Time women led in the boardroom

It’s time to stop waiting for the door to be opened and smash your way to
the top, says Julie Meyer

On 1 January 1999, I received an e-mail from my chairman at NewMedia
Investors for saying that I had to shut down First Tuesday – a networking forum
for entrepreneurs and investors I had founded – because it was threatening our
business model.

To me there was a lot more value at stake than just a ‘cocktail party’ –
First Tuesday represented a significant business opportunity, which I decided
to take.

However, despite being the only founder who invested their own capital and
the one that the investor community wanted to back, the other founders could
not accept reporting to a woman.

The board of directors that we created was one of the most dysfunctional
groups of shareholders that ever could have been conceived. Their actions made
it difficult to understand how they were working in the interests of the

At the time, I lacked the experience to understand how to right a situation
that was clearly constraining First Tuesday from achieving its potential.

But it made me more determined than ever to get it right in my next project
– setting up Ariadne Capital, a Europe-focused venture capital group, in 2000.

I carefully chose my partners and made them invest to get a seat at the
table. I then chose one of the fathers of the venture capital industry to join
us as our first non-executive director – Lionel Anthony, the founder of Cinven
and Causeway Capital. He has made a significant contribution.

Getting the right DNA and securing its commitment is vital for start-ups,
and for growing and mature corporates. Everyone will happily share the glory
with you, but finding people who will work the 100-hour weeks alongside you is
much tougher.

There is simply no way to avoid the fantastic drain on your life in setting
up a company, and the more shoulders that the work can fall on, the better.

The boardrooms of both ventures demonstrate that ‘the deal is always done at
the beginning’.

With First Tuesday, I was naive in wanting to motivate business partners who
had clearly stated that they would be inactive. And making First Tuesday’s
founders equal equity holders led to the majority of the shareholding being
‘dead equity’, not actively working to create value.

Despite a tremendous opportunity and fierce commitment, I was unable to undo
the damage of having partners who were not pulling their weight. As the
benchmark capital partner said on backing out of investing in First Tuesday,
‘it has faulty DNA’.

So when I set up Ariadne Capital, I gave everyone options rather than having
equity from day one. I also brought in investors, at a $10m pre-money
valuation, on the back of the business plan.

At the final board meeting of First Tuesday, when my company was sold out
from under me, I realised that I would have to create my own sandbox to play

Many women have decided that the best outlet for their leadership is to set
up their own platforms, and to develop valuable franchises that they own and
where they can execute their own visions.

Leaders are those people who create the conditions of trust for people to
work effectively together. Women know how to do this almost instinctively.
Management is the search for accountability, and again women seem genetically
programmed for this task.

If you can combine this with entrepreneurship, then you create boardrooms
that deliver real shareholder value.

I stopped worrying about the glass ceiling a long time ago. And few of my
women friends do. We’re too busy crashing right through it on our way to the
boardrooms that matter – our own or those we choose to enter.

Julie Meyer is CEO of European venture capital group Ariadne Capital

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