Women At The Top Awards: Meet Karen Blackett OBE, The Media Superpower

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  • We've scoured the UK to find the most inspirational innovators for Marie Claire's Women At The Top Awards, in association with Windows 10 and Freixenet. Meet Karen Blackett OBE, one of the ten game-changers who have shaped 2015.

    As CEO of MediaCom – one of the world’s largest media agencies – Karen Blackett OBE, 44, is the first black female CEO in media topping the Powerful Media ‘Power List’ as ‘the most influential black person in Britain.’ She manages a budget of more than £1.2 billion and has helped launch the first government-backed apprenticeship scheme for the creative industry, taking on 10 people every year and offering an NVQ in marketing and communications.

    ‘Working with such a huge budget doesn’t scare me. Numbers are the one thing you’ve got to be comfortable with in a job like mine. I have a lot of respect for our chief financial officer – I’m not a financial specialist, so it’s important to work with someone who is able to ensure that your idea is commercially viable.

    The best thing I’ve done at the company is set up the apprenticeship programme for 18-24 year olds. We’re now in our fourth year and it’s a real community because we learn a lot from them too. When the apprentices pass their exams they’re offered a place at the agency. It’s citizenship in action.

    In the five years that I was marketing director of MediaCom we doubled our billings because we kept winning new business. I went from being the person who led the pitch to being the person who pushed others forward, and that’s when I got on the radar of my bosses.

    I create a culture where you’re allowed to bring yourself to work. I want to recognise if some of our female talent is struggling with blending their work and home lives. We have many family-based initiatives [new mothers receive one week’s salary as a “baby bonus”, and their wage is raised ten per cent in the first year after they return to help with childcare].

    I regularly ask the team to tell me what they’d do if they were CEO for the day. Then we implement the best ideas. One of the winning ideas was introducing life coaching for everybody at the agency; we’ve now got a happier, more productive workforce and a better, profitable business.’

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