The Finalists of the Black British Business Awards 2023

Words by
Sphere Editors

25th September 2023

‘Excited,’ ‘honoured’, even ‘humbling’ – these are just some of the emotions felt by finalists of this year’s Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards). Join us as we speak to five of this year's finalists, from triumphs and challenges to hopes for the awards.

Presented by the Black British Business Awards

Since these prestigious awards were launched in 2014, the outstanding achievements of many inspirational Black British professionals and entrepreneurs have been recognised, promoting inclusion in the workplace and ensuring that diversity remains at the forefront of business and debate.

For the past decade, the BBBAwards has identified role models and mentors across multiple business sectors, from finance and technology to law and fashion, entertainment and retail, and this year’s shortlisted finalists are no exception. We spoke to five of this year’s finalists to hear about their career journeys, their triumphs and challenges – and their hopes for this year’s awards.

Introducing the Black British Business Awards Finalists 2023

‘I’m so proud to be associated with the BBBAwards and all the wonderful work they’re doing,’ says Kelsa Albert, Senior Learning Experience Manager at Deckers Brands, who is shortlisted in the Consumer & Luxury category. ‘These awards give us a platform, exposure and network that we would not have had otherwise. I’ve already met so many incredibly talented and successful people, including a potential mentor for the future, so even being a finalist has had huge career development opportunities for me.’

Black British Business Awards - Kelsa Albert
Kelsa Albert, Senior Learning Experience Manager at Deckers Brands

Alexis Cepeda Maule, also a finalist in Consumer & Luxury is the Managing Director of UK and Europe for Reformation, a sustainable luxury women’s brand founded in Los Angeles backed by Permira Private Equity. She says: ‘Awards and organisations like the BBBAwards are immensely important in promoting minority talent and role models in the UK. By showcasing diverse talent, these awards inspire and motivate others to pursue their aspirations, ultimately breaking down barriers and promoting greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace.’

‘The awards have been exceptional in highlighting the abundant Black talent that exists within the UK,’ says finalist Tobi Demuren, Global Head of Advocacy Marketing at LinkedIn, shortlisted for an Arts & Media award. ‘Winning would be a significant honour for me, but what matters even more is the elevation and empowerment of Black leaders on a national scale.’


Black British Business Awards - Oluwatobi Demuren
Oluwatobi "Tobi" Demuren, Global Head of Advocacy Marketing at LinkedIn

Chloë Downes, nominated in the Entrepreneur category, is CEO of SHFT, an influencer talent management agency. ‘I think the BBBAwards is an incredible initiative and platform for all Black British professionals, but especially those in spaces where they may not see Black people in managerial positions,’ she says. ‘It’s really important to see yourself in the positions you want to get to, so I think the BBBAwards are integral to showing young people how much they can achieve.’

BBBAwards Entrepreneur finalist brothers Myles and Bradley founded creative and strategic insight marketing consultancy Jensen & Jensen in 2018, and work with brands including David Morris, Manchester City, Hyatt and Deliveroo. ‘The BBBAwards not only validate success but also shine a spotlight on emerging Black businesses and entrepreneurs,’ says Myles. ‘The BBBAwards are a springboard for Black British businesses to be globally recognised.’

Like many people in these highly competitive industries, all of this year’s finalists had to overcome hurdles from the start and throughout their careers.

Black British Business Awards - Myles and Bradley Jensen
Myles and Bradley Jensen, founders of creative and strategic insight marketing consultancy Jensen & Jensen

As a marketer, Tobi found mastering the art of self-promotion and effectively selling his ideas a significant but crucial challenge, and tackled it by practising public speaking, learning how to simplify complex topics and making sure his passion for his work came across.

For Kelsa, it was the worry that people weren’t taking her seriously – a belief she initially shared herself. ‘I needed to overcome the personal hurdle of trusting myself and being more confident,’ says Kelsa. ‘If I doubted myself, then participants in my training sessions were bound to be doing the same!’ Completing a Master’s in Organisational Psychology was a turning point for her, as having the academic evidence to back up her ideas was a huge confidence booster. ‘My advice to others would be to read that book, or take that course, because you can never be overeducated,’ says Kelsa. ‘And find yourself a cheerleader or two!’

Black British Business Awards - Alexis Cepeda Maule
Alexis Capeda Maula, Director of UK and Europe for Reformation

Alexis also initially struggled with having the right skills for the job as she moved along her career journey. One challenge was breaking into the hi-tech industry without an engineering background or product management experience, which she overcame by seeking out operational projects and working closely with technology teams, becoming instrumental in the technology roadmap process.

