Geeta Sidhu-Robb CEO and Founder, Nosh Infusion Clinic and Nosh Detox
You were fresh out of university and ready for the world. What did you do first?
I worked as a lawyer in England for a couple of years and then in Moscow. I came back here in 1996 because I was standing for parliament: I was the first non-white woman that stood for parliament for the conservative party in this country. Then I found out I was pregnant on the same day I got selected for a seat, so that went down not at all well - this was like 200 years ago, so they certainly wanted to shoot me as apparently you couldn't have babies and a brain at the same time. I had my son in October, then I stood for parliament the next year in May and it was a landslide Labour win, so I didn’t win the seat, but I got roughly11/12,000 votes.
You decided to move away from law afterwards, why was that?
My son fell very ill. Well, he wasn’t really that well during that process but he got more and more ill, so I spent the next six months basically in and out of hospital. At around eighteen months, he had a cardiorespiratory arrest - his heart stopped beating - and had to be resuscitated. He spent a week in intensive care in St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. It was life-changing, you don’t think it at the time but it was sort of like being on a ball and I was facing that way, then I was facing this way. I couldn’t hold down my job because I used to sleep on the hospital floor at night with my son, bring him back home… we'd recover and then he’d get sick again. I remember coming back from the hospital once and I was so tired because you don’t want to leave your baby in hospital, so I had hired somebody who could come in the daytime for a few hours so I could go home. I remember coming in, closing the door of the flat I was living in and sitting on the floor with my back against the door. I woke up there 3 hours later.
So what was it exactly that led you into consulting?
I had two more kids and then I got divorced. I ended up as a single parent when my son was about seven. I also had a three and a one-year old. It was a really bad time; I basically picked up the kids and walked out with no money at all, we couldn’t get any money out of the courts. We ended up sleeping at a friend’s house on her floor, I’d had some experience of that on hospital floors, and we stayed there for six months. It was one of the most difficult things that had ever happened and I just needed to find a way to make a living. I had to pay the bills and put the kids through school, so I did. I just took on consulting jobs… I was a corporate negotiator, so I used to be able to negotiate deals and things, but you had to do it all in a very small amount of time. I got really good at doing it quickly - people would say, 'We’re having a problem here: these guys won’t sign this deal, can you fix it?' and I’d be like, 'Okay, if it takes me one day give me £10,000, if it takes two days give me £9000 etc.' So I had an incentive to get it done as quickly as possible and go back home to the kids. I did that for a couple of years and made enough money to rent my own place after six months. After another year, we moved to a slightly bigger place.
You now have your own business, Nosh Detox, a drastic change from law and consulting - how did that come about?
In 2007, my friend came to see me, saying, 'I’ve had two children in one year and I can’t see my feet, I’m fat… fix me. I said, 'Ah that’s so easy, just do this, this, this and this' and I sent her away. She came back around six weeks later, she’d dropped two and a half dress sizes, and she said, 'My god, Geeta, people would give you money for this'. I’d spent all those years making my son better, so I knew a lot about the human body, I knew a lot about health because I was self-taught. I had also done some courses along the way; as soon as something worked, I would learn how to do it. Some things would work on my son and some things wouldn’t. When things would work, I would go, 'Right, where do I learn more about this?' and I would learn about it. I had a certain number of degrees, so it was easy to just apply those skills. I had a £2000 overdraft in one bank that I hadn’t used. So I used that overdraft to set NOSH up. We couldn’t afford to fail.
You must have had transferable skills but how did you train yourself from knowing nothing about starting a business?
What I was trained to do was to read a lot of really turgid information, make a decision and pick out the prevenient details. I’ve never changed using that skillset, so even now when I want to know something, I will find a book or find a person. I’m always learning, always researching, always thinking. That never changes. If somebody were to come in with a problem, I’d research and then go, 'Okay, let’s try this,' and it would work, so you’d put that information into your information bank. I got very, very, very good at sales when I was trying to survive with the kids because there were so many things that you didn’t know you could ever do unti you had to do them for your kids. I learnt how to ask people to things, I learnt how to sell things. I didn’t know how to set up a business, so I put myself through an MBA and learnt how to add up. I also went and did a course on being a raw chef because I really believe in raw food and the power of it. I found that energy healing was a really amazing technique, so I went off and did a course on energy healing for a year and a half. I just learn all the time.
