Rita is a portfolio NED on a number of boards, including Dixons plc, ASOS, Nationwide, Bupa, Emap, Ascential plc and Populus. Her non-profit board experience includes WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature), The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), and the UK Government’s Sustainable Development Commission. As a result, Rita received a CBE in 2014.
Rita started her career in advertising, becoming Vice Chair and Strategy Director at Saatchi & Saatchi then moving to brand consultancy as London CEO at Interbrand, where she later became Chairman. Rita has advised many leading organisations around the world, as well as start-ups and growth stage businesses of all shapes and sizes. In 2013, she co-founded the global consultancy BrandCap.
1. Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“You’re better off being yourself, because you’ll never be as good at being someone else”. This still rings true for me, and business would be a lot better if we had people behaving as real (and hopefully decent) human beings running the show! The only thing I would add is that you do need to make sure it’s your best and appropriate self for what you want to achieve – no-one needs to see and hear all your personal stuff hanging out at all times…
2. Worst piece of advice you’ve been given?
An angry CEO once said to me ‘Rita, this business is about the ruthless pursuit of profit’. I didn’t know whether to guffaw, ignore, or just tell them where to stick the job (I’m pleased to say I did the latter when I had calmed down). Reference the first question, behaving as though profit is the only thing that matters in the business universe is the quickest way to alienate staff and make sure we don’t have a planet to live on. Profit is obviously fundamentally important, but it’s oxygen to enable you to do what you want to do as a business, not the only thing that matters.
3. What would you tell your younger self?
Try to view some of the fear and worry you have about work as a positive and useful drive from time to time. It’s normal to have insecurities and a sense of imposter; within reason, it’s sign that you care about doing a great job and want to do your absolute best.
4. What excites you most about the future of your industry?
I’m involved in lots of industries these days as a portfolio non-executive director, so I have a view about business more generally as well as my specialism in brand, marketing and customer insight. I think that businesses of all kinds have a fundamentally important role to play in engaging people across borders (in a way that national governments rarely can), to help solve some of the incredibly urgent environmental and social issues we are facing, and to inspire a happier and healthier world. That’s not just happy hippy stuff – many genuinely purpose-led companies and business leaders are grasping this and delivering in business performance too. With my brand hat on, I’m excited that the business and marketing community can play a central role in helping to make this happen.
5. Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
In business terms, I have always found Angela Ahrendts (former CEO of Burberry and latterly of Apple) to be a great role model for business leaders who are both truly effective and truly nice; these are totally connected, not mutually exclusive traits. In political terms, Jacinda Ardern in showing that what a decent, EQ-orientated human being can do in charge, and despite difficult circumstances. In life itself, I have had a crush on Sir David Attenborough since I was about 7, and he has inspired me to get involved with environmental issues throughout my career, both in parallel with, and increasingly as part of my business life.