Karren Brady arrived in Birmingham as a fresh-faced 23-year-old. Sixteen years on she is one of the most established directors in British football and has overseen a jump into profitability and an improvement in the fortunes on the pitch for the St Andrew’s club. Deputy head of business Graeme Brown profiles her career at Blues.
In an industry where careers are short and patience is even shorter, Karren Brady has managed to remain in the Birmingham City hot seat for almost half of her life.
Ms Brady, who has said she will leave the club if, as expected, Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung completes a takeover deal, was thrust into the media spotlight in 1993 when new owner David Sullivan made her the first female managing director of a football club by bringing her to Birmingham City.
Her tenure in the hot seat has seen four promotions and three relegations for the Blues, but off the pitch the club has managed to find a far more secure footing.
The club recorded a loss of £2 million in 1992, after it had sunk to the third flight of English football, but its latest accounts show a pre-tax profit of £4.3 million after turning over £49.8 million in 2008.
The balance sheet was suitably impressive to court Mr Yeung’s consortium, which has agreed a deal to buy the club.
The first lady of football is now expected to pursue a career in the media, starting off by taking over from Margaret Mountford as an adviser to Alan Sugar on BBC One show The Apprentice.
Lord Sugar – a former chairman of Tottenham Hotspur – will no doubt have been impressed by the 40-year-old’s tenacity in making her way in a male-dominated environment.
Ms Brady, who grew up in north London, entered the world of football after crossing paths with David Sullivan while working for LBC Radio.
After being tutored in boarding schools, she left full-time education at the age of 18 and joined advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.
She reportedly impressed Mr Sullivan by waiting for him at his house for five hours before managing to persuade him to spend £2 million on radio advertising – so much so that he employed her and thought of her first after buying City out of receivership.
But becoming the most high-profile woman in the national game brought with it criticism and chauvinism in equal measure – not least being asked to provide details of her vital statistics at her first press conference.
It is also rumoured that one unnamed Blues player once said to her “I can see your tits in that shirt”. Brady replied: “Well, don’t worry, when I sell you to Crewe, you won’t be able to see them from there, will you?” The player was subsequently sold.
That experience didn’t put her off footballers forever. She married former City player Paul Peschisolido, and the pair had two children together.
And she didn’t take long to prove the doubters wrong and establish herself as a director.
In 1996 the club made a profit for the first time in modern history and a year later it floated on the stock market with a valuation of £25 million.
She also won plaudits for a series of marketing promotions that helped boost attendances at St Andrew’s from lows of around 6,000 up to 30,000.
Five years on from being voted the 98th sexiest woman of 1995 by readers of FHM magazine, she was winning an award for being the businesswoman of the year, and last year won the NatWest Spirit of Everywoman award.
In 2006, a full-body MRI scan as part of a medical screen unexpectedly discovered a potentially fatal cerebral aneurysm and she underwent neurosurgery at short notice to prevent the aneurysm before turning up at work again a mere six weeks later.
Last year, she and Mr Sullivan were arrested by City of London Police as part of an investigation into allegations of corruption in English football. They were released on bail but Brady was rearrested in February this year on a new charge, which was eventually thrown out by police in August.
Doug Ellis, the former chairman of bitter rivals Aston Villa, admitted he had been won over by Ms Brady’s tenacity and business acumen.
He said: “I’ve a great deal of respect for her business acumen and what she has done for the football club. I used to sit next to her in FA meetings and got to know her well. I’ve great admiration for her. She’s done a great deal for Mr Sullivan and the Golds.
“She’s as tough as they come and it’s a huge loss for Birmingham City Football Club. She’ll be missed enormously.”
Ms Brady remains a non-executive director of retailer Mothercare and Channel 4 television and chairman of radio station Kerrang!