Anabel Kindersley became co-owner and CEO of Neal’s Yard Remedies when her family bought the business in 2006. Prior to that, she had a number of jobs, from child actress to children’s author, Montessori teacher to homeopath.
Those roles, she believes, gave her the skills and experience needed to run a business even if it isn’t the normal route to the C-suite. And she has used her position to champion sustainable business, from leading a coalition of businesses in the fight against harmful pesticides, to becoming carbon-neutral.
Here, she discusses the challenges of being purposeful and profitable and why she should have been kinder to her 18-year-old self.
What makes a good leader?
Right now, you need resilience. You also need an equal measure of IQ and EQ – that means making sure that you make sensible, pragmatic decisions for the business, as well as making sure that you have empathy.
You need to be decisive and you need to be agile. The last few years have taught us that very little is fixed and leaders must adapt and change. You can’t be a fixed person.
Someone once asked me, ‘when do you think the change is going to stop?’ But we’re always going to have to change and adapt. That’s why the agility piece is important.
What’s the single thing that makes a leader’s job easier?
Ensuring that your team is the right one and that they have their needs met, so that you’re all aligned. As soon as you have that, it makes life so much easier.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
There have been lots of different stages in my career, I haven’t had a linear progression as a senior executive or in the C-suite. But I’d definitely say, ‘be kinder to yourself, be nicer to yourself’.
And if I jump ahead a few years, I’d tell my 30-year-old self to listen more to her instincts. I often deferred to people who I thought knew better because they had more experience and therefore better ideas; I deferred to their expertise. And sometimes that was right but sometimes that wasn’t the case.
What is the biggest challenge in business right now?
For us – and actually from talking to other businesses in our sector and more generally – it’s external financial costs. You need to balance all of the really difficult times with your P&L, balance those external pressures with a strong belief in doing the right thing, being a sustainable and ethical business. To balance those two is a real challenge.
Which book should every business leader read at least once?
Good to Great by Jim Collins. And also Net Positive by [former Unilever CEO] Paul Polman. I haven’t read many of those types of books at all but I was reading it and thinking: ‘Oh, my goodness me, that’s exactly how we’ve always felt and what we’ve always done’. And Good to Great has been a really helpful book in terms of business decisions and leadership.
What was your first job?
I was a Montessori teacher and an actress, and then I went on to be an author of non-fiction books for children and published Children Just Like Me, in association with Unicef.
What was your worst job?
I don’t think I’ve had a ‘worst’ job, because it’s in my nature to be really conscientious. I really put my heart into everything I do and I always see the best in what I’m doing. There are difficult days. But I have just as many of those today, if not ones that are even more difficult, because of the responsibility I have now compared to when I was a young girl scraping dog mess from shoes as a school teacher. None of them have been bad. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve had lots of very interesting jobs.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Get the right people on the bus.
What excites you most about your current role?
I love being this close to a business where I can really effect change quite quickly. We’ve made some big changes in the past six months and been very open and transparent about those. Working together and being really agile has been great. I really find that very exciting.
How do you avoid burnout?
I would say that I haven’t got that right, yet. I haven’t put all those things in place that you’d think I should, given that I’ve got a wellbeing brand. I do take herbs, herbal tinctures and flower remedies. I also try to get outside. I try and have one day over the weekend, when it’s warm enough or there isn’t a storm, to go out in my triangular garden in Portobello and sit there. It’s full of pollinator-friendly plants. Being in nature really makes me smile and definitely makes me feel better.
I was talking to someone recently about work/life balance. Since Covid, I work at home more and get a lot more done. But I also often sit very still for many hours and actually to be around other people, brainstorm and have those sparks of interest is really good for me.