Having run a range of digital and internet businesses in the US, Margaret has turned to analysing where leadership in organisations so often goes wrong. Ignoring potential problems, failing to encourage or develop talent, building a culture of isolation and internal competition; all are commonplace issues that could easily be addressed. As in her bestseller Wilful Blindness and her acclaimed TED speeches, Margaret simply and effectively considers what makes a great leader.
Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur, chief executive and author. She writes books and blogs, teaches and mentors senior and chief executives, and has built and led organisations of all sizes.
Born in Texas, raised in Holland and educated at Cambridge, Margaret started her career at the BBC working on radio documentaries and dramas and producing films for Timewatch, Arena, and Newsnight. After the BBC, she ran the independent producers’ trade association the IPPA, once described by the Financial Times as "the most formidable lobbying organisation in England."
Margaret returned to the US where she worked on public affairs campaigns and with software companies trying to break into the nascent multimedia area. She developed interactive multimedia products with Peter Lynch, Tom Peters, Standard & Poors and The Learning Company. She then joined software and consulting firm CMGI where she ran, bought and sold various leading internet businesses of the time. She was named one of the internet's Top 100 by Silicon Alley Reporter, and one of the Top 100 Media Executives by The Hollywood Reporter.
Now an acclaimed business author, Margaret has published five books largely addressing the nature of effective leadership and challenging many of the assumptions and stereotypes that business has adopted. Her most successful book is Wilful Blindness in which she examines why we ignore the obvious and the implications of choosing to turn a blind eye to potential problems. In The Naked Truth: A Working Woman’s Manifesto and Women on Top: How Female Entrepreneurs are Changing the Rules for Business Success, she examines how women executives are perceived, and how they perceive themselves, how things are changing, and need to change further. A Bigger Prize looks at what it takes for individuals and organisations to be truly creative and collaborative whilst Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes looks at how organisations can identify small but significant changes to their strategy and operation, and the effects on the people and practices that can lead to large improvements. All of these works explore why and how companies packed full of talented, motivated and committed executives fail to spot major problems or to capture the full intellectual, innovative capacity of their people.
A regular contributor to the print and broadcast media, as well as commenting on business and leadership Margaret has presented documentaries on these subjects for Radio 4. She has also designed, taught and lectured on academic courses in the UK and US, including Harvard and the London Business School, and has presented three TED speeches.
With examples from the business world from new tech disruptors to established multinationals, as well as from the military, sport and others, Margaret analyses the nature of good leadership. She considers the culture of disruptive businesses that have revolutionised the workplace, and how things have changed from the top-down, command-and-control style of traditional business to a more collaborative, less dog-eat-dog philosophy. She also considers crises of leadership, from BP’s Deepwater Horizon to the VW emissions scandal, and asks how they happened, the culture that ignored the warnings, and how they might have been handled better.
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The room falls silent whenever Margaret speaks – like a grounding, unifying experience. She speaks softly but confidently as she explains what we need from today’s leaders and how to optimise workplace culture. She tells stories of good and less good practice, backed up with top grade research and years of business experience. It isn’t rocket science, but that’s the point: she talks with such clarity and lack of cliché that every word sticks. JLA Agent Octavia Rothwell
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