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‘The doubters are wrong; there are enough of us’

BEST IN BUSINESS: The exceptional winners of the Black British Business Awards pose for a group shot

WIPING TEARS from her eyes, a visibly stunned Margaret Casely-Hayford headed to the podium to collect her award after being named Black British Business Person of the Year.

It was, she described, an absolutely surreal moment considering the level of talent in the room at the inaugural Black British Business (BBB) Awards in central London last week.

“It felt almost like a dream,” Casely-Hayford said with a laugh. “I’m thinking that I’ve won this award but actually I haven’t and I must be bonkers.


“I hadn’t won in the category I was nominated for, which I was comfortable with. Honestly, there were such mightily impressive people there. As they read out my biography, the more it started to sound like me, the more I was in disbelief thinking, ‘no, it can’t be me.’ It’s just wishful thinking’ because the room was just buzzing with talent. It was such an honour.”

The Oxford-educated lawyer, who served as director of legal services for the John Lewis Partnership for nine years before joining ActionAid UK as chairman earlier this year, said the award was a “wonderful punctuation” to what had been an amazing 30-year career, including being one of the first black women to become partner at a city law firm.

But despite her humility, Casely-Hayford has always been a hard worker and comes from a long line of high-achievers which once earned her family the title of Britain’s most powerful black family.

Her grandfather Joseph was an influential Ghanaian politician and her uncle Archie Casely-Hayford was a member of Kwame Nkrumah’s government, even helping to write the nation’s constitution after independence.

Casely-Hayford’s father broke with tradition and despite training as a lawyer in Britain, switched to accountancy. Her mother, who she credits with being “wonderfully supportive”, worked for the British Council.

Reflecting on her career journey, she recalled returning to Somerville College at Oxford and meeting one of her favourite tutors, who enquired what she was up to these days. “I’m a partner at a City law firm,” she replied proudly, but was surprised to notice a crestfallen look cross the other woman’s face.

Casely Hayford continued: “I asked her what was wrong and she smiled and said she was just remembering what I had said during my first interview. ‘You said you were going to be Secretary General of the UN and you were one of those people that I really believed in.’ I thought, ‘oh my word’ I’ve let her down.


“Her words have always been in the back of my mind so going into an organisation now that focuses on humanitarian issues is a step towards where it all began.”

Her ambition for ActionAid UK as chairman is to help the organisation charged with ending poverty to become more recognisable.

The mother-of-one said: “I want people to understand what makes ActionAid UK different from other NGOs. It doesn’t just deal with emergencies; it stays in countries for the longer-term. Its ambition is to build resilience and help countries to build their own resilience, helping people to understand their rights so they can negotiate with central and local government on their own behalves for amenities, for example. It’s better than just giving a pot of money, because once that has run out it’s all over.”

Underneath her softly-spoken demeanour, there are moments when you see the shrewd spirit that has helped Casely-Hayford succeed.


As she collected her award, she made a point of calling out a journalist who ahead of the awards ceremony had joked whether there was ‘enough’ talented black people to warrant the event taking place.

“This is a real poke in the eye to that person,” she said to rapturous applause as she paid tribute to the other nominees and winners in the room, including Lorraine Wright, a director at UBS at the age of just 27 and Anne-Marie Imafidon, an enterprise collaboration strategist at Deutsche Bank, who graduated from Oxford aged 20 with a Masters in mathematics.

She continued: “That ceremony really proved the doubters wrong and that there are enough of us [black business professionals]. It just tells you so much about how sadly we’re not in view at the moment.”

Casely-Hayford said she is supportive of introducing targets to address statistics to show that despite progress, there is still a need for more diversity at boardroom level.

“Having goals is a good idea. Goals would help because otherwise it is left as a nebulous concept and they are not aiming for something. As far as I am concerned, that room [at the BBB Awards] was heaving with people.

“So if search agents are properly equipped and look properly, they will find enough people coming through the pipeline so there is no need for tokenism. The young people there were so impressive.”


Black British Business Person of the Year – Margaret Casely-Hayford, Chairman, Action Aid UK

Financial services Rising Star – Lorraine Wright, Director at UBS

Financial services Leader – Trevor Williams, Chief economist at Lloyds Commercial Bank

Fast-moving consumer goods Rising Star – Timi Dorgu, Regional sales manager at L’Oreal

Fast-moving consumer goods Leader – Wilfred Emmanuel Jones, Founder of The Black Farmer

Infrastructure & manufacturing Rising Star – Jim Lenga Kroma, HR graduate at RWE npower

Infrastructure & manufacturing Leader – David Waboso CBE, Capital programmes director at London Underground

Media & the arts Rising Star – Joanna Abeyie, Founder of Shine Media

Media & the arts Leader – Darcus Beese OBE, President of Island Records

Professional services rising star – Chike Eduputa, Consultant analyst at PA Consulting Group

Professional services leader – Tom Shropshire, Partner at Linklaters LLP

STEM Rising Star – Anne-Marie Imafidon, Head Stemette at Stemmettes

STEM Leader – Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Space scientist

Entrepreneur Rising Star – Philip Poku, Founder of Young Graduates Day Nursery

Entrepreneur Leader – Piers Linney, Co-CEO at Outsourcery PLC

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