■ The Apprentice star and baroness, 49, talks about the legacy of a boarding school childhood and the real secret of business success
What’s motivated you the most?
I went to boarding school. And at boarding school nothing is your own. You wear what you’re told, eat what you’re told, go to bed when you’re told, you do what you’re told and at 18 I decided I’d had enough of being told what to do and craved independence. I wanted to be able to make my own decisions, do things when I wanted to do them, how I wanted to do them. I went to work at 18 and I’ve never given up. You don’t want to get to the age of 49 and look back on your life and say, ‘I wish I would have done this…’ You’ll never know if you’re good at anything unless you try it. And don’t let fear hold you back.
What business skills have you learned from Alan Sugar?
That the toughest thing about being a success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success. Alan Sugar is one of the greatest entrepreneurs this country has ever produced and he’s still passionate about business and everything that he does and he does everything exceptionally well.
What are the signs you’re working for a bad boss?
Good leadership is all about communication — where we’re going, how we’re going to get there, what’s everyone’s individual role in the journey. True success is achieved when everybody works together. People should have the confidence and work in an environment where they can ask questions and know how decisions are made that affect their company, brand and customers. Those are the type of companies people want to work for — where they’re respected, they feel passionate and where they want to come to work.
What are the highs and lows of being a baroness?
It gives me the opportunity to promote the things in parliament I’m passionate about — equality, fighting the gender pay gap, small business, sport.
How often do you make it into the House Of Lords?
At least twice a week. I rarely miss a vote and I don’t take any fees or expenses or the daily allowance.
How often do you get to wear the ermine robe?
You only wear that once, when you get into the Lords — and then if you go to the Queen’s state opening, which I’ve never attended. You can own one but I borrowed mine.
What lessons has your career in business taught you?
Be true to yourself, never be afraid to be ambitious and to champion your career because no one else will do it for you. If you find a career you love it will enrich your life — and always give your best.
What’s your new TV show all about?
We meet people who have an idea for a business then we follow them for a year to find out if that business is a success or not. Every year 30,000 start-ups fail in the UK. It’s a broad range of people with a broad range of ideas.
Why do so many start-ups fail?
It tends to be finance-related, so cash-flow issues, not being able to control costs or simply providing a product or service the public don’t want.
Did you see any unusual businesses?
In episode one, we meet a man who has invented a mug that will keep tea warm. There’s an element in it. The problem is his mugs are between £150 and £1,000 — that might tell you what happened. There are food businesses, holiday businesses, hair salons, all sorts. We meet people who don’t have the confidence to start a business, people who are driven to prove everyone wrong. It’s an interesting mix. There are some that have some success, some that have incredible success and some that have no success but won’t give up.
But people on business shows always say they’ll never give up…
Determination is a key element for success — but you also need to be offering a product or service people want. But the person needs to have that moment of realisation and you have to tell them they’re banging their heads against a brick wall if it really isn’t going to work out for them.
Have you given up at anything?
Not that I can think of. I’m the sort of person who never hears the word ‘no’. There’s usually a different way to get what you want.
Give It A Year starts tonight on ITV at 8pm