Tania Foster-Brown was a highly gifted young lady whose sheer impudence made her the life and soul of the party. She was eager to learn, unafraid to take risks, supremely self-confident and a born leader. Recognizing her multitude of capabilities from the outset, I immediately took her under my wing in a PR role. She became one of the favourites and played a crucial part in glamorizing the image of Mappin & Webb. One of the things that marked Tania out from the pack was the way she combined femininity with a tomboyish disposition and a general strength of character. As a brown-eyed brunette with a gamine appearance, she was direct and disarming in the way she dealt with others and was always ready to startle with an improvised piece of mischief. It was presumably her way of neutralizing the dazzling effect she created, especially on discerning men.
Tania would accompany me on a mission or to a particular function where I would be delivering a lecture and then return to the girls-only office at 106 Regent Street (it was guarded by a buzzer to restrict casual access) to report the proceedings verbatim. Taking centre stage, she would mimic me down to the last nuance. (Patrick Ryecart as a professional actor could also do a ‘Naim’, but his was not as good as hers.) She could retain most of the phrases from my speech and deliver them in an authentic manner, gesticulating to emphasize a point and taking a bow at the end to the tumultuous acclaim and merriment of her colleagues. It was as if the world was her stage and she could conjure drama out of sheer mundane reality.
She often travelled with me on buying trips, to Geneva, Florence, Milan, Paris; and throughout the UK when we were promoting products or holding exhibitions. Her companionship was always pleasurable and our journeys were full of funny incidents and mad escapades. We simply found a common ground where the gulf between employer and employee did not exist, without ever jeopardizing our work or undermining respect for authority when it once more became appropriate. Ours was a most unusual and warm relationship, rich in its rewards. She was able to exert a positive influence through her unrestricted access to me, often interceding on behalf of others, but never allowing this special intimacy to go to her head. There were a few occasions, however, when I would instruct my secretary, ‘Foster-Brown – barred!’ Such extreme measures were prompted by a rare misdemeanour or a trifle too far. But neither of us could resist a quick resolution to such an unhappy state of affairs and the making up more than compensated for the original falling out.
I was always certain Tania would go places. Since those days she has, with dedication and hard work, scaled the ladder of success on her own account. As her early mentor I can feel both a comforting pride and a sense of gratification.
Creativity from Within
How am I going to write something new about Naim, who’s had so much written about him already? We all know that he’s a larger-than-life character who inspires affection and love in those who come into close contact with him.
For those of us who worked with him closely, his combination of benevolent dictator and concerned father figure was quite unique. He recognized talent, even in the young and unworldly-wise, and gave it air to breathe. He loved having fun and the office buzzed with ideas and possibilities.
At times he could be impossible, with obsessive passions on particular projects – but his enthusiasm was so contagious you found yourself agreeing to his suggestions and sharing his totally genuine delight when things you planned worked out well. He never took personal credit for anything – but shared it round ‘his girls’. He did not believe in consultants or external agencies. ‘Creativity comes from within,’ he would exclaim to senior advertising executives trying to work on our business!
Naim has a wicked sense of humour and conventional formalities were often pushed to one side. He had an urge to shock out of a sense of devilment, and I would occasionally sit aghast as he repeated some mischievous anecdote to a journalist lunch guest. On that note he was punctilious in his punctuality and it wasn’t unknown for a guest to miss the first course if they arrived late. I have never arrived before him at any rendezvous since I have known him!
This heightened sense of needing to be on time could become stressful, especially when sitting next to Naim on an aeroplane that was delayed for take-off!
He was hard and uncompromising when he needed to be, but also sentimental. He was horrified that I cycled to work throughout my first pregnancy, and when during my second pregnancy I had a slight accident on the bike it was too much for him to bear. His chauffeur appeared outside my house the next day and drove me to and from work from then onwards. No matter how much I made protestations about this special treatment, he would have it no other way. There were many other similar instances that set him apart from other chief executives.
Above all, we had great fun, and he gave me the chance to learn to do a job that I had no formal qualifications for – by teaching and trusting and guiding. All the girls loved working with him – it often didn’t even feel like work – and we all knew that once we were part of his family, then his loyalty was there for ever for each of us. I certainly credit working with him as being the most important factor in making me who I am today – mostly in work ways but also in personal development.