When she launched a dance school at just 17, 2011 NatWest everywoman Hera Award winner Anne Walker MBE had no idea she’d be running her own international dancewear company some three decades later.
In the early days, Anne worked tirelessly to make and sell dance clothing to schools. She has since developed International Dance Supplies into a £6 million-turnover business with operations in the US and several high-profile clients.
Anne tells everywoman what it takes to become an entrepreneur and why strong leadership is essential for any successful venture.
HOW HAS YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE CHANGED THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?
You would have to ask my team, but I would like to think I’m compassionate and willing to listen to others and take their views on board. I hope I have become more understanding and inclusive since launching my business.
WHAT PARALLELS WOULD YOU DRAW BETWEEN BEING A DANCE TEACHER AND RUNNING A BUSINESS?
I have found both roles to be almost exactly the same, which has helped me massively. When I did my first dance show for a school with 200 pupils and 400 parents, I was only 21. I had to negotiate with the school to secure the job – a skill that I have since used on many occasions while running my own company. Being a dance teacher was a great learning curve for becoming an entrepreneur and managing a business.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE?
I was in a senior management meeting a few years ago and we were having one of many conversations about launching in the US. One of the senior managers said that we needed to stop having this conversation and decide, once and for all, whether or not we were going to expand to the US. Everyone in the room said that we shouldn’t, but I felt we needed to take the plunge. I told them we should go for it and asked them whether they would support me in this endeavour. I’m glad to say they all agreed to back me, but it was a scary time and I still feel the fear that I did back then when we decided to go ahead with the plan. Making those tough decisions is the difference between being an entrepreneur and being a member of a team.
WHAT SKILL, ABOVE ANY OTHER, IS VITALLY IMPORTANT WHEN LEADING A TEAM?
It’s really important to remember that a team needs a leader. People respond to direction and they need someone to look up to, so it’s important to have leadership qualities when you run your own business.