Within the first chapter alone, we see anecdotes that lead us back to that crawling feeling all entrepreneurial spirits get; that ache that pulls them back to entrepreneurship, no matter how far they get in their escape. No matter how ingrained you get into the landscape of a corporation, company, or brand, there is still a piece of you that wants to tinker with brand new ideas, concepts, and beginnings.
Ahead of Her Time, by Judy Piatkus — and why you should read it
Ahead of Her Time by Judy Piatkus packs in so much insight, industry information and thrilling anecdotes that the book feels like a roller coaster… one you don’t necessarily want to get off anytime soon. The first sentence of the second chapter reveals that it was at the tender age of 24 that Piatkus co-founded Severn House, a relatively well-known British publishing company.
She scraped together her half of the initial investment for the company with her savings and an incredible support system and wasn’t afraid to ask for financial support during a time when no one was really investing in the minds of women, and female entrepreneurs were few and far between. (In fact, research suggests that there are still far more male entrepreneurs than female entrepreneurs because of overconfidence.) And back in the 1970s, Piatkus co-created and ran this company largely remotely – over the phone with occasional meetings – making her far ahead of her time in so many ways already.
We come to find in chapter four that she founded her very own imprint, Piatkus Books – which she would, much later, go on to sell during the age of the Kindle and the birth of Amazon a mere five years later. Two publishing companies that are well-established and still in operation today, all before age 30 while raising a family. Having decided to go in on this new project on her own, she delved right into work while pregnant with her second child, and did so from home, perhaps helping to pave the way for our current, widely adapted, work from home model.
Piatkus Books — and Judy herself — became a pioneer of sorts for the romance commercial fiction and self-help genres. Bestselling novelist Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, J.D. Robb, J. R. Ward, Christine Feehan, Jennifer Weiner, Julia Quinn (author of The Bridgerton series), Lisa Ballantyne, and more are counted on the imprint’s roster. The second person she ever signed to Piatkus Books was V.C. Andrews, who made a bit of a name for herself with gothic horror books in the 1980s.
Her 1979 cult hit Flowers in the Attic was – and continues to be – popular among the young adult crowd in Europe. In Ahead of Her Time, she shares an anecdote about her daughter coming home at age 14 and asking her to purchase a book for her so she can read it like everyone else. What she doesn’t realize is that her own mother published the book in 1979, while her imprint was still hot off the press itself. What a thrilling, emotional, wonderful connection to the art, its timeline, and process this book brings insight to!
Piatkus spends the majority of the book giving us whiplash as we jump from deep-seated lesson to glistening insight. For the entrepreneurial spirits in the house, chapter six, titled “Building a Company Culture,” is a must-read. Young companies teeter on a fine line doing this often, because of a simple fact Piatkus states very clearly:
“Everyone wants to get up each day and feel that their work has a purpose, that who they are and what they do matters to everyone else they work with.” Acknowledging that as someone who has spent most of her life as a high-level executive within her entrepreneurial efforts is absolutely wild.
This woman has developed a keen sense of empathy over the years, a fact that becomes obvious the further you delve into this read, and employs it in the culture of her company, as one should. Mere moments later, she states a fact all people in C-Suite roles should live by: “Your behavior must always be in alignment with the values of your enterprise. It is your actions that count. As a leader, you have to walk your talk and you have to do that every moment of every day.”
What you’ll learn while reading
Piatkus takes time throughout the book to dip out and acknowledge the people who have played a heavy role in her life. While the support seemed boundless early on in the novel, we later learn that she dreamt bigger than her first marriage allowed. So, while the business thrived and she was able to create a life she was passionate about, she was still living through difficult decisions, alternating plotlines that distracted her from her success. Plus, let’s not forget that this was all occurring during the 70s and 80s when businesswomen were few and far between.
“Nowadays there is so much help and support for entrepreneurs who want to launch their own business… But in the 1970s, it was very different. There were plenty of businessmen to talk to, but few businesswomen…”
Piatkus hit the nail on the head with this depressing fact, since 1972 claimed women-owned businesses only represented 4.6 percent of all businesses. As of 2019, they represented 42 percent of all U.S. businesses, up 4 percent from 2016, and employ almost 9.4 million people.
One very major tidbit we found within the pages of this sharp new read, however, would be Piatkus’ view on salaries within a startup, “I have always believed that it is very important to start taking a salary from your business as soon as possible. You have to put yourself first, factoring in all the time you are working.”
As someone who has thrown entrepreneurial effort into a lot of different projects, it can be easy to get lost in the project when there is no tangible, receivable outcome. Very quickly, one can experience burnout and feel underappreciated or undervalued, which can result in dispassionate employees and unproductive or uninspired work. (And yes. If this book tells you anything, it admits that this can happen to people in C-Suite roles too.) Knowing and assessing your value encourages the people around you to respect and value you and your work as well.