Dragons’ Den’s Jenny Campbell: “If people lack self-belief, energy and attitude, you won’t believe in them.”

Jenny Campbell does not do negative. If you fancy a moan about the weather, go elsewhere. If your toast landed butter-side down this morning, keep schtum. With Jenny, you’ll do well to keep it positive and energetic. Future Dragons’ Den contestants beware.

Professionals take note, too, for if you want to attract and retain seriously successful entrepreneurs like Jenny, you won’t get anywhere without showing appetite and zing. To impress entrepreneurs you must – of course – behave entrepreneurially. That means demonstrating you are not just in it for the salary but prepared to put your money where your mouth is, just as the entrepreneur has done. You need to prove that your heart and soul are devoted to the job. And, – most importantly, just like the entrepreneur – you need to show that you believe in yourself.

“Whoever’s pitching, whether it’s a young entrepreneur on Dragons’ Den or a seasoned professional at a networking event – they’re not just in the shop window, they are the shop window,” says Jenny. “If they lack self-belief, energy and attitude, you won’t believe in them. People believe in people who live and breathe their stories.”

A powerful mix of self-belief and positivity fuels Jenny’s own story. In 2010, she remortgaged her house to lead the management buyout of cash-machine business Hanco ATM Systems, where she had been leading operations since she left the banking world in 2006. “I leapt off the corporate ship and let the safety line float away,” she says.

After the buyout – a gruelling 18-month will-it-won’t-it nerve test – she aggressively grew the business and renamed it YourCash Europe. She then faced more risk – but this time it was more intense – by undertaking a secondary buyout in order to take full control. “It was a bigger jump than remortgaging because I put a £17m debt structure over the business,” she says. “That’s when I really needed self-belief.”

But her belief was not misplaced. In 2016, she sold YourCash Europe to Euronet Worldwide Inc – the sale was another slow-burner that could have derailed at any moment – and exited the business.

When you consider the stark reality of what Jenny went through to succeed, it’s not surprising that she – like most founders and owners – sought belief and positivity from her colleagues and advisers. At no point in her journey until the final bank transfer to conclude the sale did she know that she was going to succeed. Guarantees just do not exist in entrepreneurialism. Belief is all you’ve got. For advisers, this is an important fact to remember.

Jenny’s climb up the corporate ladder took self-belief, too. Aged 16 she took her first bold decision: to leave formal education and get a job, even though her family was expecting her to go through the full academic process. “I had to negotiate with my father to leave school, so for me bold decisions started way back,” says Jenny. “And when I meet young people today, the first thing I consider is whether they have buoyant confidence and resilient self-esteem. They might develop them later, but it’s a great start in life if you’ve got them in the first place.”

Jenny was to need every ounce of her self-esteem as a young female bank clerk. She started out doing menial jobs before becoming a cashier, and she encountered systemic sexism along the way. “I noticed most lads became cashiers in one year, but it took girls two years,” she says. “I also saw women given lower grades by HR than men, even when they did a better job. This happened to me, in fact. HR graded me ‘B’, and a ‘B’ meant the bank would only ‘try’ to give you your job back after extended parental leave. An ‘A’ grade meant your job was guaranteed. My male colleague got an ‘A’ even though I was doing a better job than him. Seeing things like that made me grit my teeth and say, “Right, we need to do something about this, don’t we?” An 18-month negotiation with HR ensued, with Jenny unsurprisingly coming out on top!

Today, Jenny has plenty of advice for women in business. “There’s no such thing as glass ceilings, only sticky floors,” she says.If you don’t ask, you don’t get, so it’s about pushing yourself forward and thinking ‘I can do that’. It’s your inhibitions and lack of confidence that hold you back sometimes. I tend to say that to women more often than to men. After years of hiring people I’ve noticed that men generally look at job specs and say, ‘yep, I could do that’. Women tick off every requirement, see two they’re not sure about, and say ‘I’m not ready for that role.’ If the pay scale is 40-50k, men want 50. Women go in at 40.”

Jenny had to battle her way up the banking career ladder, battle to buy Hanco ATM Systems, battle to grow the business and battle to sell it. As soon as one battle ended, another started. After buying the business, for example, her financial backers – high-net-worth individuals – reneged on the agreed plan and immediately pressured her to sell the business. She dug in and resisted.

“It’s always about resilience,” she says. “And a subset of resilience is perseverance. I never, ever give up, I really don’t. If I think I’m going to do it, I’ll do it. I always think you’re in control of your own destiny. There aren’t many things outside your control. Things happen that you don’t plan – you might have a car accident and break your leg, for example. But it will mend. What’s the worst that can happen? You can die. So long as that doesn’t happen you can deal with it.”

She continues: “When I was named Vitalise Business Woman of Year in 2014, the person who won Woman of Year was Claire Lomax, a 27-year-old horse event rider who broke her neck in a fall and became paralysed from the neck down. If you read her story, she is the most inspirational lady – nothing gets her down, she even walked a marathon in a metal suit. When I’m presenting, I sometimes put her picture up and say: ‘If any of you are feeling down or think life’s against you, read her story, then tell me life’s against you.’”

Jenny finishes with more advice for professionals: “Don’t give us brochures that say how big and global you are. It all comes down to the person and the relationship you build. I’m looking for someone I can relate to and who understands my business and me. They must build up a picture of my ambitions and bring lots of ideas. When I did the secondary buyout in 2013, my adviser was there for me at 7am or 10pm. He stretched me, challenged me, and was an equal with me. It was almost like he was in the business with me, my shadow CEO.”

Next time you need a reminder about what anyone – not just famous entrepreneurs – want from their professional advisers, read Jenny’s story. Her words might just come in handy…