Karen Blackett’s father once told her ‘You’re black and female, so you have to try twice as hard in this country’. It is fair to say that that advice was taken to heart, with Blackett, in 2014, being the first businesswoman to top the Powerlist 100 of the most powerful black Britons. As chairwoman of MediaCom UK, she is a key player in one of the world’s leading global media agencies, combining the sophisticated nous of the discerning publicist with an exciting and constantly-reinventing modern take on media planning and buying. Born and brought up in Reading, she’s passionate about the ‘wonderful fruit salad’ that is contemporary Britain, and is one of its best ambassadors.
1. What was your biggest career break?
When I was made the marketing and new business director of MediaCom. The previous marketing directors had both gone on to become CEOs of MediaCom UK. I remained in this role for five years and they were particularly big shoes to step into … I learnt about resilience, success, failure and how to influence. The power of empathy and authenticity were critical to the role. Mastering this role meant you could succeed with whatever came next.
2. Have you had a notable mentor – and if so what was it about them that was so inspiring?
I have had a number of mentors throughout my career. I have learnt different things from each of them. Authenticity has been the common thread and that’s what I find inspiring. I have also worked with a life coach for over ten years. He has helped me both professionally and personally. His unwavering belief in my potential has helped stretch and push me.
3. What one piece of advice would you give to the 20-year-old you?
Celebrate your differences.
4. What qualities do you most value in people with whom you work?
Energy, creativity, accessibility, bravery, loyalty and authenticity.
5. Who do you admire and why?
Anyone that is prepared to stand alone and fight for an idea that they believe in.
6. What does the future of the media business look like, to you?
A wonderful fruit salad of creativity, new technology and data.
7. If you hadn’t lived a life in business and the media, what would you have done instead?
I would have been a failed athlete and then a teacher.
8. What is your biggest extravagance?
My house back in Barbados, but to me that’s a necessity to feed my soul.
9. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party and why? (you can invite three people – they must be alive)
Only three? That’s a quiet dinner party! Can I have four guests? OK: Shonda Rhimes as I would love to talk to her about her creativity process and praise her on successfully tackling diversity in her programming. Oprah Winfrey – so that I could bask in her wisdom and learn whilst eating! Michael Fassbender – so that I can drool, whilst attempting to talk to him about his portfolio of amazing work. I’m hoping he’s a laugh also! Viv Richards, so that we can talk about the glory days of West Indies cricket and try to explain the difference between cricket and baseball to our American guests. He’d also bring some great rum.
10. What do you do to relax away from work?
My five-year-old son Isaac is the best tonic in the world. Combining time with him with time at our house in Nailsworth in the Cotswolds, or a day at the cricket (Internationals and preferably in Barbados) is ideal. Horseriding also ensures your mind is clear and refreshed.
11. If you could change one thing about Britain today, what would it be?
Youth unemployment. Everyone deserves a good education that can translate into a bright future.
12. What would your last meal be? (you can choose a starter, a main course and a pudding)
Baked cheese and apple soufflé, curried goat, rice & peas, Eton mess.