Quickfire Questions: Nicky Badenoch, Co-Founder, Genie.
After graduating with a degree in economics & politics from the University of Bristol, Nicky Badenoch built a career in the advertising industry, helping turn around the fortunes of Marks & Spencer with the Twiggy Mr Blue Sky campaign in 2005 and launching the firm’s groundbreaking ‘Plan A, because there is no Plan B’ environmental initiative in 2007. She was also behind the launch of the innovative BBC iPlayer catch-up service.
She is co-founder of Genie, the first automated talent agent for creative industries, which aims to disrupt how companies hire flexible talent in a post-Covid world.
She lives with her family in London.
What set you on the road to success?
My family were refugees who started life in England with humble beginnings. My father’s father never spoke of how he had escaped the Nazis or how his parents had perished in Auschwitz, and yet that totally defined our family.
My mother left Egypt aged 16, during the Suez Canal Crisis, arriving in England unable to speak even a word of English.
My parents had little education. They left school at age 16 to provide for their families. My father worked round the clock, making and selling packaging by day, writing for a Radio 4 sketch show by night. My parents got through life with laughter as their ally. But I was always aware of their endless struggle to make ends meet. It instilled in me a drive, deep in my gut, to work hard and aim high.
I was not one to follow. Perhaps it was the only-ish child in me (I have a half brother 10 years my elder). I was used to carving my own path. I went to a Jewish school, where there were established ways of being. However, I was no conformist: I married a Catholic, and was the first to celebrate a Jewish-Catholic union in my family.
I always knew what had been would not dictate the future – the path was down to us to forge in whichever way we chose.
Did you have a hero when you were younger?
My paternal grandmother (‘Nana’) was a great influence in my life. She was a rule breaker and was led by her heart.
As a child, I would listen to tales of her time on Broadway. Aged 18, she had left Romania to pursue a life on the stage against her family’s will. She had guts and more than glint of naughtiness that I think I surreptitiously seek out in every friendship I have.
Do you have a hero now?
No one can trump my Nana. But I do hold women who bring a maternal instinct to business in high regard. I’ve landed some strong females into jobs in high places and what sets them apart is their flair, and ability to be comfortable with themselves.
Do you get bored easily?
Being a wife, mum, daughter, and business founder I have to actively seek out boredom in my life. When it comes, I relish it, for I am at my most creative when I have nothing to do.
Who do you admire in business and in life generally?
My old boss – Liz Harold. The founder of the company that inspired our journey with Genie (Genie is also Liz’s middle name).
Liz is like the original Andrea Martel from Call my Agent! on Netflix. Now in her late 70s, she is still an absolute tour de force. Creative directors would stop by our office on Christmas Eve, on their way home to their families, to drop in ‘a something special’ for Liz. Not only had she helped them land their dream job, but along the path she had been their mentor and friend, the person who had captured their essence and allowed them to shine.
Liz has always been my champion. After giving birth to my third child, I had a minor stroke. I literally couldn’t see straight and, to compound that, I was struck by postnatal depression. I met with Liz and told her I was leaving the industry – there was no way I could ever work again. She knew all I needed was a nudge in the right direction.
I will never forget the kindness, compassion and belief she showed in me, which I in turn, now endeavour to show to others.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Ambitious and nurturing. I’m passionate and give my all. I have high expectations for those I work with, but believe if you can show kindness in even the hardest of situations, you can get the best from people.
What are your ambitions?
To make a human difference. What excites me most about Genie is using technology to give talented human beings the opportunity to unleash their potential.
Work, home, family are a big part of who we are as people. The opportunity to transform people’s lives, at scale, by connecting them to work they want to do is something that I find hugely fulfilling.
Do you believe in luck?
I don’t like luck. When I was a child I remember my father talking about being ‘unlucky’ a lot. I think luck does exist: luck is being born into the right family, having a network where doors open to you. It’s one of life’s great injustices. What I love about what I do is removing the element luck by levelling the playing field to engineer serendipity as a result of skill rather than who you know.
What qualities do you look for in colleagues?
I look for a glint of naughtiness in their eyes. Are they going to walk forward blindly or will they question why, what if, and challenge the status-quo? Do they believe in the power of creativity? Are they kind and compassionate and curious? Do they bring energy and fun to the party?
Micro-manage or big picture?
I don’t have an eye for detail (just ask my husband) – there have been parents’ evenings missed as a result of me skim-reading an email. I’d say I micromanage when support is required and go big picture when it’s time to forge ahead and be decisive.
Do you think business is valued by society?
Absolutely, and never more so than today. Business can form our values and sit at the epicentre of popular culture. This was apparent during Black Lives Matter – Ben and Jerry’s ‘Silence is not an option’ was just one example of how businesses can play an activist role in society.
I’m most excited by those businesses who look to put soul at the heart of what they do. Those are the businesses I want to be associated with and who can change the world for the better.
How do you think business will change from 2021 onwards?
The days of helicopter bosses are over. Covid has forced companies to be hands-off and trust their employees to manage their days from their bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens.
Our entire workforce has in effect become flexible overnight. This means companies are moving from models of talent ownership toward becoming all about access to the best talent at the moment of need.
Technology platforms have democratised access to talent, we all have access to everyone, though ‘no-one’ at the same time. The winners will be those companies who can access the best talent, at speed.
How would you like business to change from 2021 onwards?
We’ve seen many businesses invest in diversity and inclusion by hiring key personnel to take responsibility for driving the agenda. Next up, I would like to see organizations invest in the young.
Solving the problems of diversity is not just about moving the chess pieces round the board. It needs to be part of a 10-year plan where companies invest in ‘opening the eyes’ of those from different backgrounds to the paths on offer to them.
In short, to ensure that skill, not privilege, is the metric for success.
Here’s a magic wand – what are you going to do?
Provide opportunity by levelling-up the playing field based on skill and talent.
What’s your favourite time of day?
Supper time is sacrosanct in our house. No matter what has happened in our days… sports clubs, music practice, burning the midnight oil on a strategy deck. Every evening we all enjoy some hearty food and sit down together as a family – offload, shout, scream, laugh. It’s my leveller.
Next is focused on my fourth baby, Genie, because there is so much still to do to realise our full ambitions. The creative industries sector is fast-growing and massively reliant on the flexible workforce. We’re the first automated talent agent in this space, matching companies to awesome, interested and available talent in an instant.
The total matching and bookings market is growing at an exponential rate. There are so many applications for our IP. The creative Industries is just the start. I’m excited for Genie to be the talent operating system for the wider economy and to selfishly fulfil my own ambition to make a human difference to many.
This article was originally published in Forbes on Sep 16, 2021.