Now what I do is I think at the beginning of every year, 'What do I want to learn this year?' and I will find the person, the place, the thing that will teach me that and absolutely go for it until I have that learning in my system. For example, last year I retrained as a health coach, which has been fantastic; it’s really brought in a couple of hundred thousand pounds in business for me and will bring in a lot more. But it’s changed how my business has developed as well. I used to fly in and out of Hollywood because I had clients there and I saw an actor getting an injection. I asked him, 'What’s in that?' and he replied, 'Oh, have you never heard of a vitamin B12 injection?' and I said that I hadn't. This was in 2012 and I thought, 'Wow, that’s so clever!' So I researched it for the whole of 2012, opened it as a business in 2013 and then opened Nosh Infusion Clinic in Harvey Nichols last Thursday.
It’s funny because in my bookshelves I have How to Set up a Business, and I used to say things like, 'What’s marketing? How do you market?' So I learned that, and then I didn’t know what a margin was! I literally downloaded videos on YouTube and sat there until I learnt what a margin was. Then I implement the crap out of everything, always. I’m not trying to tell you I’m great at everything, there’s so much I still don’t know and haven’t learnt and need to work out. But the thing is that you get the confidence that it will happen.
Do you feel that your degrees in law have been useful for what you’re doing now?
Oh my god. My daughter hates me because I’m always saying, 'Everyone should go to law school, after that I don’t care what you do.' I cannot tell you how useful it has been. It’s not just the degree that’s useful, it’s the skills that you pick up from it. You’d never imagine being a lawyer would be a great way to become a health expert but we literally, my business and I, have changed the health landscape of the country over the last ten years. It’s the ability to take yourself seriously, knowing that you’ve gone and got that degree that gives you self-respect. And for women that’s quite a hard thing, because there’s a lot of low self-esteem these days among women. So it was the skills that I picked up, the knowledge that I’d completed that discipline. I cannot recommend it enough, I really can’t.
As a single parent, did you struggle balancing work with childcare?
It sucked because there was nobody else, I just didn’t have any back up at all. It was terrible, a real struggle. But because of that, I had my office in my house. In fact my admin office, to this day, is still in my house. The phenomenon of women being the sole providers for their family is something of our generation now. It never used to be like that; you’d have either two people that worked or the husband paid the bills. My sixteen-year-old daughter, for example, didn’t know that men actually went to work because she’d never seen a man work, she’d only ever seen a woman go to work. It’s a different upbringing completely. I gave up my legal job consciously because I knew I’d never see the kids and I thought there must be another way to do this.
You know what it is… it’s like this: the secret I think to anything is to make sure that your Sat Nav is set in the way that you want to go. If your Sat Nav is set to Cardiff and you’re trying to get to Paris… it’s going to take you a f**k of a long time to get to Paris. And I have the same principles in my business - there are certain things we will never do. We got offered a sandwich contract from a huge company and I wanted that contract so badly I wanted to cry. It was something ridiculous: thousands of pounds every week! I really needed that money, but we don’t do that; we don’t do bread, we don’t do gluten and we don’t do dairy. People’s lives are much harder because I think they don’t know what they will and won’t do. For me, because I’ve been lucky enough to be pestered so severely with my son’s illnesses and going from living in an £8,000,000 house to then being homeless, I understand very clearly what I will never do.
Which women either professionally or personally inspire you?
I bet you a million dollars you wouldn’t know what I was going to say. I do like the kind of women who break down barriers, but I have a slightly cranky sense of humour so I like the ones who break down barriers in their own way. Madonna has always been, to me, an icon of doing things her way, so I find that very inspiring. I do find your traditional people like Margaret Thatcher because I love politics. So what Theresa May has achieved has been a miracle, I think. If you look at Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian, people like that, these women are massively inspiring. In my house, it’s quite funny because when I look at all these product launches and say, 'Wow, look how they’ve launched this product, isn’t it interesting'. Paris Hilton turns over a couple of million per year and look at Kim Kardashian. For me, what these women have done is they’ve broken the mold of what is supposed to be the way to build a business. I absolutely have never believed in the status quo. I think you should blow it up and throw it out with the bath water and go, 'Screw that!' We are always doing that in my business. So this crop of women are very interesting: self-disciplined, strong as hell, they really have to be self-motivated, they have to have a very strong sense of what they think will work. To me, those are all the qualities that are very inspiring in any human being.
