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Business Woman of the Year 2018 Finalist Q&A: Fiona Allan

Tell us about yourself and the business

As Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Birmingham Hippodrome, one of the largest theatres in the UK, I have the dual role of both Artistic Director and Chief Executive. This combination of roles has never happened in the history of the Hippodrome before, so it’s a title that I’m extremely proud of.

My core responsibility is to balance both the business leadership and the artistic vision of the Hippodrome whilst strategizing how we develop local artists and the theatre’s global reputation.

What would you say are the key elements for starting/running a successful business? 

In my opinion, the key elements to success are being adaptive, persistent, brave and to know your numbers.

I’m a true believer in listening to your instincts whilst focusing on the goals you set out to achieve. The path to reaching these goals may not be straight or even, but it’s important to be prepared to adapt and change whilst seizing opportunity along the way.

Who inspires you? 

The people that inspire me are always the individuals who are brave enough to speak out. For example, the likes of Rosa Parks and, more recently, Christine Blasey Ford – a heroic figure who is not motivated by personal attention but instead by justice, to me that’s very inspiring.

What motivates and drives you? 

I am motivated by the opportunity to make a difference. The performing and creative arts are fantastic outlets for opening minds to new possibilities, different ways of viewing the world and promoting equality and tolerance.

Birmingham Hippodrome’s charitable work with young people is a fantastic platform for helping individuals to grow in confidence and achieve things they never thought would be possible. This kind of work is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning– believing that through the arts we are helping people to see the world differently.

What challenges have you faced within the organisation and how have you overcome them? 

When I first joined Birmingham Hippodrome, in my view, it was rather set in its ways. I believed there was scope to be a little braver and bolder in its ambition. As with any business, the challenge was in becoming more agile, trying new things and learning to react faster when something didn’t work.

I was keen for our multi-talented staff to understand how to seize opportunities and to learn that failure is just a stepping stone on the path to success.

So, overall, this has led to a cultural shift for the Hippodrome; firstly defining the overall vision for the business and secondly encouraging the ability to reactively and proactively develop our prospects.

What advice would you give to people aspiring to a successful career in business?

I’m a great believer in the saying that you never stop learning, we should all make a conscious effort to continue to learn. This doesn’t necessarily translate to formal training, but rather taking the time to read, research or listen, stepping back and thinking what have I learnt today?

It’s also incredibly important to reframe the way you think about failure; if all we did was fear failure, we would never get anywhere or learn anything.

Aspiring entrepreneurs and business people should think of failure as a route to success, acknowledging this is an essential element of learning.

To prosper in business, it is also important to persevere; success will not seek you out, you must seek the opportunities, be ambitious, be brave and go for it.

What would winning BWOTY mean to you?

Being awarded the title of Business Woman of the Year would be a great opportunity for me to give something back.

I think that in my sector in particular, winning BWOTY would allow me to inspire and encourage other women to take the challenge and seize these senior roles.

Currently, I am the only woman in the UK running a theatre of this size and scale. By being awarded the WOTY title I would be handed the opportunity to amplify the message that this sort of success is possible to an incredible pipeline of talented women.

Often cultural organisations, especially charitable cultural organisations, are not seen as businesses. Despite being an artistic institution, I still run a business which turns over £25-30 million and has 300 people on the payroll every week. By having a cultural leader winning Business Woman of the Year this would further legitimise that cultural organisations should be seen as fully operational businesses.

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