Karen Darby is a serial entrepreneur, and has been a leading figure in the call centre industry for over 25 years.
From an inauspicious start (her mother was a waitress, her father an alcoholic) she left school at 16 with one GCSE, and embarked on what would become a classic rags to riches story.
She set up her first company, The Decisions Group in 1983. It grew to become the third largest telemarketing bureau in the UK and won the European Service Industry Forum’s award for Best Service Company. She sold her interests in 1990 and Decisions now trades as part of Sitel Inc.
She went on to establish a successful training and consultancy business, Karen Darby Direct. Clients included BSkyB, Commercial Union, Direct Line, General Accident, Scottish Widows, Telewest and Zurich Insurance.
Karen then set up her third venture, SimplySwitch, a telephone and web based price comparison service. She secured venture capital funding from Bridges Community Ventures, which was subject to the business meeting certain social criteria such as being based in a deprived area and employing the long term unemployed. Initially launched as Simply Energy Ltd offering consumers a telephone and web comparison and switching service for gas and electricity, it quickly extended its portfolio of products to include home phone, mobile, broadband and a range of financial products and was re-branded SimplySwitch.
SimplySwitch created over 100 jobs in a deprived area (a condition of the Bridges funding), and helped thousands of consumers save over £20m on their household bills.
In August 2006 Karen sold SimplySwitch to DMGT (Daily Mail & General Trust) for £22m.
Karen has over 20 years experience as a public speaker, and has spoken at events around the country. She has spoken for Gordon Brown at business receptions in Downing Street, plus various industry events for the likes of the DTI and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). A champion for enterprise, she regularly speaks at, and helps promote BusinessLink initiatives.
Her presentations are upbeat and motivational, delivered with the passion and focus which only comes from someone who has really been there and done it. She talks of the highs and inevitable lows of running your own business, and how to deal with the set backs and how to turn them to your advantage.
Her speeches are tailored to the individual audience and can cover:
- I did it, so can you! – The story of a serial entrepreneur
- Raising Finance – Business Angels vs. Venture Capital
- PR – Getting publicity on a shoestring budget
- Corporate Social Responsibility – Building ethical business with a social mission
- Women in Business
Karen was a finalist at Cosmopolitan’s Woman of Tomorrow award. In June 2006 she won the Finance Award at the CBI’s First Women Awards. She was a finalist in the 2006 National Business Awards. She is frequently quoted in the national news and personal finance pages as well as the business and marketing press. She is a regular guest on the BBC and Sky News.
“AMAZING! Karen is a complete star.” PR4 – Karen took part in a media campaign for BusinessLink
“I really loved your talk, and I know the audience did too. It was a brilliant mix of your own personal story combined with practical business advice…you made us laugh a lot as well!” FreshIdea Events
“Karen Darby is a super-inspirational entrepreneur. Her story, of creating several major business success stories while also juggling a real life at home, is a tale of our times – of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, woman and mother in the 21st century. Karen is exciting, high-energy, imaginative and highly entertaining. She’s a natural on stage but equally comfortable offering one-to-one advice to guests afterwards on how to build a business. And here’s the ultimate proof of her abilities: I rang her up with two hours’ notice to join a panel speaking to an audience of aspiring entrepreneurs; and not only did she say yes – she was also the star of the show!” Matthew Rock, Communications Director, Caspian Publishing
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