Leadership profile: Dame Margaret Barbour

June 8, 2017

Dame Margaret Barbour

Under the leadership of chairman Dame Margaret Barbour, the company has grown into a global lifestyle brand, offering a wardrobe of stylish functional clothing for men, women and children inspired by the unique values of the British countryside. The iconic wax jackets continue to be made by hand in Barbour’s factory in South Shields. The proud holder of three Royal warrants, Barbour is sold in more than 40 countries worldwide.

In 1999, Dame Margaret established The Women’s Fund with her daughter Helen, which supports women in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.

What are the key skills/qualities you need to run a successful business? Do you think these can be learnt?

Enthusiasm, passion and financial astuteness are all essential qualities when running a business but, for me, the most important skill is to listen and learn. A sound knowledge and understanding of your business and the markets in which you operate is essential.  When I took over Barbour in 1968 following the sudden death of my husband, I worked in every department of Barbour to fully understand all aspects of the business. It was only then that I made changes based on a clear grasp of what needed to be done to take Barbour forward. I always asked questions and I never thought that I knew it all. I think this skill can be learnt but it requires maturity.

How would you describe your own management style? Why do you think it’s successful?

I have always been a good listener and I’ve never assumed that I can do it all on my own. My management style has been to lead from the front but to surround myself with a strong management team – my current managing director, Steve Buck, has been with the company since 2000.  I also have strong financial acumen – I eschew debt and have always been careful to ensure that the business stays financially strong.

What’s the worst mistake you can make when leading a business?

Not being decisive in your leadership and avoiding the tough decisions that every business has to make from time to time. It creates uncertainty.

How do you get the best out of your staff?

Barbour is a family business and even though we now have over 1,000 staff worldwide, I pride myself on the fact that the company still has a family culture. Many of our employees have been with Barbour for over 20 years.

I hold regular meetings with my senior management team and discuss openly the challenges and successes of the business and how we can continue to evolve and remain relevant to today’s consumers while still staying true to our heritage. I have always encouraged a culture of openness and discussion and our annual staff survey allows staff the opportunity to let us know what they think we are doing right and areas where we can improve.  Our employees are at the heart of our business – my daughter Helen and I could not do it without them

Which business leader(s) have you been influenced by and why?

Within the Barbour business, I always looked up to Nancy Barbour, my mother-in-law. Nancy had to come into the business when her husband Duncan Barbour went away to serve in the Second World War. She continued to work in the business after his early death in 1957 and was elected chairman in the 1960s, a position she held until her retirement in 1972. Nancy always championed women’s causes and encouraged women to fulfil their potential. In 2000 following her death, I set up the Nancy Barbour Award for women in her memory.

I also think the Queen is an excellent role model. During her reign she has shown strong leadership, diplomacy and a calm, measured approach to the challenges she has faced – all attributes that a good leader should have.


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