Judith Clegg is a multi-award-winning entrepreneur whose early career spanned being part of the management team of then start-up Pret a Manager, to founding an online shop and website builder, Moonfruit, at the height of the dotcom boom. From there, she went on to work with Tony Blair’s trusted strategic adviser Philip Gould. Inspired by the entrepreneurial innovation she had been exposed to, and motivated to drive this approach into large corporations, she formed Takeout in 2007.
Making a difference
“At the time, my main objective was to do great work which made a difference,” says Clegg. “I felt strongly that there was so much that could be taken from the entrepreneurial sector, particularly digital, that could be applied to large companies. The innovation agenda is important for our economy, but also for society as a whole, as there are ideas which I believe make the world a better place.”
Clegg has worked hard to establish a team of what she calls “the best thinkers in the world”, but there is another quality which plays an equally important role in her talent strategy – kindness.
“We ask everybody who is interviewing for a key role with us what they do to help other people. If they are unable to answer that question, then they don’t join our team. We want to make sure we keep a culture of people who want to do the right thing, to contribute to society; people who have integrity –people who are kind. Empathy is so important when you are building a client service business.
“So many in business see kindness as a weakness but, in fact, I think it requires a lot of self-discipline to be kind – particularly under pressure.”
Takeout has a unique business model which allows flexibility in building a team for specific projects, Clegg explains: “We have a core team of 15-20 people, but have a network of associates around the world. Diversity helps to drive creativity and innovation, so we combine three types of skills on projects: top level strategists; people who have run fast growing divisions of rapidly changing companies; and award-winning entrepreneurs. Then we have a network of experts all over the world, such as academics, journalists and artists, which we use to support our consulting teams.” Takeout’s approach is to help big companies drive new revenues, fast.
The agency has two main offices in London and New York. Alongside holding a personal passion for the Big Apple, Clegg spotted the opportunities in the US market early on in the company’s development: “After we launched in the UK, I could see the financial clouds of the economic crash forming. In thinking about innovation and digital and where exciting things were happening, we felt sure that we needed a base in the US. We also have a satellite team in San Francisco and are in the process of setting up in Nairobi.”
The Nairobi development has come about for several reasons, Clegg continues: “Some clients were asking us about that region, and what’s really exciting about sub-Saharan Africa is that some of the world’s best innovators and entrepreneurs around mobile technology are in that region – so we wanted to be there. A lot of the work we get from our clients is around how they can adapt their product and service to a mobile age.”
Although Takeout has offices in certain locations, the agency can access markets anywhere because of its network team. “We have worked on projects in China, India, Russia, Brazil, France, Germany, Canada and Australia – our footprint is international. When we first opened overseas, we expected that each office would find its own clients and run independently and it hasn’t been like that at all. What we’ve found is the moment we open a new office, we get clients who want to access international expertise; they value being able to access our experts in other markets. If you are driving innovation you clearly want to look in as many places as possible for inspiration.”
The bigger picture
When asked about being a female business leader, Clegg quotes Hilary Clinton: “She said that when women participate in the economy, we all benefit. Giving women and girls a fighting chance isn’t a nice thing to do, it is core imperative for every society.
“I used to say there was no difference in the opportunities offered to men and women in business but I can’t now put my hand on my heart and say this is universally so. I think in the US, being a female business leader is somewhat easier than in the UK. It’s just more common to be in senior meetings with a higher percentage of women, although there are signs that this is changing. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to create and run a business and I feel there is nothing stopping women being business leaders. That said, if you think about this issue with a global perspective, female empowerment is a huge issue. We might be doing well in the West, but this is not true elsewhere in the world.”
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