Farzana Baduel is a Multi-winning PR entrepreneur, Chartered Public Relations Practitioner, Expert media commentator on PR including BBC, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, PR week, FT and Forbes.
She is the founder and CEO of Curzon PR, as a passionate advocate of strategic communications she champions the power of PR as a dynamic force for building bridges and unifying the world’s voices into global narrative.
She has worn awards including Businesswoman of the year at the Muslim Awards 2016, Entrepreneur of the year at the Asian women of Achievement Awards 2015 and the Media Professional of the year at the Asian Media Awards 2014.
She is a committed campaigner for the economic empowerment of Women and Founder of TiE Women (London), TiE is the largest global entrepreneur network in the world.
Please tell us about your childhood
I was born in London and spent most of my childhood here apart from living for brief periods to study in Pakistan and the United States. My parents were entrepreneurs. My mother set up her first business as a teenager in Rawalpindi in Pakistan, she set up a school in the grounds of my grandmother’s house before she emigrated to the UK in the 1970s, the school is still running to this day. In the UK, my parents set up a health and beauty brand which sold products around the world, so I was brought up on weekends and school holidays between factories and offices as both parents had a strong work ethic.
After my parents sold their business, they set up an accounting and business advisory firm so in my childhood I was fortunate to have had exposure to both a product and service business.
Witnessing my parents running their business, I saw firsthand the ups and downs of having your own business and always thought it was only a matter of time when I set up my own. I was lucky to have been brought up in a household where my gender was not seen as an obstacle to an education or a career.
Travelling at a young age to Pakistan and the United States broadened my horizons and allowed me to be at ease with people from different cultures and embrace diversity.
What was your first job?
My first job was a paper round in my local suburban neighbourhood. I was thrilled to earn £5 a week at the tender age of 11. I would deliver the papers every day before school and on the weekends. I loved working from a young age and earning my own money.
Tell us about your entrepreneur journey
I set up my first business in 1999 when I was 20 years old, it was a tax refund firm. I left university after my second year (I was studying maths and economics at Queen Marys, University of London) and was struggling with my grades and personal finances and felt there was little point staying on so I left to set up a business and planned to return to my degree if the business flopped.
The business took off, mainly due to luck and hard work. I worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week and often slept in my office overnight. A chance encounter led to a woman named Anna who ran a competitor firm gifting me her 10 year practice as she was dying of cancer. Her kindness touched me deeply as I had never experienced such generosity from a stranger. I grew the firm and it was successful. I enjoyed my years running the firm, except for an incident when a trusted member of the team tried to sabotage the business and stole client data to set up a rival firm. I was shocked and felt incredibly betrayed and quickly realised the importance of hiring for values and not just for skills.
Whilst I was running my tax firm, I started to get involved with the Conservative Party and volunteered my time to various initiatives in the Party, stumbling across public relations. I was transfixed. With an accounting and maths background, I had never come across public relations yet it was a profession which intersected on all areas I found fascinating namely advocacy, media, marketing and psychology.
Exactly 10 years after I set up the tax business, in 2009, I set up Curzon PR. I realised it would be difficult for me to find a job in PR as I did not have the experience or relevant education and most employers are reluctant to hire entrepreneurs. I had a co-founder who had the experience and he worked with me for a couple of years until he was headhunted and left. It was hard to break out of the cycle of low retainers which meant low budgets to hire talent with little or no experience and micromanaging work to ensure client expectations are met.
I set up offices in Dubai and New York to service client contracts which then closed down when client contracts ended. It was exciting but grueling, I took 8 flights in 10 days and had to be at the top of my game when I arrived into meetings. We won numerous awards. We worked with governments, multinational corporations, royal families, presidents, prime ministers and CEOs from all over the world. It was an incredible journey but after 10 years, I am now seeking a change in direction. I am changing the business model to agile working with consultants instead of the traditional agency model. It is a brave step but after 10 years in the industry, I want to work smart instead of just working hard. Technology has brought opportunities to change the way we work and I am not interested in legacy ways of working, but looking into the future.
What prompted you to start your business?
As my parents were entrepreneurs, I had zero thought of being anything else. I also had a number of positive role models in my wider family who were entrepreneurs too so I never doubted myself.
My tax business was set up by chance as my sister’s tenants asked me for my help in claiming their tax back as they assumed I would know about financial matters as I was studying maths at university and I helped them and then discovered this demand for tax refunds which most accountants were not offering to the market. The PR firm was set up out of pure passion for public relations and after ten years in the industry, my passion is still there and I feel grateful to have found my purpose in life.
It can sometimes feel lonely running a business as there are pressures involved that only a fellow entrepreneur can understand. I am blessed to have fellow entrepreneurs as friends and we often support each other as business as life is a series of ups and downs.
I noticed it was difficult to find female entrepreneurs so I co-founded TiE Women. TiE is an entrepreneur organisation and one of the largest in the world and was keen to embrace gender diversity so we launched TiE Women which attracted more female entrepreneurs to TiE. Business member organisations are a great platform for entrepreneurs as we meet other entrepreneurs and share best practice and network.
In your experience what have you witnessed as the greatest challenge in empowering women economically
As a mother, I have witnessed women having to leave work as their net salary barely covers the travel and the nanny costs. When they try to return to the world of work, they find it challenging as employers do not respond well to gaps in employment history and the rapid changing nature of technology at work means skills need to be continuously updated.
Gender conditioning (around being agreeable) also impacts a woman’s ability to be assertive at work and asking for a promotion or a pay rise. I also notice that working women still tend to be tasked with a greater proportion of the family duties than their working spouse, and this uneven distribution of work naturally leads to women being more prone to work/life balance issues and burn out.
What drives you?
In the past, I was ego driven. I wanted the awards, the international offices, the prestigious clients so I could feel externally validated.
However, in the past couple of years my drivers have changed. I am no longer interested in other people’s validation of me. I am now driven by curiosity, pursuit of excellence and a sense of purpose.
I enjoy working with emerging and frontier markets as I believe in the importance of transferring knowledge and skills to other parts of the world to enable them to communicate more effectively so we can have a world dialogue instead of a western dominated dialogue. With Asia on the rise, it is important to bring the world together through bridging effective communication, and therein lies my purpose.
I enjoy self-development and am driven to build upon my public relations skill set and knowledge. I now teach Strategic Public Relations at the Foundry, which is the entrepreneurship centre at the University of Oxford (OxFo) and it has opened my life to the wonderful world of academia which inspires me to learn more.
What advice would you give emerging women in business?
Write your goals on a big sheet of paper and place it somewhere you can see it on a daily basis so you can visualise your goals and stay on the right path and make decisions that align with your goals.
I would advise women to believe in themselves. Self-confidence not only is a driver of success but also influences how people around you react to you in business.
Lastly, I would advise women to keep learning. Learn about your business, your industry and the wider world. Being an entrepreneur is a creative endeavour and creativity is sparked from building bridges between existing knowledge to create something new.
What PR tips can you give business seeking exposure?
Public relations is a powerful tool. Do not be an amateur and skip the strategy side to launch straight into tactics. You need a strong foundation to build a credible reputation.
What are your future plans?
I have recently been asked by Sarah Hall (who is the inspiring former President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations) to become a trustee of her soon to be launched Socially Mobile Foundation aiming at supporting BAME, women and those with financial constraints in the public relations industry. I look forward to working with her on social mobility.