Becoming a ‘grown-up’ business owner

Kim Antoniou discusses the importance of using 'top inspirational leaders' to turn your company into an international success story.

Becoming a ‘grown-up’ business owner

Kim Antoniou discusses the importance of using ‘top inspirational leaders’ to turn your company into an international success story.

All my life I have been in business, one way or another. I’ve had my ups, as well as my downs, been rich, been poor, been at the top and ‘ once or twice ‘ I’ve been firmly at the bottom.

Having grown up involved in family businesses, I have found myself in a position where I was, pretty much, always the boss, or the boss’s daughter, or wife. This, I think, altered the way that I have run our companies. My entrepreneurial spirit and leadership traits have meant that, over the years, I have tended to be in charge. More often than not, people have worked for me and, on the whole, I’ve done alright.

However, it’s taken me to the age of 50 to realise that there is an alternative way of working. I describe this as ‘Working with Grownups’. I have always relied heavily on my personal vision and passion to succeed. I am good at telling a story, taking real life situations, and creating practical solutions for them. One of my businesses, Kafoodle, was motivated by my husband’s near-death experience in what was an allergy-related incident eight years ago.

And then there was AurisTech, motivated by bringing up severely dyslexic children. I also have a tech savvy two-year old grandson who was unable to string a sentence together, despite showing great early intelligence with equipment.

But if you want to scale an international business, you need to work with experts and my experience of doing so has been truly life changing. And I mean not just business changing, but life changing. When you bring in people who are much more experienced than you are, it generates a completely new dimension to the business, and I have found this to be thoroughly liberating. 

In the early days of Kafoodle, my co-founder Tarryn Gorre and I had complimentary skills. I was knowledgeable regarding technology, while Tarryn had expertise with food ‘ therefore this was a good combination for a food-tech business. But neither of us had scaled a national, let alone international business.

So I reached out to the most accomplished person in my network and persuaded them to be our chairman. The person in question was Bill Alexander, who had previously been chief executive of Red Letter Days. He turned this business into an undisclosed multi-million-pound exit in 2017. He arrived, coached, mentored and steered us to a point where Kafoodle is now scaling internationally.

The future for Kafoodle is rosy and I have now exited my operational role with the company, which allows me to focus on #GrownUpNo1 ‘ a real passion of mine.

Auris has been a different journey. I learned, early on, that if the fulfilment of your dream requires the skills of a top speech and voice expert, then you must seek one out and aim high. What we needed to develop was revolutionary, so I researched and approached a world-leading speech expert from the University of Edinburgh. 

His name is Dr Peter Bell and we had to convince him that what we had in mind was unique and purposeful. Although difficult, we managed to achieve that and six years later we have a multi-patented automatic speech recognition engine. It has been developed for reading and is a first ‘ #GrownUpNo2.

In order to develop the world’s first voice technology, specifically for reading, you need to bring in the ‘big guns’ and, for me, there was only one person who I wanted as chairman. That was Graham Corfield, the former global chief operating officer of Just Eat PLC ‘ a FTSE 100 company. He was part of a leadership team that took the business through to its £6.2bn purchase by a couple of years ago. Much to my amazement he said ‘yes’ #GrownUpNo3.

I have always survived on my passion and energy, but working with top inspirational leaders has changed everything about the way that I run my businesses. I have learned to be a good chief executive by understanding three vital tasks: Hold the vision, manage the energy, and coach, don’t teach.

As a business owner, having a properly skilled and empowered leadership team means it is easy for me to get out of the trenches. We now have the most incredible culture in-order to deliver a global business plan, which has the ability to really change lives.

Kim Antoniou
Kim Antoniou

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