Who are the CEOs of the future?
5 February 2018
The next big CEO is likely just beginning their journey in the world of business. But what is it like to start-up a new firm from scratch? Hayley Freedman, co-founder of CHARGit, gives us the answers
The Leaders of start-ups are the CEOs of the future. They are also the companies that are disrupting industries, embracing new technologies and changing the way businesses operate.
Hayley Freedman, co-founder and CEO of wireless charging start-up CHARGit, tells me that there are some advantages of being a small firm compared to a big one – the main one being that there is less red tape.
In a big company, she says, “there are 20 or 30 people at the top all arguing with each other, which department is this and who takes responsibility for that. As a start-up, you can change direction in a second. You can become lean, you can pivot. You can change and think about it, you can think from outside the box.
“If you come against something that is an objection you have the power to change your direction yourself without having to ask permission from people to do so.”
Freedman started her company because she found it difficult to get through to her kids when their phone batteries kept running out and there was nowhere to charge up their phones when they were out.
She says: “We have enough Wi-Fi in our phones these days, yet I can’t walk into a venue and plug in because they will not let me. It was the case of looking around and seeing a big gap in the market for making venues wireless-charging friendly. People don’t need to remember their cable or battery packs – they can walk into a venue, put their phone down and charge it.
“That was fundamentally the reason, and the fact that we all have these amazing apps to order a cab or find a train – but they all become useless if your phone is dead.”
Freedman’s technology is a completely new product disrupting the charging industry, so much so that her main start-up challenge is trying to find the right person to speak to within another company, because the relevant department does not exist yet.
“Who do you speak to [when you’re] calling a company?” she asks. “Who deals with your accounts?”
For the future CEO trying to start-up a firm, she explains that there can be many struggles. She says: “It can also be difficult as a one-person organisation, trying to cover a million and one different things. Trying to fit in the time to do branding, to do marketing opportunities and then trying to find the time to actually go and sell it. It is not an easy thing for one person, let alone two people or even three, to be doing.”
Despite these concerns, she does see opportunities for CEOs of the future, with Brexit being one of them.
She says: “Brexit is more about confidence and the government needs to breed that confidence. London is open – we have not closed for business. Let’s take all of this as an opportunity. If we are talking about a start-up now with Brexit you don’t know any differently. The government is doing everything it can to promote British companies.”
Freedman also hopes to see a lot more women as CEOs in the future – being a woman in business for the past 30 years, she tells me she has experienced sexism in its rawest form.
She says: “There are seven female bosses in the FTSE 100. Why is that? Is that because parents are holding children back? Is it schools, still telling girls to do girly things? Why is it that women are still seen to be doing the girly stuff?
“I have been a breadwinner my whole life. My mum was the breadwinner and most of our grandmothers were breadwinners [because of World War Two]. Where does this start? How is it allowed?”
Despite this, Freedman does think attitudes are changing. She says: “This is the first time companies are being looked at and being questioned. Just because a woman can have a child does not mean to say they don’t want a career and they don’t want to go back to work afterwards.”
Start-ups are also helping to change these attitudes, with female entrepreneurs smashing the glass ceiling. Figures from Aston University have shown that the proportion of women early-stage entrepreneurs jumped 45 per cent between 2003-2006 and 2013-2016.