Jenny Campbell was one of 14 of the UK’s most committed supporters of entrepreneurship inducted into the Great British Entrepreneurs Champions Hall of Fame in association with NatWest and JD&Co in 2019, a brand new initiative led by the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards.
In a special issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs magazine, we sat down with Jenny to look back at her entrepreneurial career so far.
Entrepreneurialism is in Jenny Campbell’s blood. That may sound strange for someone who forged an incredibly successful career in the corporate world of banking. Yet, a quick look at Jenny’s family history suggests she was always going to become an entrepreneur at some point.
“If I look back 100 years, my ancestors were entrepreneurs,” Jenny begins. “I was brought up in the house my great grandfather had built for his family. I knew that he built most of the town we grew up in. And my other great grandfather had a printing business.”
Wanting less risk for their children, Jenny’s great grandparents encourage their children to follow professional careers, which fell through the generations. Heavily influenced by her parents, who were in banking, Jenny was brought up to work hard, achieve and value the power of money, regardless of whether that was in a job or as an entrepreneur.
From the age of 13, while other kids were out playing on the weekends, Jenny was working in her local newsagents, igniting her passion for making her own money. At 16, she began grooming dogs and earned enough to buy her own car at 17. Fast forward to her mid-40s and, following a successful career in banking, Jenny has become one of the UK’s most formidable entrepreneurs.
Breaking the mould
Instead of progressing with her education, Jenny decided to leave school and work in the financial sector to satisfy her drive to earn. She made a deal with her father that she would continue to study and become a qualified banker. Five years of night school later, she did.
However, that didn’t spell the end of the hard work. In fact, it was only just starting.
Jenny explains: “At the time I didn’t necessarily see it, but I there were times during my 20s where being a woman in banking was not easy.”
At the age of 25, Jenny recalls receiving a letter from the personnel department rating her future career prospects as a ‘B’. Not knowing exactly what that meant, Jenny noticed a young, male colleague opposite also receive a letter, a colleague she knew she was outperforming. His prospects were graded ‘A’.
“You start to learn to challenge the system and perceptions. When I went to London in my 30s, I found it hard as a female in a male environment, but also as a northerner in a southern environment. And that was all while trying to raise two young children under the age of 10.”
She adds: “I actually don’t find it difficult in an all-male environment. I think other people make it difficult. I grew up between two brothers, hanging out of trees, playing cowboys and Indians. I was very much a tomboy and comfortable in a male environment. Sometimes it’s others that aren’t so comfortable with female leadership, but you need to work through that.”
Turning challenge into opportunity
In 2006, Jenny was tasked with repairing and selling YourCash Europe, a struggling ATM provider owned at the time by Royal Bank of Scotland. Initially, she saw it as a two-year project before returning to the day-to-day life of banking, but Jenny fell in love with running a business.
By the time the two-year turnaround project came to an end, Jenny found herself considering that owning a business was a very real and credible option for her. By the time the financial crisis struck in 2008, buying a repaired ATM provider wasn’t the most attractive option for other organisations.
Jenny says: “I’d done two years of hard work, I said why don’t we buy it rather than trying to sell it? The financial crisis provided challenges for a lot of people, but it gave an opportunity for me.”
Jenny and her team extended the two-year turnaround project into four before buying the company from RBS in 2010. She pays tribute to the bank for equipping her with the skillset to run a company, and the opportunity to repair the business, without which she says wouldn’t have happened without RBS’ support.
“I didn’t become the entrepreneur until I was mid-40s, and by then I had a whole bag of skills that I’d learned through my banking career,” Jenny says.
Buying YourCash Europe gave Jenny the chance to work on it for a further six years, concentrating her efforts on its upward trajectory. It was a strategy which paid off, as she took the company from losing £7 million a year, to turning a profit of £7m. In October 2016, Jenny sold YourCash to US business Euronet for £50 million.
Jenny joined BBC’s Dragon’s Den in 2017 where she remained for two series before leaving in 2019. But it’s the investor and mentor roles where Jenny sees her future. She is an opportunist, ready for a fresh challenge. Jenny wants to support young entrepreneurs in setting up and growing businesses, and is able to do this in her new role at the Prince’s Trust, where she is Vice-Chair of the Enterprise Fellowship Programme. She also came away from the Den with an impressive portfolio of clients, who she can spend time on developing, and helping their businesses flourish.
Jenny actively encourages investment opportunities through her Invest in Me programme, which focuses on identifying the potential of the entrepreneurs themselves perhaps more than specific business ideas and plans. She is on the hunt for successful entrepreneurs. “I pick pieces of out of people’s journeys and think that there’s a place for everyone to be successful if they’re determined enough. I’m widely read and widely inspired by these little nuggets of people’s own struggles,” she says. Sometimes, people message or approach Jenny just asking for advice, “it’s the simplest of questions that you can help them with, and it unlocks any inhibitions that they might have”.
Entrepreneurship is thriving in the UK, and who better as an ambassador to champion new business, than Campbell. She has saved a failing company, invested in numerous start-ups, and is supporting Britain’s next generation of entrepreneurs.
“Entrepreneurship is so important to the UK, for our economy. It was stifled for many years, the corporates probably took a lot of the talent because of the gold-plated pension schemes, and things like that. Now they’ve gone, or aren’t what they were, it has unleashed young people to want to be entrepreneurs,” she says.
Jenny actively encourages the development of new business. She describes how younger generations “don’t want to be locked into 30-year corporate careers. I want to encourage that, it’s helpful for the UK to have that level of entrepreneurship.”
With entrepreneurship as a viable career choice for many young people in 2019, who better to pave the way for budding business owners than successful investor and entrepreneur, Jenny Campbell.