The Career Success Podcast w/ Jason Connolly & Linda Plant
Jason questions in Bold, Respondents in Regular text.
Jason Connolly: This is the Career Success podcast. This week, I’m joined by businesswoman, Linda Plant, also known as the, ‘Queen of Mean,’ for your no-nonsense interviews on BBC Apprentice’s final five candidates. Thank you for joining me today.
Linda Plant: It’s a pleasure.
Jason: Linda, you’ve built your career from humble beginnings, to become one of Britain’s most successful business leaders. Today, you run a highly successful property development company, interior design business and your Linda Plant Academy. On your website, one of the real things that stood out to me is you’re on a mission to empower the next generation of business leaders.
Linda Plant: As long as it’s not too technical, it will be great.
Jason: One thing that really stood out to me, you had a very similar background to me. You left school at 16, and you progressed quickly from selling fashions from a Leeds market stall to launching an international knitwear brand, Honeysuckle. You then came back and became one of the first women to head a fashion company flotation, becoming a PLC. How did that all happen? Did you enjoy school?
Linda Plant: I did enjoy school, but I couldn’t wait to leave. I knew I didn’t want to go and learn shorthand and become a secretary. I’d been helping my mother in Dewsbury market from the age of 8. By the time school leaving age came, we already had 3 indoor stalls in Sheffield market. For me it was no question. I actually left school at 15, I said to my mother and father, ‘I want to leave.’ They went, ‘Okay. Leave.’ That’s how it was. I just couldn’t wait to get into business.
Jason: What was 16 year old Linda like?
Linda Plant: 16 year old Linda was passionate, enthusiastic, motivated, driven and ambitious. Much the same as I am today.
Jason: Where did this passion for business come from?
Linda Plant: I don’t think you can define where a passion comes from, or why we have the personalities we have. I’m an only child from humble beginnings, with immigrant grandparents, but I just love business. It’s almost a hobby to me. Most things I undertake, in various walks of life, I’m passionate about. It’s just within me.
Jason: Has there been a driving force for you in your success? What continues to drive you?
Linda Plant: I’m always looking ahead. I’m determined, I’m resilient, I believe in myself. I’m driven. I’m always ambitious, and I’m always seizing every opportunity, and I’m always moving forward. What continues to drive me is I’m still ambitious, I’m still motivated. I’m still evolving, and that’s an important word in my life. I’ve evolved I went on The Apprentice at quite a major age. I’m driven, and that’s why I’m always evolving.
Jason: When you’ve been on The Apprentice, in those candidates over the years, have you seen any of yourself in the drive those young people have?
Linda Plant: I always say, when you get to the final five, they’ve gone through a pretty tough 10 weeks of filming, a lot of tasks, they’ve shown resilience. When they get to me, there’s no praise given unless it’s due. You have to sort out the winners. It comes down to the business plan, their personality, their characters, their common sense, which a lot of them lack, because they haven’t really attached enough importance to the business plan. In some of the candidates, I do see a young version of myself. By the time you get to the final 5, it’s been cut-throat, it’s candidate beat candidate.
Jason: From the outside looking in, it looks like a really intense process. Does it feel like that?
Linda Plant: First of all, reality TV is TV first. Obviously, it’s edited. My interviews go on for 30 minutes, in one take. There’s no break and then they edit it the way they want to edit it. I don’t take any nonsense, I look at the business plan, I get rid of the waffle, and get down to the nitty gritty. So often, they haven’t really thought it through. At the end of the day, although it’s reality TV, it’s real money that Alan Sugar’s putting up, and it’s got to be a business worth investing in.
Jason: Have there been any challenges over your career that you’ve faced, that you’ve really overcome?
Linda Plant: Absolutely. Through my business career, I have faced 3 quite major challenges. When I started off in the markets, in 1974, I worked for a 3 day week. That meant we could only trade 3 days a week, because there was only electricity. When I had to go to London, to do buying, we could only go on certain days, because there was no lights on the motorway. It was very challenging times. You have to adapt to challenges. In 1986, when I was buying millions of dollars worth of merchandise from Korea, the pound collapsed against the dollar. I did have stop gaps in place, but nothing to the level that it went to. That was a challenge which I had to overcome. In 2008, when the banks and mortgage companies went broke, I had a substantial amount of property, so there was a challenge there I had to overcome. In times of terrible challenges, great companies have arisen. Let’s look at Disney in 1929, after the crisis. Airbnb in 2008.
