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Ask Dale Murray CBE JEMBA2000 what success means and she says it’s the ability to create a situation with the space to make your own choices. Recognised by Debrett’s as one of the UK’s 500 most influential people, a Brummell Inspirational Women Entrepreneur and one of The Maserati 100 Entrepreneurs who give back, Murray was made Commander of the British Empire for services to business by the Queen in 2013.
By any deﬁnition, hers is a life marked by success.
“It’s a very privileged position to be in,” she says.
“I feel a great sense of purpose and satisfaction at this stage in my career, being able to advise and inﬂuence the choices that both growing and more established companies make. When they go on to be successful, to me that is the deﬁnition of my own success. It’s about paying it forward.”
Business advisor, entrepreneur, non-executive director and angel investor, her CV reads like an exemplar of professional success at the vanguard of innovation and digital disruption. She began as an accountant with PwC in New Zealand before co-founding a digital telecoms software company, Omega Logic, in 1999.
A pioneer in the mobile space, Murray co-launched pre-pay ‘top-ups’ in the UK, quickly building her company to a multi-million dollar business, before merging it with Eposs Ltd, where she became CEO, and then selling it to First Data Corporation.
In the last two decades, she has held C-suite positions and a series of advisory board, trustee and directorship roles in the private sector and government, appearing on the BBC’s celebrated The Apprentice show and receiving the award British Angel Investor of the Year in 2011.
Murray is currently Non-Executive Director at global business and accounting software ﬁrm Xero – a company she describes as “terriﬁcally pioneering” – and at London Business School’s Sussex Place Ventures, where she looks for businesses that address real market needs and have a “unique quality” that sets them apart. A great passion is advising a clutch of ambitious young companies in the tech sector on go-to-market strategies and leadership – and seeing them succeed.
So, did she have a roadmap for her own professional success, starting out in Auckland in the 1990s?
“Yes, I had a plan to begin with. I knew I wanted to cut my teeth in accounting and then move into business. The decision to take my Executive MBA at LBS [she graduated in 2000] was a function of that strategy; to build the broader skillset and make the transition into entrepreneurship. I started Omega in the ﬁrst year with a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve, and within ﬁve years we were seeing a turnover of half a billion pounds.
“Success like that can be a cushion, actually. What I found once I’d sold my company was that my roadmap became less clear. My career choices thereafter became more opportunistic.”
There are so many areas ripe for disruption that are still out there... all kinds of pockets where the opportunities are untapped
Being a woman in tech brings advantages as well as challenges, she says. For a start, there’s a visibility aﬀorded to minority players that has led to oﬀers that may not have come her way otherwise. Her career strategy has consistently been to say yes to the right kind of opportunities.
“I believe that if you can do something and you want to, then you should do it. If it’s within your gift to do so, say yes. And this has led me to amazing opportunities over my career – opportunities that I couldn’t have mapped out or foreseen. It’s become a philosophy of mine: if you can do it, be open to it.”
Among the challenges for women in any business, she says, is an entrenched lack of diversity in senior leadership. It’s something she has noticed increasingly as she has ascended the career ladder.
“Interestingly, in my earlier career, the lack of diversity wasn’t something that was mentioned that much. As I have progressed, I’ve noticed, the more powerful the room, the more alone I have often felt.
“I see more motivation now in the corporate world to welcome a much broader cross-section of people and, perhaps more importantly, to work hard to retain that diverse talent in the workplace. Initiatives like the UK’s 30% Club are also vital in pushing the diversity agenda that is so critical to long-term business success.”
Long-term success is very close to her heart. As an angel investor, she is always on the lookout for “future winners” – those emerging businesses with the vision, the defensible market, the strategy and the execution to weather the many storms of starting up. How does she know where to invest – and where not to?
“Investing in start-ups involves a high degree of risk, so you need to have a solid set of criteria. Then you need to be able to spot those entrepreneurs that you believe have the sheer grit and determination to endure the hard times, the cash-ﬂow challenges and the inevitable diﬃculties that lie in wait. In my experience, what can limit the risk of failure is where you have a CEO whose investors are also really great mentors; where there are seasoned advisors who have the experience, the insights and the contacts to help you navigate when things turn against you.”
Her own experience of starting up has left her with the strong conviction that business building should stem from passion; from a genuine and personal interest in the product, service, user and market you want to address. Embed this, she says, and the opportunities are manifold.
“There are so many areas ripe for disruption that are still out there. You can see all kinds of pockets where the opportunities are yet untapped. Insurance is one space, and my own ﬁeld of accounting is another. Banking is really starting to feel disruption from ﬁntech as we move to a more service-based economy and that is only set to continue.
“We are seeing a second wave of disruption coming for incumbents across various sectors. With digital, the challenge will be managing the corollary – cybersecurity threats that are set to increase as you have this collision between the macro-environment and the growing efficacy of hackers.”
Murray’s own future lies in narrowing her focus, she says, by taking on one or two “amazing” companies and portfolios that have the potential to ﬂourish. She is motivated by working with small teams of intelligent, optimistic and hard-working visionaries and helping them realise their potential: “I feel great satisfaction in having built a broad and interesting portfolio, but I still have huge goals. I focus on working with a small number of teams and being more potent, more helpful in enabling them to build their success. There’s always more to do.”