The luxury motor industry is a very glamorous one, yet despite this it has the reputation of being a very male dominated sector, possibly something to do with lots of horsepower, shiny paintwork, leather and chrome. There are however some women with the self-belief and determination, brave enough to stand up in this sector to ring the changes.
We spoke to Bardha Krasniqi who at 26 is Head of Operations at AZ Luxe, London’s largest and best known chauffeur and supercar hire company, who look after stars, celebrities and the rich and famous. She leads a team of male staff and deals in a world that has traditionally been run by men.
She has heard all the jokes, faced all the prejudices but takes no prisoners and has become one of the best in the business. Bardha has risen through the ranks and is now a formidable businesswomen.
Can you tell us a bit about your educational journey?
I’ve always had a strong work ethic and have worked since the age of 13, not at the expense of my education, simply because I have always wanted to support myself. In fact, not once did I ask my parents for pocket money as a teenager!
My education was like most people, state-funded and as far from a fancy private school as you can imagine. Growing up in Camden, a very diverse area of central London, meant I was surrounded by culture, art and a broad spectrum of nationalities which I enjoyed and thrived upon. My school was a regular comprehensive in Camden, and I achieved good grades at GCSE level, despite working a job in the evenings and weekends. I was committed to success.
For many years I worked as a hairdresser, training on the job outside of my studies. Despite knowing that I wouldn’t follow this path as a long-term career I did enjoy it and had a natural talent for it. This enabled me to earn from a young age and support myself. Something, I believe, to be a good life lesson.
After leaving school I enrolled at South Camden College to study Performing Arts, while also doing hairdressing almost full time, before heading to St Mary’s Twickenham University to study Psychology and Business Management. At this stage of my life I decided it was time to be more serious and dedicate time to studies that may help me in my career options later down the line.
Looking back, for me, my self-education was more beneficial than my formal education. Working from a young age, as I did, meant I learned how business worked and what I needed to do to get ahead. Now I’m not suggesting that education isn’t important (far from it) but I found that my studies always seemed to offer less ‘real world’ benefit. Today it’s my CV that gets me employed, not my grades.
Your first job was in sales for Michael Kors – what attracted you to this role?
I had a few roles before arriving at Michael Kors, including a spell at a London Law Firm as an Immigration Consultant and some time on the doors of the best clubs in London managing VIP guests.
I was attracted to the luxury retail sector and, using my self-belief and determination, I walked the areas of London’s luxury district to CV drop in the hope a position might be available. I also believe a personal CV drop is better than by mail (if you have the time to do so) as a potential employer can see what you are all about, face to face. Many admire the commitment made, too.
I started with Michael Kors at their Regent Street branch at the bottom of the ladder, but was delighted as this was the brand I wanted to work for due to the opportunities they offered. The brand was revered but also accessible to many with some items at a few hundred pounds and others at many thousands. It was a pleasure to consult and help people buy something that was very special to them.
Best of all was the training. We trained once a month on all aspects of luxury sales, from how to greet and consult to how to close and maximise the opportunity. In the early days I attended these training courses, within 2 years I was running them.
I stayed at the Regent Street store for some time and achieved an all-time record for the store by making the highest sales in one day ever made by a single person. It was in the high tens of thousands, something I am very proud of even to this day.
After that success, I stayed in Regent Street a short while longer, but soon I was offered a promotion at a new store in Canary Wharf. What a shock that was! Regent Street was always busy, but Canary Wharf was only busy at lunchtimes when the workers took a lunch break. Making sales became more challenging, but we succeeded.
After making a success of the Canary Wharf branch I was offered a senior role at the Harrods concession and took on the Managers role soon after to cover a period of maternity leave. My days as a temporary worker in Regent Street now seemed a long way behind me. Managing such a prestigious outlet was an honour, and I loved building a strong team of nine sales people, thriving on watching them go on to be successful in their own right. I will always be grateful to the team at Michael Kors, it was a great experience.
While I enjoyed Harrods, and the opportunities it presented, retail had taken its toll on me. The hours of standing, the weekends, the late nights. It was time to move on.
You moved to a role working for a vehicle retailer – we detect a theme of luxury, does this market appeal to you?
I like the luxury sector. I like dealing with quality products and working with the customer base they attract. You meet some who can afford the lifestyle and can buy whatever they like, and you meet others who have saved and saved to come in at the entry-level. Both are important, both have their needs, and both need to feel special.
I also love cars, and had been following a few brands on social media, and I have a few friends and associates that work in the industry too. It was through one such person that I happened to ask how best to get into the industry. He advised that a position was available and that I should send in a CV, which I did.
I soon had an Interview with Abbass Zadeh who ran the VIP Services department at H.R. Owen and I’d seen on social media how good it looked to work there. I was fortunate enough to gain the position and heard back swiftly.
It was once I had won this role when I decided that I would like to remain within the luxury sector and make a name for myself.
Your move to AZ Luxe seems like a natural progression were you headhunted or more driven and ambitious?
I was headhunted, but I’d like to think it was my drive and ambition that saw me being approached.
AZ Luxe is run by Abbass Zadeh, who I mentioned earlier. He left our previous company to launch his own, offering, a higher level of service, better cars and a real focus on customer service. Soon after the business was formed, he invited me to join his new company and I accepted his invitation.