Jason: What defines success for you?
Linda Plant: First of all, I’m always looking ahead. I believe in myself and I get up if I fall down. I’ve got the ability to walk away. I recognise the importance of relationship, and I’ve got perseverance, and I’ve got the ability to see the big picture. I don’t get bogged down, I follow through. I think those are key ingredients for success.
Jason: (TC 00.10.00) I think it’s the ability to bounce back and learn from those mistakes.
Linda Plant: Exactly. A mistake is a learning curve for the next success.
Jason: I started my business in recruitment many years ago, and there’s been many knock-backs along the way. I think it’s that ability to look at the bigger picture.
Linda Plant: It’s not always easy to do that. It’s easy to say but, when you’re in it, it’s hard to do it. What’s the alternative? You’ve got to be resilient and you’ve got to persevere.
Jason: You’ve sat on many boards over the years, do you think there are similar traits that you tend to find in every successful person that you’ve worked with?
Linda Plant: I’m not really a sitting in a boardroom type of person. I don’t like boardrooms. I’m hands on. I like meeting rooms, rather than boardrooms. I love team building. For me, I like sitting in a meeting room and having regular meetings. The exposure I’ve had to a lot of successful people, there are many common traits. There’s a common thread. I am from a trading background, most of the people I’ve come up with have been traders. Certainly, Alan Sugar is a trader.
Jason: It’s that ability to sell and to communicate with people. The sales department of any business is the engine room of the business.
Linda Plant: All the rest is waffle. If you’re selling, everything else can come into place. If you’ve got everything else and no sales, you’re in trouble.
Jason: I believe business and personal life is closely intertwined. Do you believe that? Do you have success habits and a routine that you have to be in?
Linda Plant: I was a mother of 2 boys by the time I was 21. I was just starting out on my career and a journey that took me to Hong Kong, where I opened an office. I was there half the year, on and off. When most mums were waiting at the school gates, I was negotiating prices in Korea, designing sweaters. I felt guilty, but I had a wonderful mother and father, and they always came in to look after my children. I always spent quality time with them, maybe not enough quantity as a mum waiting to pick her kids up from school, but I myself had to be an independent child. I’ve got 3 boys and they’ve grown up with great respect and admiration for their mother. I think kids are a lot more resilient than you think. I would call myself a semi-workaholic. Family and work, it has to intertwine, but you have to make it in a good way.
Jason: What would you say to someone who’s starting out in business, or has a family but wants to have career success?
Linda Plant: The advice I’d give them is my own personal story. I was a mother, I had 2 kids, and I had to leave my kids, but I gave them quality of love. I am the proof of the pudding. You can be a mother and you can have a career, especially today. As long as you know your children are taken care of, kids are resilient. If you’re succeeding and helping to lay the foundations for a good life for them, then they will respect you. You can happily mix the 2. You can still be a good mother and you can still have a career. I am living proof of that.
Jason: Have any of your children gone into sales and got that passion for business that you’ve had?
Linda Plant: My eldest son is a barrister. My middle son, who lives in America, yes. He’s much more a wheeler dealer type. He is super technical, unlike his mum. My very youngest son is in property finance. None of them have gone into the fashion business, or any of the businesses I’m in, but they have all been interested in them. Now, I’m in the property business, and my youngest son is going into property finance, so we’re aligning. I’ve got a great relationship with my 3 sons.
Jason: You’re known for The Apprentice, you’re known for your tough interviews. What would be your key advice to people, when interviewing?
Linda Plant: First of all, when you’re going for an interview, be honest. Don’t be afraid to be truthful. Make sure you know what the job’s about, what skills are required. Be confident, be honest. You’ve got to know if you’re skilled and right for the job. Just sit there and do your very best. Obviously, when I’m interviewing the candidates, I’m interviewing for someone to invest in a business for £250,000. It’s slightly different to being interviewed for a job. Make sure you’ve got a good CV. There’s a lot of tips about CVs. When we talk about my academy, I’ve gone into critiquing CVs, because people don’t realise the importance of them. Small changes can make a big difference. Be confident, be honest, have a good CV, research the job so you know what you’re talking about.
