeing. Well, thank you so much Baroness Martha Lane Fox. I’m sure our listeners have been not just inspired but certainly encouraged to take action in their lives they have today. So thank you so much again for being with us!
MARTHA: My pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.
JEAN-PHILIPPE: If you’re listening to the Positive Leadership podcast with me, Jean-Philippe Courtois JP, who would you like to hear from on the show? If you’ve got suggestions for inspiring, purposeful leaders, who you think I should speak to? Please let me know. Get in touch on LinkedIn or Twitter. And if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please do give us a rating. That's it! Goodbye!