Female Founders: In Conversation with Kate Bright

Entrepreneur. Pioneer. Change agent. In conversation with Kate Bright, Founder and CEO of UMBRA International.

What was your journey to founding UMBRA? 

My journey to setting up the business started straight after I left University in 2001. I spent fifteen years working for international families in family and private offices, managing the day to day lifestyle management as well as having responsibility for the private staffing teams, including security personnel.  Working with these clients I saw first-hand how important robust and lifestyle relevant security was to their lives. Even more so that the lifestyle they wanted to live was in part dictated by the security measures put in place to protect them. Inspired by the teams I had worked with on the client side of my career I embarked on the SIA accredited Close Protection training.  This experience gave me a deep understanding of what first class security looked like and what was needed to achieve a ‘Secure Lifestyle’.  Seeing the need for a different approach to support and a gap in the market I set up my business, providing bespoke protective and proactive secure lifestyle solutions.

What does a secure lifestyle encompass?

A ‘Secure Lifestyle’ is having security and safety for every aspect of your life.  It is not just people and properties that need protection, your lifestyle does too.  We provide this through our three business services - recruitment of trusted personnel, good advisory and bringing together the best supplier partners through a security concierge approach.

Secure Lifestyle has become synonymous with our work, and I’m proud to have brought a new definition and paradigm to an industry that I work across.  We define Secure Lifestyle as the ‘the ability to live in today’s world safely, and with appropriate access to knowledge and understanding of where you and your family need protection’.

For UMBRA clients this can mean a range of things; it is all dependent on the needs of the individual and their family.  It could be personal protection, security of their assets and online activity all the way through to a child’s education and travel.  Providing a feeling of security through delivery of practical solutions and trusted advisory is what we do.

My aim is to make a Secure Lifestyle accessible to all, and make security relevant and demystify some of its preconceptions so that more people can take responsibility for their safety and insecurities, and feel secure in an increasingly complex world.

What is invisible security?

Invisible Security initially was my way of referring to the approach that UMBRA was founded on, my own experiences of using female Operatives, discreet teams, and an approach which was not visible or overt. It now applies more broadly to the business where we keep our client’s lives ‘safe’ through a wide range of sometimes non-visible methods across their whole lifestyle – online and offline.

Secure tech is especially important, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. This invisible aspect of security, cyber and digital, is a huge part of our work and increasingly important for all our clients and their families.

Which challenges did you face when founding UMBRA and how did you overcome them?

I faced the challenges that all new businesses face when setting up; so many new areas of business to get to grips with, not enough hours in the day and being entirely responsible for everything suddenly.  It could feel lonely and overwhelming at times.   

I have many amazing mentors who seem to be inspired by what we are doing and what we want to achieve in the future.  It was being surrounded by these brilliant people, at the outset and still today, that has been transformational for me and the business.  I had grown an excellent network over the years and I was always looking at ways to collaborate and support others.  This is turn meant that I had this great group of people around me offering excellent advice.  It was making the most of this support that helped me navigate the many challenges and obstacles that would come my way.    

You founded ‘The Network,’ which now connects Executive Assistants and Chiefs of Staff in London, and globally, including Dubai and New York. How do you harness the power of collaboration in your personal and professional life?

Looking back now, cofounding The Network in 2003/2004 was the single best professional decision of my entire career, not that I knew it way back then. We are now a group of over 100 professionals working for high profile and wealthy individuals, all able to network and information share privately for the benefit of our clients.

As I’ve alluded to above, I am only able to run UMBRA through the collaborative power of my extended networks, and I remind myself daily how important my Personal and Executive Assistant, then Chief of Staff career was in helping me to have the confidence to start and grow the business.

Having a global network has enabled me not only to advance professionally but also to enjoy a wide variety of friendships across the world, from all walks of life, with different perspectives, and I enjoy my travel time.

I’ve always believed I am better in a team, probably from my obsession with where business can learn so much from professional sports, and I am always keen to harness the expertise of those around me, and try to encourage others see its benefits also.

What is your advice for female entrepreneurs? 

Advice for anyone setting up a business, including those who may not feel as confident as they should is to surround yourself with amazing people in your personal and professional life; those who support and question in equal measure.  We know that women generally do not believe in themselves as much as they should do so ensuring you equip yourself with the support you need to succeed is important.

Don’t be afraid of hiring those ‘better’ or more experienced than you – I’ve discovered the benefits of this and it is something to embrace.  It is also important to access people with specialist skills – a great accountant, HR specialist, and expert legal advice, are all essential.  I’ve had the best outcomes where I articulate what good would look like for me and the business and then let the experts tell me how they would approach it.

It is also important to say where you think you’ve made mistakes, move quickly to ensure you can move forward rather than beating yourself up about the error, learn from it and move on.

Don’t wait till you have ‘the plan’ to kick off, start to formulate the plan as you go, as useful as a business plan is as a map I think that the best experience of whether a product or service will sell, is to try and sell it. Simple as that.

