Victoria Brannen spent over 10 years steering global brands in the financial services, automotive and hotel industry, primarily in strategic planning and marketing strategy integration. Today, Brannen is CEO of innovative start-up Maya Asset Management. In this Q&A, European Business Express takes a close-up of one of Europe’s Leading Women.
How have your motivations changed throughout your career so far?
I think that for most career minded people, in our younger years motivations are chiefly centered around our own personal targets, and on achieving results individually to ensure we keep moving onwards and upwards. As I progressed into a leadership role and became responsible for the livelihood of others, my motivations became very much about achieving the best through them in order to feel personally rewarded.
How do you plan for your next big challenge?
Learning from past experiences is fundamental. Considering how we would approach things differently next time round is a good starting point, but it is also critical to remember not to be blinkered by the past and remain flexible; the individuals and therefore dynamics of each new venture pose unique and different sets of challenges. The requirement to remain commercial and objective underpins the ability to compromise and identify the way forward. This sometimes does involve making tough decisions, but my responsibility is to look for the future success of the business, and to lead people positively through to that end.
What do you look for in a potential investment? What are the key indicators which persuade you the investment will be worth it?
A balanced approach to risk. In order for there to be a return there must be a degree of risk, and if I can work through an appraisal and realistically mitigate the key concerns then I would consider the opportunity further. The key indicators I look for are a good location, low levels of consolidation in the sector, ability to gain operational efficiencies through consolidation in the sector, and a latent potential that could be realized with future investment.
Who have you learnt most from? What are the five key lessons you learnt from them?
George Wood, my first Marketing Director at Ford Credit Europe. He taught me:
Never to present a problem without having thought of a solution
Come with three solutions to increase your chances of having the answer
It’s good to make mistakes as you learn from them, but only make the same mistake once
Be passionate but unemotional; it is easier for others to buy into a concept which stands on it’s own merit than having to decide whether they buy into you as a person
Never lose your female approach just because you work in a male environment, it can be very powerful!
Why did you decide to found your own company?
It was a natural step given where I was career wise at the time. I wanted to move away from roles within large international corporations and use more of the management skills I had developed to drive a business end to end. It feels more natural for me to be deciding on direction and strategy, and bringing people on to deliver and grow.
Which nations do you admire most in terms of business acumen and / or determination? Why?
Having had the benefit of working globally, I would say that I admire the Americans for their drive and ambition. Rather than write you off for making mistakes they hold the view that they make you more likely to get it right next time. They have a ‘bounceback’ psyche which seems to pull them through the tougher times. I also admire the Finnish for their quiet and steel like determination, which gives them the ability to manouvre stealthily to achieve the desired outcome.
Which lessons does Europe need to learn from the economic crisis to become stronger entrepreneurs?
There needs to be greater access to business forums for entrepreneurs to take advantage of the wide range of professional service and advice available. The best advice is often cost prohibitive for smaller companies, and there is seemingly an endless flow of changing legislation and policy being pushed out from Europe which is very difficult for smaller businesses to keep ahead of.
Who are your leadership role models? Why? Five please, at least two women; at least two Europeans.
Surinda Arora- Owner and Chairman of Arora International Hotels
Surinda created one of the fastest growing independent hotel companies in the UK and is the leading hotelier to the aviation industry. He arrived in the UK at the age of 13 and set his sights on what he wanted to achieve at an early age. His goals were ambitious and stretching but his determination and work ethic achieved the result. He is a very generous individual and gives his valuable time to helping and developing others.
Viscountess Penelope Cobham Chair of Visit England
Viscountess Cobham is an incredibly influential and knowledgeable lady who uses her role to really drive common sense in Leisure and Tourism. She provided me with very sound advice and guidance on constructing a common sense approach to deal with key issues.
Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, Entrepreneur
JJ was one of the most charismatic and inspirational people leaders I have worked with. At his time at Toyota he rallied the development of the brand and sales in Europe against the stigma attached to Asian Imports (viewed as inferior to European design). His ability to drive passion and ownership throughout the organization was incongruous to the Asian culture and yet he was able to engage at every level and bring people with him.
Angela Merkel German Chancellor
To become first female and East European Chancellor at the age of 51 was impressive, and her track record in the current economic climate cannot be dismissed. Although she is known as sometime being quite ruthless, she has also been able to compromise effectively and bring people together in complex global situations. Part of her skills is in being able to make shrewd and unexpected decisions in difficult situations.
Cecilia Michalik Senior VP of Quality and Satisfaction at Ford Motor Credit Company
Cecilia has a very relaxed and cool sense of leadership. She has worked incredibly hard to attain her position in a global corporation, and overcome the challenges of working in a male dominated industry to do so. Her business acumen and ability to prioritise and cut through issues was inspirational.
What is the single most important principle for creating a successful business?
To add value! If what you deliver, and how you deliver it, fulfils a need and achieves results, then you have a sustainable product. If this, as in companies like Maya, is delivered primarily through a service, then you need to secure the right people, and motivate them. Passionate people are vital to ensure the mission to perfect your offering and respond to changes in the marketplace, and to maintain your edge.
What is your single most important source of information – news or data?
The news, as this tends to be reported before the underlying data becomes available.
Victoria Brannen, CEO of Maya Asset Management
Victoria Brannen spent over 10 years working with global brands in the financial services, automotive and hotel industry at a senior level, primarily in strategic planning and marketing strategy integration. During Victoria’s role as Head of European Marketing for Toyota Financial Services she supported Toyota Financial Services Europe (TFSE) expansion into Europe by realizing the potential growth opportunity of each new territory, resulting in the launch of TFSE into five new countries and growth of £269 million business revenue. Similar roles at Ford and Nissan Finance development team involved NPD, product appraisal, benchmarking, market, competitor and customer analysis and customer retention programmes.
She then spent several years as a management consultant, working for clients such as Millennium and Copthorne hotels for whom she delivered an investment appraisal project, which brought customers and service to the forefront of the organization’s business activities. She proves a successful financial return for the £7milion investment in the enabling technologies and people resources required and identified the key enablers of major change within the organization and recommended strategies for implementation and future management.
Victoria then began working as a consultant to a start-up asset management company within the holiday park sector in 2006; the role was predominantly focused on developing business strategies for the purchase and re-development of holiday parks totaling an investment of c. £50m.
In 2007 Victoria become a founding Director of an investment management business focused on raising investment from institutional investors for investment in the holiday park sector. Victoria’s appointed role was Chief Investment Officer focused on developing the investment rationale and strategic performance of the fund’s assets advising on investment strategies for each acquisition and developing the portfolio in line within the return profile. Victoria was also responsible for overseeing the management performance of the management company employed to deliver the strategies and manage the day-to-day operations.
Victoria stepped down from Darwin in May 2010 and set-up Maya Asset Management, who retain Darwin as a client.