Karen Read is the founder and managing director of Newcastle based planning consultancy firm, klr Planning. She talks about managing stress, avoiding becoming a 'one-man-band', and the importance of a quiet work environment.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
I am founder and director of klr Planning Ltd, which provides town planning services to our clients. We navigate the town planning system to help them achieve their ambitions.
My role in klr Planning is everything! As well as being a chartered town planner providing consultancy services and managing my clients, I also run the business itself, which encompasses everything from the accounts, marketing, and sorting out IT issues!
What is it the company does?
We provide advice to commercial companies who need help and advice using the town planning system.
We help by establishing the options and timescales, and determining a strategy for their specific planning needs. This could be anything from preparing and submitting a planning applications, pursuing appeals or assessing a property portfolio to establish its value.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I graduated at the age of 21 with a degree in Economic Development and Planning and then got my first job as a development economist with Roger Tym and Partners in Manchester. After that I worked for Development Planning Partnership (DPP) with a range of clients, including Tesco Stores Ltd, securing permissions for large stores.
In 2002, I moved to the North East of England to work with law firm Muckle LLP where I set up a planning unit and stayed there for five years. In 2007, I returned to DPP to set up and lead their North East office before moving to Signet Planning as a Regional Director in 2011.
Then, at the start of 2015, there were positive signs that activity in the commercial property market was picking up and developers were looking to fast-forward projects that had been on hold over the previous few years. This shift in the market convinced me to take the plunge and establish my own planning consultancy. I’m pleased to say that I haven’t looked back!
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I think there are many necessary qualities; leadership is a complex and important role! But, above all, I think the most important is being human.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
I would say for me it is being badged as a ‘one-man-band’ and the connotations that go along with it. I’ve worked in very large companies over the years and my biggest challenge in running my own business is getting others to understand that I’m just as good, if not better.
The work level peaks can be a challenge, but an enjoyable one.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Having set up my own company, my stress levels are significantly lower than they used to be when I was employed. This is because I’m in control and make the decisions, which stops the stress seeping in.
Living by the coast, especially in the summer, means I go to the beach a lot; it makes me feel grounded and really helps me chill out.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child, I loved the TV programme All Creatures Great and Small and I wanted to be a vet. In my teens’ my interest turned to the arts, particularly in pattern and textiles, which remains a big passion of mine. But it was my dad, who worked in the property and construction industry, who had a lot of positive influence on where my career would head and is possibly how I have also ended up in the property industry.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Noise. I’ve realised only recently that noise levels really affect my concentration. I am a lot more efficient in a quiet environment – I know it sounds obvious. When I worked in an office located on the Quayside, the noise generated by the Kittiwakes during the summer was unbelievable!
Where do you see the company in five years time?
I am at a point now, almost three years in, where I am really delighted with my business and working with some amazing clients and on some exciting projects. I am cogitating on if I want to grow the business and how that will look. Is it through collaboration or employing people? And, also with all the political turmoil, where is the economy going? So, I am taking my time working out my plans.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Talk to people! This has been one of the most useful things I’ve done. Be interested in others, ask them questions, discuss things that affect their business and yours. As a leader, you think you should know it all, but we can’t know all the answers!
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