Book Review – Bold As Brass By Hilary Devey

Hilary DeveyA couple of years ago I fell in love with reading business biographies, went out and bought about 30 of  them then got bored of reading them. Just this week I picked up Hilary Devey’s autobiography titled, Bold As Brass and remembered why I fell in love with reading business biography’s in the first place. For those who don’t know Hilary, she became popular after appearing on the reality TV shows, Undercover Millionaire and Dragons Den. She is the founder of Pall-Ex, the UK’s number one palletized freight distribution network with an annual turnover of about £100 million.

But Hilary’s autobiography is no ordinary one. It’s not about money, to be precise I will say it’s not about her money at all. I’ve read a couple with the entrepreneur almost singing their praise and how great they are at making money. This is not something that Hilary does in the book. The book has 341 pages and 24 chapters and Hilary does not talk about the business that made her a fortune until page 186, chapter 13, more than half way through the book.

I would love to have reviewed each of the book’s chapters, I can’t do that with this one. But here is what I think, if you are ready for a roller coaster  of a story that will take you through a series of emotions then this book’s for you. It might even succeed in bringing tears to your eyes. Hilary starts off with her family story which takes a large part of the book. She talks about her rather unstable childhood of moving all around and never staying long enough in one place to have a normal childhood. She mentions being raped at the age of 12 which was really sad. At this point I wanted to put the book down because I was raging with anger. I wanted to step into the book and strangle the bastard that took advantage of a 12 year old vulnerable girl who was not even aware of what was happening around her.

By the age of 12 Hilary was almost running her dad’s pubs (pubs because he changed them often). And that is where she got a lot of business experience. Hilary also served in the Women’s Royal Air Force for 2 years. She believes this taught her some stability and structure after a turbulent young life. After that she did a couple of jobs before landing in logistics which is where she built her career. She worked for a couple of logistic companies building a strong reputation and decided to start a company which solved some of the problems in the industry she had noticed. No wonder she was awarded a CBE in 2013 partly for services to the transport industry.

Hilary would go through three marriages and she does admit that she has a terrible taste for men, go on to feature in the Secret Millionaire and Dragon’s Den. She also suffered some health problems including a serious stroke. But probably the greatest problem she faced was her son’s addiction to heroin. Hilary had always prided herself on being in control and having the ability to face problems and solve them. This was one problem that her strong will and persistence could not solve. Although it’s now behind her, it took a lot out of her. For me there were three key learning points from the book, specifically in the area of leadership:

  1. I learnt that our past stories are important. We can’t forget them and we can use them to make us stronger or they can become a source of pain. Hilary used her past experiences to become a fighter which gave her the strength to start a world class company.
  2. You can’t lead without working hard. Probably one of the things that makes Hilary stand out in an industry dominated by men is her hard work, which few in the industry could stand up to.
  3. Leaders don’t take no for an answer easily. When Hilary was about to start Pall-Ex she needed an extra £20,000. She went to see a bank manager who treated her like an idiot. He thought her plan was not workable and also looked down on her because she was a woman. Hilary would sell a lot of her personal possessions to raise the money. The rest is history. I wonder where that bank manager is now?

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