Jason: We tell people to actually know their CV as well. Sometimes, when you’ve got 5, 10 years plus experience, the dates can escape you.
Linda Plant: I don’t like long CVs. I went on the BBC and I did some critiquing of CVs. I like short CVs, people don’t have the patience to read on and on. Pick your points carefully, and be strong at the beginning, and the layout.
Jason: The Linda Plant Academy, it has many different dimensions. It covers CV reviews, you’ll also give business idea feedback. It covers every aspect of business that you need to master to get started and to scale up to the next level. What made you decide to start the academy?
Linda Plant: It’s only just launched. For a while, I’ve wanted to write a business course. I’ve had a long journey and I’ve had success in several business, so I felt (TC 00.20.00) I’m equipped to write something. I wanted to write my style, because I’m not educated, I left school without a single qualification, and I’ve managed to be successful, I’ve managed to go from a market stall to the stock market. It’s 12 chapters to success, but it’s more like my own business journey, my life’s journey, and in every chapter, whether it’s team building, whether it’s how to get an idea, I use my own personal anecdotes, how I have related to this. It’s a very unusual course and it’s for everybody.
Jason: A lot of business books, they can be very long and sometimes they can be very hard to follow. I think what you mention on your website, about having a no-nonsense approach, that sounds great in a business book. I think that’s quite refreshing. Would you say this is a good thing for someone starting out in the sales industry as well?
Linda Plant: Yes. My business course isn’t just for people starting out. It’s even for people who are currently in business. The course is launching in about 2 weeks. I feel it’s very important for people to have some personal contact with me, so I’m planning to offer a 10 or 15 minute Zoom with each person who buys the course. A Zoom to let them have some Q&A, let them have some contact with me. We haven’t launched these things yet, but I’m also planning to do some live podcasts, where people can ask me questions. At the end, maybe we’ll do some special offers. The academy is a business, but I also want to help people, I want to give back. People are going to be out of work, or people need assistance, so there’s an element of giving back here as well.
Jason: It sounds like it’s a great opportunity for someone to be able to come to someone who’s been highly successful in business. On the subject of business plans, if you were to give some advice to someone who’s putting a business plan together, what advice would you give someone?
Linda Plant: 2 things. When you put a business together, first of all, you’ve got to understand your target market. Is your business scalable? You’ve got to recognise that. Have you got a USP that sets you apart? Do you understand your competition? Who are the competition? You don’t always have to be first, but you have to understand them. Then you have to understand the financial side, the cash requirement the business may need. All of these things. So often, I get business plans that are 90 pages, and 80 of them could go in the bin. A lot of them just get the financials so wrong, and it’s so important, because you’ve got to understand that. I’ve had it professionally written, I’ve had a financial 3 year template, and it gives you everything you need to put together a financial template from your business plan. Good enough to take to a bank, good enough to raise finance. You cannot underestimate those needs in a business. On The Apprentice, I get these ridiculous assumptions and there’s no backbone to them because they haven’t really done the figures. It’s very important to understand the spread of what’s needed. There are a lot of ingredients that go into baking the business cake.
Jason: What we can take from that is make your business plan simple, direct, to the point, and know your numbers. If numbers isn’t your strong point, get someone onboard.
Linda Plant: Numbers is not my strong point, but if you’re coming in for investment, with a business plan, you’ve got to have numbers, you’ve got to have a P&L account in there. Otherwise, you’re going to fall down. That’s why I decided to add this in, because it’s important. People come in, you’re making juice in your kitchen, next year you’re going to be in Tesco and Sainsbury’s. How are you going to get there? Do you know you have to Tetra Pak? Do you know how many are required? My template, I’ve kept it to £99, but it’s really important.
Jason: When it comes to numbers, I don’t think you can underestimate it.
Linda Plant: If you’ve got a great idea, get help, because I’m no good at numbers, but I get help.
Jason: It sounds like a fantastic course to newcomers or people with loads of experience. Anyone interested in this can go to the Linda Plant Academy. By the time this podcast is released, it’ll probably be all up and running. If you’re interested, the website address is www.lindaplant.com. Linda, it’s been a delight talking to you. Thank you for joining us on this episode.
Linda Plant: It’s been a pleasure.