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An Interview with Renee Kuo, MD of Debrett's

Next up in this series is a very intimate and personal interview with the incredibly talented Renee Kuo, MD and mastermind behind Debrett's as you see it today.

'Debrett’s is a professional coaching company, publisher and authority on modern etiquette, founded in 1769 with the publication of the first edition of The New Peerage. Today, we offer coaching globally to businesses and private clients in social and interpersonal skills, building confidence and success in both social and professional arenas.' text (c)

In celebration of Debrett's 250th anniversary a new edition of the peerage will be released.

Image (c)

What is a day in the life of the MD at Debrett's like?

It sounds trite, but no two days are the same. Because we're a small team with several business lines, most of us wear many hats within the company. When I'm not helping pitch our products and services, I'm looking over finances or marketing or HR or IT. I often feel I'm playing several different instruments whilst trying to conduct the orchestra at the same time.

MD is a tough job. How do you manage a successful work / life balance?

We keep very civilised working hours at Debrett's! I also try to keep evening work events to a minimum these days. When I first took on the role, I attended a lot of evening events in an attempt to increase my network -- and perhaps I suffered from FOMO -- the fear of missing out. Although when it comes to work/life balance I think we put too much pressure on ourselves. Life throws a lot of curve balls at everyone both personally and professionally and what I struggle with most is how to deal with stress when a problem erupts. Prayer, exercise and a wonderful husband who isn't afraid to tell me to chill out all help keep me grounded.

Would you describe yourself as a risk taker? Describe some of the risks you have taken as MD and the results?

I am my father's daughter, which is to say: risk averse! However, some of the best advice I received from our Chairman at Debrett's was not to be afraid of making radical changes. When I first became MD, I constrained myself with the belief that I needed to uphold the heritage of a 250-year old brand. I feared making changes due to public, press and customer reactions. But the only way to ensure we continue for another 250 years is to adapt. Last year, I decided to cut business lines that weren't generating as much return on investment as others. Some were very established and others generated a lot of positive publicity; looking at the numbers, however, they just didn't make sense. I decided to refocus the company on doing fewer things better. Not only did our finances improve, team morale did as well.

What are your core values as a company leader?

My main value is the Golden Rule: treat others as you would yourself. This really became apparent for me as a manager when I read the book 'Radical Candor' [sic] by Kim Scott. To the author, this means 'saying what you think while giving a damn about the person you're saying it to'. Many managers lead by fear, thinking that the loudest voice wins. Others feel they're doing their employees a favour if they don't address conflict and just try to ignore it out of fear they'll hurt someone's feelings. Managing people means you are developing what you hope to be a long-term, positive relationship. Not addressing issues as they arise -- or just trying to blame someone all the time -- is a terrible way to develop any relationship! Read the book for more details!

Debrett's has a wide range of product and services. How do you find balancing these two areas of the company?

Cutting the business lines and refocusing on what we do best -- teaching social confidence and modern manners -- has been hugely rewarding. Our business lines are 'coaching and content'. Given our history and expertise in modern manners, British protocol and etiquette, we produce content in the form of our publications and digital content campaigns. We also coach via our Academy for those who want to learn and develop in person rather than via a publication.

Above: The new edition of the Debretts Peerage being released in celebration of Debrett's 250th anniversary

What is one tip you would give to an up and coming product company?

Focus on the one or two things you know you can do best and create a business plan with the most realistic estimates of your returns on investment over your time horizon (e.g. 3 years, 5 years). Don't try to keep adding extras. Maybe Coco Chanel put it best when she advised to take off one thing before leaving the house -- stay focused!

Above: Historic edition of the Debretts Peerage

How did you discover Rollo London?

Through spin class! I met the fabulously beautiful and talented Alex Fagan through the gym, and we got to talking about our respective professions. She really impressed me as a commercially-savvy creative. Of course, I was hugely intimidated when I first met her, but she is an incredibly kind and approachable person.

How do you unwind at the end of the day?

My husband and I both love to cook -- we often fight over who's doing dinner that night! So a home-cooked meal and a conversation about how our respective day went is the perfect antidote to a stressful day. Of course, if a glass of wine is involved, that takes the edge off, too.

Above: Debretts Wedding Handbook

For more information Debretts -

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