Make sure you have enough people who can back your gravitas and experience – whether in the same sector or a sector aligned to the business you want to set up, champions, ambassadors and those who know your capabilities professionally will be great mouthpieces for you as you start.

Coaching has been key for me, and I’m definitely the first to admit I was late to the party, with ‘growing the business’ my excuse not to invest the time and resources into developing myself along the way. I’m making up for lost time now, and I work with a number of specialists including Rebecca Priestley who works with The Preston Associates; the work has been transformational and essential to my growth. I work with a range of experts to help me manage my physical fitness – trainers, nutritionists, and wellness experts undergoing courses from meditation and workshops to better my technique in yoga, why would I not for my personal growth and mental fitness? The combination gives me a range of tools in my toolkit for when the going gets tough, especially a global pandemic getting in the way of best laid plans!

And mostly, dig in. Look after yourself on the journey. A client once said to me ‘don’t underestimate the power of looking after the container Kate’ – container being your human self. My daily focus is on how me and my container can be the best I can be, and these days sleep, rest, exercise, mental fitness, friends and family and then work is the order of prioritisation. You can’t help others and be effective when you’re not putting your own oxygen mask on first.

Just 5.75% of Close Protection Operatives are female.  How do you make diversity a key component of your business DNA?

The Security Industry has long lagged behind others, even in policing and military, in terms of gender representation, or in fully representing a diverse and inclusive workforce. I had not realised this when coming into this industry but it is now something I am committed to having a positive impact on.

Diversity and inclusivity are at the heart of everything we do within the UMBRA infrastructure. Whether it is preparing a brief for a client about an integrated team to work with them, from PA, to Security Teams, to Private Office staff, to making sure that our own team is educated in and representative of these issues, and leading by example.

The business case is ever expanding for more a more inclusive mindset when it comes to delivering a Secure Lifestyle for our clients. Our client base is increasingly younger, living globally (pandemic permitting), and with ever shifting cultural reference points and priorities. So we can’t afford NOT to focus on where diversity of thought and action can differentiate us and help us deliver the best possible service to our clients.

At Kleinwort Hambros our role is to take care of financial wellbeing and security. What parallels do you see between these sectors? 

Much like our focus on the holistic meaning of the word ‘security’ and our approach in dealing with client insecurities I do think there are great parallels that can be drawn between the worlds of finance and security. Both are focused on creating a protective yet empowering infrastructure for a client, and both need to take into account life, lifestyle and family considerations that go beyond a tick box exercise.

Finance can seem a very complex, highly ‘out of reach’ sector given the expertise required to work in it and the terminology and specialist areas across it.  This can alienate people and lead to people putting their heads in the sand and not engaging with important financial information in their lives for fear of not ‘getting it’.  This is the same with security and this is why we are so committed to making a Secure Lifestyle - and the steps required to ensure this - available not just to our clients but people more broadly.  It is our responsibility to make these specialisms accessible and act as responsible and trusted intermediaries. 

It is no coincidence that we align ourselves closely with KH and its values, since our clients are one and the same, and our shared mindset creates a better client experience for a client.  This is particularly important when engaging with finance and security through a life changing moment, such as divorce or family upheaval.

In my own personal life, with my team, and certainly with my clients I will always be looking at ways to understand where, if any, more support than the obvious services we supply can be of help.  This is why I am undertaking a Mental Health First Aider course this year.  It is something that feels really important to be on top of when mental health challenges are so rife, so being equipped to responsibly support people both professionally and personally is vital to me.

What’s next for UMBRA International?

I would like to grow the business without losing its values of family focus, transparency, value and collaboration. We are looking to raise capital or bring on a co-partner with a vested interest and who shares the passion and excitement for the growth plan.  This feels punchy post pandemic, but we have a solid plan, and initially will look to our immediate network and some longer term clients who have already expressed an interest in seeing me grow the business. This will allow us to do even more of the work that I am passionate about and allow for increased headcount and overseas expansion. 

What legacy would you like to create?

I would love to devote more focus on our UMBRA Academy - the philanthropic and double bottom line / ‘profit for purpose’ activities UMBRA spearheads to make security accessible to all. I would love to raise more funds for protection for those in severe domestic abuse situations and for wider recruitment and apprenticeship schemes to remove barriers to entry into the industry, increasing its diversity and inclusion.

We were doing really well with our partnerships within sport to bring ex athletes into security – particularly in the world of rugby with Harlequins Women, Saracens RFU and the Welsh Rugby Players Union. With the future of sport very much impacted on every level post Covid it would be amazing if our reach was able to help those suffering in this area too. I have always believed that business can learn so much from sport, and that recycling ex pro sporting talent into security is such an interesting angle, so I’m committed to pushing forward with this part of our work.

We want to raise more funds in general  for wider recruitment and apprenticeship schemes to remove barriers to entry into the industry, increasing its diversity and inclusion.

I want to leave behind something positive for the world, and impact the lives of those who think security is just for the few – making the industry accessible will be our biggest achievement.

Connect with Kate Bright on LinkedIn or call 0208133 6888 for more information.