So, do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes? I mean, is there a way of not being one? Let’s not forget that I’m an Indian girl from an upper class family and I was meant to get educated, look pretty and get married. And so when you look at that and then think about what I have done with my life, I’m absolutely a rebel.
Were your family always supportive of you?
No, really not. Well, yes and no. When I went into politics, my father was really supportive but the community was massively unsupportive because Indian women didn’t do this. Then when it came to leaving my husband, my father had died and my mother was very against it. She literally turned her back on us and it was very painful because I was just not supposed to do that. And I had tried and tried and tried but I just thought, 'You know what, I’m not living here. I’m not living like this anymore.' What I have found is that I have created my own family, my own community, out of close friends and people that I love and who love me. My children are part of this familial unit as well. I think in today’s world, we make more of those kinds of families: I have five children, I gave birth to three and kept the two children from my previous relationship because I’d mothered them from the age of about three. They're my kids as well. I take them on holiday, they do most of the summer with me. If we’re going shopping for bras, it’s all of them, not just the girls I gave birth to. So I think the definition of family has moved along with everything else. I find that very hard I have to say, because I was brought up so traditionally thinking of family as your mother and your father, but it took everything to fall apart for me to rethink it all.
What advice would you give to anyone at the end of his or her degree who’s struggling with what to do next?
I literally hated being a lawyer. But you never need to know what you want to do, you just need to know that you’re passionate about it. We struggle with such low self-esteem, it’s actually an epidemic in our time today. The things we’re best at are what we value the least. So the way to do it is to get the people around you, including your family, and say, 'What do you think I’m best at?' Use that profile, even if you don't believe it. Take that profile and think, 'What jobs use these skill sets?' Write down six or seven jobs and finally think, 'Which sound like they're not work?' Then try those.
You need to understand that it takes you a little bit of time ofdoing different things to get it right. You guys are never going to have careers the way that we did, even I didn’t have a career the way that the generation before me did. What you want to do is course-correct. So course-correcting is: I want this course here, I’ll just correct one degree… Okay, now I’m here. I’ll correct another degree… Okay, now I’m here. Gently course-correct until you’re in the place that you want to be. Small adjustments. I call it course-correcting, but you make small adjustments and failure is a sign that you’re trying! I have zero issues with failing; I fail at s**t all the time. I do a lot of keynotes, a lot of speaking and I’m always the one that will stand up and go, 'Here’s what happens when you screw up'. That’s what I think. What I’ve done is a triumph of screwing up regularly.
Geeta’s new Nosh Infusion Clinic can be found in Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge. You can also book in with Geeta for a free 45-minute Health Strategy Session to help you achieve your health goals.
Interview by Rowan Taylor
What did we learn from Geeta?
You don’t have to commit to one career path for the rest of your life - it’s important to realise your assets to find relevant jobs that you’ll love
Doing a law degree doesn’t necessarily lead to you being a lawyer - as Geeta describes, it is a highly rewarding degree that will provide you with many important and widely applicable life skills
When starting a business it’s important to continuously learn and improve your knowledge and implement that learning
Never stick to the status quo - be yourself and be different
You can hit absolute rock bottom and still manage to spring yourself back up again; as Geeta has proved you can build yourself up from nothing. The world really is your oyster.
What do you like, what do you not like, what was useful, what should we have asked instead? Please give us your feedback
"I’m always learning, always researching, always thinking"
Geeta Sidhu-Robb talks to us about how she went from homelessness to becoming a multi-award winning entrepreneur, and her thoughts on why we should all be doing law degrees
Leighton Park, Reading
A-Levels: English, French, and Maths
University of Buckingham
Degree: Law (2:2)
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Post-grad: International Finance Law
Conservative Party Member - Ran for parliament in 1996 and 1997.
Corporate Lawyer, England
Corporate Lawyer, Moscow
CEO, Broadband Africa Ltd
CEO and Founder, Nosh Detox Delivery Ltd
CEO and Founder, Nosh Infusion Clinic