Director of the Year – Claire Horton, CEO, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home

Claire Horton, CEO of Battersea Cats and Dogs Home

In September the best in British business were honoured at the IoD Director of the Year Awards. Here we meet all 13 winners and hear their leadership philosophies, starting with the overall winner, Claire Horton

Claire Horton, CEO, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home – Winner Public & Third Sector Director and Overall Director

In the seven years since Claire Horton became the chief executive of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the charity’s annual income has quadrupled from £10m to £40m and volunteer numbers have increased by nearly 200 per cent, saving the lives of countless animals in the process.

Such growth has partly been achieved by raising Battersea’s profile through the award-winning ITV documentary series Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs, which has been broadcast in 17 countries. The south London sanctuary is now recognised internationally as a leading animal welfare charity.

After she picked up two awards, including the coveted overall IoD Director of the Year, Horton paused her celebrations to reveal some of the secrets of her success.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever taken? Many years ago an old CEO of mine introduced me to the phrase ‘graveyards are full of indispensable men’. He spent years trying to tell me that not everything has to be 100mph, 24/7. It took me a long time to realise that you can’t push yourself or your team to breaking point.

How would you describe your leadership style? Passionate, honest and accessible. I have high energy levels and do drive everyone quite hard. But our business is about changing the world for animals. Quite simply, our day job is a matter of life and death, so I make no apologies for that.

What guidance would you offer to less experienced leaders? Know your organisation, your customers and your services inside out. Look for gaps in the market and don’t be afraid to take calculated risks if you see an opportunity. Trust your people and be prepared to invest in growth.

How do you ensure good governance? From a board perspective, you need a good mix of relevant skills and strong, experienced people, but don’t duplicate the executive. Be transparent and honest in your reporting – this will instil confidence and facilitate better debates and swifter decision-making.

What’s the biggest leadership lesson you have learnt so far? The bigger you get, the more people you need and the greater the danger that bureaucracy will take over. You need all this process stuff, of course, but don’t get bogged down by it. Otherwise, it will hamper your organisation’s development. And never forget: in everything you do, stay flexible, be pragmatic – and keep it simple.

What the sponsors said

The Centre for Board Excellence and Nasdaq were delighted to sponsor the IoD Director of the Year Awards. As providers of unique corporate governance tools that power your boardroom, we join with you in a commitment to business excellence. Hearing the business and personal journeys of the nominees and the overall winner brought to life the passion, the commitment and leadership shown by the individuals who stand as exemplary leaders. Alongside running successful businesses, their support for, and involvement with, the local communities in which they operate resonate with our business values and promotion of governance excellence.”

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Director magazine

Director magazine

Director is the magazine for business leaders. Free to IoD members and available to purchase through subscription, each edition is full of insightful interviews with entrepreneurs and company directors.

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