Interview with Dido Harding, Talk Talk Group

Interview with Dido Harding, Talk Talk Group

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Dido Harding talks to The Marketing Society’s editor Elen Lewis about the importance of customers, being a jockey and her biggest influences.


You’ve talked passionately about the importance of working from the customer’s point of view. Tell us more about why the customer is so important.
At the end of the day, in any business, it is customers that pay our wages, and our shareholders dividends.  So I have always believed that if you start with trying to give customers what they want, and then work out how to make money from it after that you won’t go far wrong.  Customers might not be able to articulate what they want in the future – especially in technology led sectors – but they can always tell you what they like and don’t like about any ideas you have for their future.  Sometimes it’s hard to hear what customers have to say, either because you don’t really want to hear it, or because customers articulate their issues in the normal language that we find so hard to use in business!  But I have always found that if you take customer feedback genuinely at face value and try to address it honestly and straight forwardly then you will build a winning proposition – very easy to say, but mighty hard to actually do!

You’ve been a keen jockey all your life. What skills or approaches do you take from horse racing into business?
Determination and a will to win!  Winning is everything in racing – coming second often feels worse than coming last – and often it’s not the most beautiful or even the most talented horse that wins... It’s the most determined!  I have found the same in business – persistence pays.  If you are more determined and more committed than your competitors you can often surprise people and win against the odds!

What drives you through your busiest, most challenging days?
My busiest days are rarely my most challenging days – because I absolutely love being busy!  If anything my most challenging days are when I don’t have a lot to do. Then what drives me is to do a good job for all the people who depend on me – our customers and all the people who work for TalkTalk most particularly.  And if I have a really bad day, I close my eyes and remember what it felt like to be jumping over Beechers Brook on the Grand National Course and think how incredibly lucky I am and tell myself to stop feeling sorry for myself!

Who has been your biggest influence?
My grandfather.  He started out as the son of a tenant farmer in Somerset, who couldn’t afford to stay on at school after he was 16; and died a Field Marshall and a Lord, having been the most senior soldier in the army; fought in both world wars, and chaired a FTSE100 company, Plessey when he retired.  Nothing I ever do will live up to the benchmark he set!

How do you find a balance between work and family life?
Badly!  I am a 24/7 workaholic and I am happiest when I have slightly more to do than I can realistically cope with – and I am just the same at home as I am at work. My two little girls (aged 5 and 6) keep me pretty busy at home, and I think being a parent makes me much more grounded at work; and working keeps me sane at home!

What are the qualities of a world class business leader?
People have written huge books, on this, but I think three key qualities I really admire in great business leaders are clarity of thinking; courage and humility.  I think the ability to listen, and really hear the feedback from customer, colleagues and other stakeholders is critical... that requires real humility... And then of course you need to courage and clarity of thinking to do something about what you’ve heard!

Dido Harding spoke at The Annual Conference on 28 November at the Royal Opera House. Read more from our Conference speakers here.

Author: The Marketing Society
Posted: 01 Oct 2012
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