The motor industry is not one where women would usually migrate to what attracted you to this?
Well I had a love of the sector, and an ambition to succeed in a market that is largely male dominated. I like a challenge and I stand my ground. If I can do a job well then, I like to demonstrate that with immediacy and conviction.
To be taken seriously you need to make your mark on day one. You need to be heard, to show your worth, to speak up and, most importantly, know when to show a line has been crossed. The latter usually means flirtatious behaviour or being patronised. But hey, even though it shouldn’t be this way, I like the challenge and enjoy a fight when it is justified.
As a woman how to you find it working in a male dominated sector?
I’d be lying if I said there were times when I didn’t feel victimised by men…and that comes in many guises from trying to hit on you to literally ignoring you, it is hugely frustrating to not be taken seriously. There are times when I wanted to go home and shut the door, but while that would have been an easy thing to do, I chose to grit my teeth and stand my ground. You only lose if you bow to the pressure and let them win.
What I’ve found is men who have a prejudice (and let’s be honest, many don’t) do not know what to do when challenged. This type of man is intimidated by a strong woman and try to shut them down to massage their own ego and hide their own insecurities. If you don’t crumble you don’t lose…and you take the pleasure of watching a hasty retreat.
Overall, I enjoyed it and while it is easy to paint a picture of prejudice, the good days outweighed the bad and I found I was able to secure myself a position at the table, surrounded by largely male colleagues, as I wasn’t about to bow down and not be heard or not be taken seriously.
Have you faced any prejudices and how have you dealt with them?
Firstly, I find the challenge is motivating and empowering. Having that mental approach helps your ability to manage it. I also relish showing people that I know what I am talking about, and if they don’t listen then I make sure I am heard.
When working with a male colleague, for example, we attend a meeting together, people tend to talk to the male even if I am the senior colleague or the person who is leading the conversation. That is frustrating and there have been times when I have had to be quite blunt to get the balance restored. This scenario happens all too often I’m sad to say.
Working in the luxury sector I deal with a lot of wealthy clients. Often, I have men tell me that I shouldn’t be working and (if I were with them) I would be looked after at home with all I want provided. It seems some cannot fathom why a woman would want to succeed as a professional and not be kept at home by a rich partner. I tell them, of course, that I would rather work and look after myself.
As a young woman I often find myself dealing with older men in business and I would be lying if I said that flirting wasn’t a regular occurrence. If that line is crossed it is essential to take control. The longer it is allowed to continue, the harder it is to rein in. Stopping it doesn’t mean you have to be impolite, you just need to be clear and make your point. Be aware that this has to work both ways…you can’t end flirting in one scenario and then use it to your advantage when agreeing a deal. It disappoints me when women use attraction in an underhand way. The line has to be consistent.
When I was given a senior role in the company, I found myself managing a large team, all of which were men. Although these men would happily take direction from the previous male boss I was flatly ignored. The most frustrating part of this was when I mentioned it to my (male) superior he did nothing about it, leaving me to make the fight alone. This was a tiresome battle, but I had to dig in and be blunt and fight to be heard. This battle was won eventually but happens all too often when a woman is hired to lead a male team. I accept that any new manager has to prove themselves, and I have no issue with that, but when it comes down to a problem with gender, I take offence.
Let’s end this question on a positive note. The car industry is a traditionally male dominated world, but today more women are in lead positions within it than ever before and many are coming through the ranks. What was once a rarity is now becoming more normal and that needs to be celebrated.
Can you tell us about your leadership role at AZ Luxe and how you achieve success?
My role is Head of Operations, and that means I lead the business in our main aspects of luxury concierge, supercar hire, chauffeured vehicles, private jet charter and bespoke travel. That can entail the daily logistics of managing our team of drivers to arranging a full global travel itinerary for a client. I also manage the sales and marketing for the company and act as ‘number two’ to the owner and Managing Director.
Good communication is essential as is a consistent approach. I treat everyone with respect and courtesy, my door is open, and my phone is always on. You will know when I am being serious, you will know when something has been done wrong, but a person will also know when they have done good work and when I’m impressed. To coin a well-used phrase, I am firm but fair!
I have authority across the team and know that I always have the full support of the Managing Director. That is important as it gives me autonomy and the confidence to act as needed.
What are your goals or News Year resolutions for the future?
I want to become better known in my sector and will attend more events, seminars, conferences and industry discussions throughout the year. It is time to share my experiences and empower others. An ongoing goal is to always strive to be heard and to be visible. This year is no different. I want to expand my team and grow the profitability of AZ Luxe, and yes, I would like to employ more women. I will also keep the personal pressure on myself. I work better under pressure.
Do you have any advice about working in this sector you would give to others considering it?
I may repeat a few of my previous answers here, but some things are worth repeating:
Always show your confidence and authority.
Battle through any feelings of giving up – stay strong.
Know your subject and make yourself heard.
Believe in yourself, even if you feel nobody else does.
Keep it professional, have boundaries.
Know that the most prejudiced of men are intimidated by strong. women and try to shut you down to mask their own insecurities.
If you don’t crumble you don’t lose.
Be firm but fair, professional and level.
Take yourself out of your comfort zone.
Take control of your own destiny.
Speak out against anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Set yourself goals and targets and stick with them.
Be proactive. The journey to the top is a climb and doesn’t come easily.
Editor in Chief