From an old ballroom in Battersea, Maria Kempinska MBE could see the future of comedy: she believed the industry needed purpose-built venues where new and aspiring comics could entertain and amuse UK audiences. To turn her dream into reality, she launched Jongleurs Comedy Club in 1983 using her bicycle as collateral for a loan to finance the project.
Some 29 years on, Jongleurs is synonymous with comedy, having launched a host of stars including Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand, Lee Evans and Jack Dee. Today, the British chain of comedy clubs continues to showcase new talent and play host to some of the industry’s best-loved comedians.
As a successful entrepreneur, Maria appears regularly on British radio and TV to talk about comedy and how to build a successful brand. She has received several accolades, including an MBE, and is a leading authority on leadership in business.
HOW HAS YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE CHANGED THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?
I’m certain about what I want and I have no doubts about what I can do. I have become extremely confident, so much so that if everything else fails, I’ll still achieve what I set out to. I am a doer and, if I have to, I’ll row the boat. I have a confident understanding of where I am heading and of what I want to achieve, which helps when deciding the right course of action. I’m also less tolerant now than I used to be of people who are just not up to scratch.
WHAT SIMILARITIES WOULD YOU DRAW FROM RUNNING A COMEDY CLUB TO LEADING A TEAM OF PEOPLE?
It is similar in that everyone has a unique role to play, but it’s the individual efforts of all those people that make a comedy night successful. Everyone understands the greater outcome, but it’s the tireless work that each and every person does that makes this business work.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE?
Taking Jongleurs back is the biggest thing in the past three years (iNTERTAIN UK bought the chain from Regent Inns – the leisure group that acquired it from Maria 12 years ago – in 2010 and rebranded it as 'Highlight'. The Jongleurs brand subsequently returned to Maria).
It's been non-stop since I got the brand back; we’ve had three different investments in three years and we’re looking at another. The big challenge was whether I could rebuild Jongleurs and get the people working with me to believe we were capable of doing that. Are we on the right track and heading in the right direction and can I take my staff to where we need to go? Those are questions you have ask yourself when you’re leading a team of people.
WHAT SKILL, ABOVE ANY OTHER, IS VITALLY IMPORTANT WHEN LEADING A TEAM?
You have to be positive, believe in yourself and never let emotions take over when leading a team. You have to be upfront and honest, confident in your ability to achieve what you set out to and make sure your team trusts you, even if some members don’t agree with you.