Café Rouge founder aims to foster “culture of entrepreneurship” for all as UEA chancellor

Joe Greenwell CBE, Karen Jones CBE and Prof David Richardson of the UEA.

Joe Greenwell CBE, Karen Jones CBE and Prof David Richardson of the UEA. - Credit: Archant

The serial entrepreneur charged with sharpening the University of East Anglia's focus on business says she is determined to kindle a 'culture of entrepreneurship' from which every student can benefit.

Café Rouge founder Karen Jones has become chancellor of the UEA.

Café Rouge founder Karen Jones has become chancellor of the UEA. - Credit: Archant

Karen Jones CBE, a co-founder of the Café Rouge chain of restaurants and former chief executive of the Spirit pub group, also wants to bolster the UEA's links with the business community in the East of England, nationally and overseas.

Ms Jones' appointment is part of an overhaul of the UEA's leadership team, which includes Joe Greenwell, a former chairman of Ford Britain, who is now UEA Council chairman, and former Deloitte partner Mark Williams, the newly-appointed UEA treasurer.

But as an English and American Studies graduate, Ms Jones, 60, hopes to be able to bridge the gap to the arts and humanities and instil an entrepreneurial state of mind, even in those without business ambitions.

'My motivation is that I believe in the UEA, and I love business and entrepreneurship,' said Ms Jones.

'I hope that I can do something to foster and nurture that culture of business and entrepreneurship within the UEA, though it already has a strong culture of that sort. That is my fervent hope.'

In her first interview since being appointed, Ms Jones said she wanted to spread a spirit of enterprise throughout the campus, while also promoting the work of the UEA throughout the wider business world.

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'Universities are changing, and the needs of the students are changing, and if you don't change as a business, you die,' she said.

'That's one of the reasons [vice-chancellor] David Richardson and his team wanted to talk to me about being chancellor. They want to foster a more enterprising culture that looks at the university as a business and how it can become more successful that way.'

Last year, the UEA opened the Enterprise Centre as an incubator unit for start-ups and innovators at the university, and Ms Jones said she hoped to build on the success of the UEA's existing spin-out companies.

'Successful partnerships like that are genuinely to the betterment of both sides. Businesses get the resources and research and talented people, and get the experience of a wider network. It's about taking it out of the realms of academia and making it happen,' she said.

Karen Jones can still remember her first – and only – visit to the careers centre during her final year at the University of East Anglia.

'They asked me to rank three skills: creativity, business and people,' she says.

'Looking back, I think I probably put business last. Ironic, right?'

Those three elements are now back on the mind of the co-founder of Cafe Rouge again as she begins her tenure as the chancellor of the University of East Anglia.

Having enjoyed a successful career in restaurants and hospitality, including seven years as chief executive of the Spirit pub group, she now hopes to use her position – and her origins as an English graduate who studied under authors Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson – to encourage a spirit of entrepreneurship throughout the university's student body.

'I would argue that those three things – creativity, business and people – meet in entrepreneurship,' she says.

'It's funny that at that time they were seen as distinct choices, because I think that the way business has moved is that those three are now very much linked.'

Ms Jones takes over as chancellor from Rose Tremain as part of a new leadership team which is aiming to sharpen the university's focus on business.

The appointments are part of the UEA's move to build and strengthen a culture of entrepreneurship – something which Ms Jones believes serves a function beyond its business sense.

'Particularly in post-Brexit Britain, we must really think about fostering talent and fostering our businesses and having really world-beating businesses in the UK,' she says.

'University should be three years where vibrant ideas come to the fore, opportunities are discussed and pursued, friendships and potential business partnerships are built. It should be where ideas are born.'

The UEA already has a track record of successful spin-out businesses which include drug-screening company Intelligent Fingerprinting and image specialists Spectral Edge, while links with industry bring the university around £30m in annual income.

It is also ranked in top 10 in the UK for the number of graduate start-ups and social enterprises established, and last year opened the low-carbon Enterprise Centre to house new businesses and innovators. But an injection of entrepreneurial spirit – and the can-do attitude it brings – can benefit even those without business ambitions, believes Ms Jones.

'In a tightening job market, the feeling that you need to have a plan is very daunting – a lot of students don't,' she says.

'But your twenties can be a period of trying things out and having the courage and confidence to say something is not working out.

'Life is very long and working life is a long time, so if you can find what really satisfies you it's an enormously important thing in life and, symbiotically, in business.'

She also hopes to break down the barriers between the arts and business, drawing on her own background studying English and American Studies at the time the UEA's creative writing course was forging its reputation.

'It's not humanities versus sciences these days. The way to look at business has to be holistic,' she says.

'Think about how businesses have moved from being purely based on IQ to also being based on EQ [emotional quotient] – that's what good business is these days.

'I would never have done a maths degree, but when you look at the quantitative part of business, because it's your business, it suddenly becomes fascinating.'

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