‘Additionally, I encountered obstacles related to navigating workplace dynamics working in a different country from headquarters and building strong relationships overseas,’ she says. ‘But these challenges have made me more resilient and adaptable, and I've learned valuable lessons from each experience.’

For her part, Chloë had challenges which are likely to resonate with many BBBAwards entrants. ‘When I first started in this industry, I would be the only person of colour at the vast majority of industry events I attended,’ she recalls. ‘I had no-one in the industry that looked like me or who was from a similar background, so I had to forge my own path. Marketing is a very white, middle-class industry and even now, as someone who owns an agency, I’m often met with surprise when I tell people I’m the agency’s founder or people will approach my white, male colleague, thinking that he’s my manager.’

Black British Business Awards - Chloë Downes
Chloë Downes, CEO of SHFT

So how important is it to these five finalists that British businesses improve diversity throughout their workforce and if so, what are the best ways in which this can be done?

Says Kelsa: ‘Research tells us that the more diverse an organisation is, the more financially successful it is. From a personal perspective, the diversity I see in the neighbourhoods I’ve lived in is rarely reflected in the corporate environments I’ve worked in. Often at senior levels the talent pools are not diverse enough, and subsequently there’s less diversity. If we could be more open to recruiting people from different industries, this could help widen talent pools and lead to more diverse senior talent.’

Alexis agrees: ‘While some progress has been made, I believe British businesses can improve diversity throughout their workplace. It starts with fostering a culture of inclusion, where diverse voices are not only heard but actively valued and considered in decision-making processes. Companies should prioritise diverse hiring practices, implement bias training for employees, and establish clear paths for career advancement for underrepresented groups. Businesses risk losing top talent if they do not meet this challenge.'

Interestingly, SHFT has chosen not to mention diversity or inclusion anywhere on its website, the reason being, explains Chloë, is ‘it’s become a buzzword within the marketing industry and no longer holds much weight - it’s something that a lot of companies advertise but very little truly do. We haven’t strived to be diverse or inclusive because it is innate and by it being in the core of what we do and who we are, we have a diverse workforce and talent roster.’

The finalists all practise what they preach: SHFT has pioneered a new hiring structure that aims to bring more people of colour and people from working-class backgrounds into the industry while Kelsa implemented a development program in her previous role that fostered a culture of inclusion throughout the global workforce. At LinkedIn Tobi helped develop a program designed to elevate and empower leaders from under-represented ethnic backgrounds. Alexis has championed external organisations that work towards promoting racial equality and creating opportunities for underrepresented communities such as Fashion Minority Alliance and 10,000 Black Interns in the UK, and Jensen & Jensen supports Black-owned businesses, including partnerships with Inclusion Diversity Nuclear, Chapmans of London, Shakara, MSDUK, and the International Festival of Hip Hop.

‘A diverse workforce allows companies to tap into various cultural perspectives. This, in turn, helps businesses create a modern representation of Britain, a nation characterised by multiculturalism, especially London,’ says Myles Jensen. ‘Our conscious decision to collaborate with individuals who share our background and values goes beyond mentorship; it puts money in their pockets, supporting their business and personal growth.’

Black British Business Awards - Finalist Event
Event for the Black British Business Awards Finalists 2023

What advice would our five finalists give to their younger selves, or people wishing to follow a similar career path today?

Tobi, who works in the constantly evolving advertising industry, said the key to staying ahead is to ‘embrace curiosity and lifelong learning as part of a daily routine’, while Kelsa quotes Oscar Wilde: ‘You can never be overdressed or overeducated.’

Says Alexis: ‘People wishing to follow a similar career path [to mine] today should work hard and believe in themselves and their abilities. They should seek out mentors and role models who have achieved success in their desired field and learn from their experiences, and be persistent and proactive in pursuing opportunities and be willing to step outside their comfort zone to grow professionally and personally.’

Not following an expected path is advice Chloë wishes she’d been given. ‘I think a lot of people like me from working class backgrounds feel like we need to go to university because we have the opportunity to. If I could do it again, I would go straight into work. That’s not saying that no-one should go to university, but it wasn’t the best choice for me.’

Myles Jensen’s calming advice is to embrace ‘the concept of patience. Success isn't an overnight achievement; it requires consistent effort and unwavering persistence. Additionally, kindness goes a long way. Treat people with respect and compassion; it not only fosters a positive work environment but also helps you maintain motivation when faced with challenges.’

The finalists will find out who has won the prestigious BBBAwards at a ceremony in London on 13th October, but for these shortlisted candidates, being shortlisted is a thrill in itself. Says Chloë: ‘I am someone who is quite competitive but, and I say this sincerely, I am truly honoured just to be nominated. I’m alongside such incredible people that being recognised alongside them is a massive achievement in itself.’