Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne is Founder and Managing Director of one of Europe’s leading talent management agencies and speaker’s bureaus, Kruger Cowne who represent a stellar roster of over 100 entrepreneurs, disruptive leaders and personalities varying from globally renowned icons and entrepreneurs such as Sir Bob Geldof, Eurythmic star Dave Stewart and Harvey Goldsmith, to Jamie Oliver, Elle Macpherson, current UK World Chocolate Master Ruth Hinks and BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson CBE.
Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
I worked as a part time model and make-up artist from the age of 15 and started my first business when I was 17. With lots of ideas and huge ambition, I started and developed a model agency and a promotions & PR company, focusing on the beauty and fashion industry. With some success and some failure, I understood I had to move on to something new. Working for a boss was never an option for me. I had too much energy and drive to accept defeat by accepting a salaried job. I continued on my own entrepreneurial path, turned to my passion for wildlife and conservation and started the African Wildlife Club. A club for nature and conservation enthusiasts in South Africa. The club offered its members social events, lectures and courses in different aspects of nature and conservation, tours and more. At the height of the business a decision was made for my husband, two boys and I to move to the UK. I gave up everything I knew and loved in South Africa and started a new life in a new country. For once in my life I was stumped and rather clueless as to what I’d do next. Then, as if by magic, my brother-in-law, John Simpson CBE (BBC World Affairs Editor) offered me a part time position as his assistant. I accepted and within the first month, the part time job, turned into a 24/7 commitment. I started to manage John’s life and business and became his agent and so, with one client, started Kruger Cowne Speaker Bureau and Talent Management.
How has your life experience made you the individual you are today?
I’ve experienced it all. Had some good and had some bad. I’ve had successes and I’ve had failures. I’ve met incredible people from all walks of life. Each of these events have made me a richer, better person. I’m happy for learning through my trials and errors. Had it all been plain sailing, who knows where I would have been today. But by choosing never to give up and following my heart, going my own way, mostly, I pursued and achieved. I am a survivor, but having the privilege of meeting some really special people helped me along my way. I believe that not only networking, but also nurturing the right connections is what made me who I am.
What have you learned from these highlights and challenges?
Working with people as ‘products’, is a big challenge. People have minds of their own, they have emotions and they have wills, but high-profile clients are leaders and they have – and are used to getting their own way. I’ve learnt how to deal with and understand people from all walks of life. I’ve learnt to persevere and I’ve learnt to have patience.
Why did you want to start your own business?
I didn’t necessarily want to start my own business but have never liked the idea of working for a fixed salary or having a boss. Kruger Cowne just happened as a result of working with John Simpson. I have a huge imagination and my mind is full of ideas. I had to explore some of them and when I did I got hooked to being my own boss and following my own direction. I enjoyed leading my own way an putting my ideas to the test. When I tasted the smallest morsel of success, I had all the ammunition I needed. Luckily, I had the guts and the energy to go with it.
What have been some of Kruger Cowne’s successes?
Making people believe in us and getting our clients and customers to trust in our ability. Developing a business with a name that is internationally recognised in the industry, which is synonymous with care, trust and knowledge of our products and services.
Tell us about your passion for conservation and why it is such an important cause.
Every living thing has a purpose and a reason. Every aspect of our natural world is beautiful. If we open our eyes and really see things for what they are and appreciate why we are all here, then we’ll have a better understanding about the importance of every tree, plant, insect, bird. reptile, fish and animal. The world was never meant for humans only. Without conservation, our natural world will disappear and we will become a heartless, useless species. I think the German poet, Goethe’s words couldn’t ring any truer “Nature is, after all, the only book that offers important content on every page.”
What advice can you offer to women looking to start their own business?
Follow your heart as well as your head. Women have great intuition. If something feels right, give it a try. Don’t give up. If you fail at something, try something new – again and again. It’s never too late to have an idea and it’s never too late to try your hand at something new. Surround yourself by knowledgeable people. Take expert advise, but don’t necessarily take their word as if it’s set in stone. Experts can be wrong sometimes too, but employ the very best people you can afford. Make sure they know and understand their game. Learn from your mistakes and realise that you can also learn from your employees.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This is hard, as my husband and one of my son’s are involved with the business too. We are all passionate about Africa and nature though, so we travel back to Africa a couple of times every year to spend time in the bush – I call it getting my ‘bush–fix. Other than that, I’m lucky that my work takes me to interesting places and I work with inspirational people. Even though, I am very busy, I love what I do and therefore, it doesn’t always feel like hard work.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I don’t have a mentor. I have been inspired by a great number of people and think I may have learnt things from each of them but there has been no one individual.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
A number of my female clients are hugely inspiring, but I have to mention, Dr Jane Goodall, DBE as one of the most inspirational women. She is passionate about what she does. She lives and lived her life for her cause. At the wonderful age of 80, Dame Jane still travels 300 days per year, to spread her message, to teach and to protect – all to make the world a better place. I find someone with such incredible determination admirable. And then to top all that, she has a brilliant mind and is one of the kindest and most gentle people I know.
Which words sum up where you have got to today?
Passion, commitment, ideas, patience, understanding, empathy, determination and ambition.