Martha LaneMost interviews for “Inspirational Women”, start from the premise that role models, mentors and sponsors have been key in achieving success. It is interesting to see how differently women speak of this. This interview happened before Martha was made Digital Tzar and more recently a member of the House of Lords.

Martha co-founded lastminute.com in 1998, floated the business in 2000, and remained on the board until the Company was purchased by Sabre Holdings in 2005 for £577m. Prior to stepping down Martha acted as Group Managing Director where she was actively involved in all aspects of the business development from securing new investment to running the day to day business across all its 12 international markets. Martha is currently a Patron of CAMFED www.camfed.org, and co-founder of Lucky Voice Private Karaoke. Martha supports the group Reprieve, which aims to get prisoners off death row. She was recently quoted as saying to believe in not enough talented women on boards and in business, was both sexist and patronizing.

Martha’s Role Models

Interestingly Martha doesn’t think that role models are so important as the good and supportive network which you gather round you. One role model

“My parents together. They were supportive and allowed me to do what ever I wanted. They were totally supportive of us children, and in themselves were inspiring people.”

Key Events in Your Career

The most surprising was from a recent event for Reprieve. www.reprieve.org.uk.

“One of my best friends, Shauneen Lambe, was the founder of Reprieve and involved in human rights and criminal justice. I was so impressed. I have always been really interested in the penal system, but have always hated the idea of having my wings clipped, and it stems from the idea that how you treat people comes back to you, that you are sending into a spiral how you treat people. One of the prisoners, facing a bleak outcome, spoke so movingly and with great humility. It never ceases to amaze the strength of the human spirit and how overwhelming people can be in adversity.”

What was the most challenging event in your life?

The most challenging event in my life was learning to walk again. “My body flew across the desert and landed on a rock,” she had been thrown out of a jeep in Morocco, landing on her right side, smashing her pelvis in six places, and almost destroying one of her legs. Worst of all, lying on the desert ground, she was suffering from massive internal bleeding. “I don’t remember any of what happened next, but the doctors said there were bits of bone and blood floating around inside me. The danger was that they would spread to my brain.” She says if she hadn’t had the money from the sale of dotcom, to buy the best medical treatment and supporters carers, she would not have survived.

“It was difficult, and I could only proceed slowly, day by day, setting small goals constantly so I could see that I was making progress. Of course overall, the love and support of family and friends.  I think overwhelmingly what came through was never take for granted the love and support of family and friends.  How lucky you are.”

The event which produced the most learning

The events or occasion which produced the most learning again and again; that people in terrible situations can do amazing work. The work that CAMFED are doing in African schools, where they are getting uniforms, transport, mentors. These women are living in African villages with AIDS and economic problems, yet they manage to get a university degree. They are extraordinary. Camfed is dedicated to eradicating poverty in Africa through the education of girls and the empowerment of young women.

“When people say it cannot be done, they only mean it has never been done before.” Angeline Mugwendere, supported by Camfed through school and now the national director of the Zimbabwe programme. Educating girls and women helps individuals. It also unlocks energies which drive social and economic development.

Did you ever feel it was harder or easier as a woman?

“It would be churlish to say that I’ve had problems as a woman. It is harder. Some people seem not to live in the 21st century. I have been very lucky. However there was one occasion. When Brent Hoberman and I were going to set up lastminute.com we went to see our first Venture Capitalist. I was very nervous and we did the presentation, then he looked at me and said: “What happens if you get pregnant?” I was completely confused, as I hadn’t expected such a question. I have to say that not all VCs were like that. And now that I am Non Executive Director of Marks and Spencer, these are dynamic modern companies. The last thing we want is tokenism, we want broader working practices, more flexible working. But the top women in the city still are few by comparison with the men.”

Looking back is there anything you wish you’d done differently or better?

“Loads, but I don’t look back much. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes, hiring people, firing people, on deals on a personal level, but I think its important to make mistakes and learn from them. Learn daily in life and try to do better.”

Any serendipity?

“Setting up lastminute and selling at the right time. I believe strongly in the importance of the support network, but I am also aggressive in going out there and looking for people, getting Alan Leighton for the chair for 3 years.”

What are your core values?

“A strong social conscience. An awareness that you are connected into the world around you and feed that back.”

Advice to young people starting up their own business:

Total love and devotion to your family. Take inspiration from them. Be disruptive: challenge authority. Not just taking people’s expectations so that you, young women don’t need to feel that they have to be any particular way.

It is very important to be optimistic, but also self-aware. Constantly positive, but don’t be blind. Delegate. You need to recognise that you are probably not the best person to do everything. Get great people around you. Also absolutely crucial, I had an absolute obsession with the cash, real cash flow not the multi-million turnover, but the cash, money in the bank, really critical.

Martha Lane Fox. Youngest member of the House of Lords. Baroness Lane- Fox of Soho CBE. You can read her blog here, especially about the Ability net awards, featuring Dame Steve Shirley, another amazing incredible woman. http://marthalanefoxblog.wordpress.com/

©2013 [email protected]