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News / August 27, 2008

Prepare to be shaken and stirred

by Guy Hiscott

Growing your practice in a tough climate is the theme as keynote speaker and self-confessed ‘leadership junkie’ René Carayol addresses the Private Dentistry 2008 National Conference in November. We look at how he embraces times of change . . .

Inspirational speaker René Carayol is probably best known for his BBC series Pay Off Your Mortgage in 2 Years – television widened his audience – but he has been a huge hit on the speakers’ circuit for some years now – and deservedly so.

His TV appearances went on to include the critically acclaimed documentary for Channel 4 – The Man from the Met – on the challenges facing Sir John Stevens at the helm, and he is now a regular voice on Radio 5 Live and Talk Sport offering phone-in business advice.

But ultimately his pièce de résistance is his ability to turn around companies, and indeed, whole industries with just the power of his words – and the conviction in his delivery.

With a no-holds barred approach to addressing the captains of industry, he tackles his topic in a way that would make Alan Sugar proud.

Although to be fair, he is definitely no Alan Sugar. His delivery is less crusty, smoother, more polished with a huge display of natural charisma – but he has the same principles: he speaks as he finds.
‘Leaders are not born or made – they are found,’ says René.

Awarded an MBE in 2004 for his outstanding service to the business community, he says what he sees with an honesty that has been well received throughout business circles.

So successful have his addresses been, that an impressive list of blue-chip companies invite him back for more – and some have sought him in an advisory capacity, among them CBI, McKinsey & Co and Barclays.

He has also provided leadership support to the British Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit.

René’s impressive pre-speaking career equipped him with a strong core knowledge of the skills and attributes businesses thrive upon – serving as he did as an executive main board director for blue-chip companies and also within the public sector (where he is a former non-executive director of the
Inland Revenue).

Starting out as a buyer with Marks & Spencer in 1982 and rising through the ranks to Senior IT Manager and Executive, he was headhunted by Pepsi Co in 1992 and sat on the board of directors for Pizza Hut.

He then joined IPC Electric as Managing Director and took the business from the concept stage through to the acquisition by AOL Time Warner. He was the first black person and first IT Director to have ever sat on the IPC board.

As an author, he has produced two books – Corporate Voodoo in 2001 (now in its third edition) and the sequel, My Voodoo in 2003. René is a regular broadsheet columnist, most notably for The Guardian.
He is CEO of the Inspired Leaders Network (ILN) that was founded in 2000, and continues to be actively involved in public speaking.

On his website’s blog at, René says ‘doing nothing is never an option’ from a leadership perspective.

He is certainly a man true to his word: having supposedly retired five-and-a-half years ago, René, 50
this month, now travels the globe conducting more than 100 inspirational talks a year.

Q. Three words to describe yourself?
A. Confident, cosmopolitan and optimistic.

Q. What family do you have?
A. I was born in Gambia – my mother passed away recently out there. My wife Yvonne died of cancer and, since then, I have been both mum and dad to my son (now 28) and daughter (18). I quickly discovered my wife had been the one who handled all the emotional problems and I’m probably a more rounded person for the dual role.

Q. Do you ever get homesick when you’re travelling the world?
A. I never get homesick. If I’m away for more than three or four days, I fly my children out to be with me.

Q. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
A. London, which is where I live (in Swiss Cottage, north west London). It’s the greatest city on the planet and it if wasn’t London, it would be New York. I love the mix. (Although born in Gambia, he has lived in London since he was three)

Q. Who are you close to?
A. Apart from my two children, my PA, Jill Thorn, who has been with me for 16 years and knows me better than anyone else in the world. We complement each other – the secret of a good business relationship – with completely different skills and different areas of expertise. I worry about the things she doesn’t and vice versa.
(In return, Rene’s PA Jill says: ‘He has always been the most charismatic, inspirational boss: you can have a thoroughly bad day, but if you see René, you come away thinking that you can conquer the world.’)

Q. How do you relax?
A. I’m a bit of a foodie. Cooking with my children is relaxation for me. The kitchen is the best place to relax. I’m also a lifelong Chelsea fan – a season ticket-holder – in the West Upper stand. I love the cinema and I listen to Radio 4 or Radio 5 Live.

Q. Do you ever get nervous before public speaking?
A. No, it’s what I do. I recently ‘Googled’ Top 10 Fears.
Ironically, number one was ‘public speaking’ and number two was ‘going to the dentist’.

Q. People you most admire within the business world?
A. Steve Jobs (co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple Inc), Stuart Rose (M&S boss with a reputation for turning around struggling retailers), Sir Philip Green (billionaire owner of Bhs and the Arcadia Group) and Virgin boss Richard Branson.

Q. Do you ever get fed up with your job?
A. Not at all. Do a job you love and you never work a day in your life.

Q. Do you ever switch off your mobile?
A. No, but it’s always on silent and vibrate.

Q. What three things would you take to a desert island?

A. A radio, my iPod (music-wise I like everything and anything, but especially soul) and my children.

Q. What have been the highlights in your life so far – professionally and personally?
A. Promotion to the board of IPC in April 1995 and the birth of my children.

Q. What’s the weirdest gig you’ve done?
A. I once did a talk at NASA in Houston which was a bit odd – and at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel, I was lowered down from a helicopter to present the closing speech for an audience of 8,000 people! But the strangest must have been in Sun City in Johannesburg where I was on stage with two lions at a
conference for Barclays South Africa – funnily enough, none of the speakers overrun!

Q. Is money the answer to everything?
A. No, but usually it’s the enabler to everything.

The Private Dentistry 2008 National Conference will be held on Thursday 27 November at The Hotel Russell, London. For further information about the Private Dentistry 2008 National Conference, please call Independent Seminars on o800 371652 or visit