What does your role include?
My role is all about leading the team and driving the strategic direction of the business. And I like to be very hands-on, so I tend to get involved in all aspects of the business, particularly product development, film production, marketing and obviously the finance side of the business as well.
What is it the company does?
JML is a global company that sources innovative items, solutions to everyday problems, develops them and turns them into top selling consumer products. We then market these products to customers using videos which are played on screens in high street stores, on TV and, increasingly, online. We sell 15 million units globally every year; the company has an annual turnover of nearly £100m and our brands are available in more than 70 countries.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I graduated with a degree in electronic engineering and was planning to get a job in that field. But I felt I wasn’t quite ready to embark on a full-blown career, so I thought: OK, just do a sales job for a year, earn a bit of money and then get back into electronics.
I did my year in sales at a natural stone company and I was really surprised to find that I just loved it. So after spending some time travelling I came back, met John Mills, the founder of JML and got a job in sales at the company. The sales role expanded and I became sales manager, a sales director, and then sales and marketing director. Then in 2009 I became managing director, and in 2012, CEO. So I’ve worked my way up from the bottom.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
The great leaders I’ve admired over the years have all had one thing in common: they inspire belief. You buy into their ideas, believe in them and trust them. They’ve all been the kind of people who didn’t stay in their ivory tower but had the ability to engage directly with people, make staff follow them and also really make things happen.
Another attribute of a great leader is that they tend to make you feel like they’re really in control of the situation; that the business is in safe, very competent hands. As the CEO, I’m very conscious that staff need to feel this reassurance so I always want people to know that the senior management and I have a clear strategic vision and know how we are going to implement that vision.
I think it’s vital that everyone understands that we know precisely what it is we want to do, what we want to be, and where we want to be in three years’ time. I wouldn’t ever want there to be any confusion or any doubt about what JML’s brand and identity are, or what JML’s plans are - these kinds of key aspects of the business.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
I think it’s finding great people. Finding people who fit into the culture and ethos of the business, and at the same time people who can make things happen.
JML is a people business and the customer has to come first. They have to because we are creating proudcts that make their lives easier as well as growing a successful and profitable business with a long–term future.
There’s lots of talent out there but it’s a case of finding people who really ‘get’ your culture; have the creative, innovate mindset and total customer-service ethos. JML is a people business; the customer comes first. They have to because we are creating products that make their lives easier and more fun, as well as growing the business in terms of profits. That means we need people with empathy and who can look forward and predict future needs. So finding exactly the right people isn’t quite as simple as it might seem!
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I confess that I’m a bit of a fitness fanatic! I am a black belt in judo and box once a week. I do circuit training once or twice a week too, and I do British Military Fitness on a Saturday morning. So while we all have stressful times, my levels are pretty well managed!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was little I didn’t know the word ‘entrepreneur’. But now I realise that that was what I wanted to be. An entrepreneur or an inventor. I was always inventing things, which goes with the electronics I guess. So yes, I wanted to run my own business. And although I’m not running my own business, JML has been the next best thing because our founder, John Mills, gave me, right from the start, a huge amount of freedom and put a lot of trust in me, which I’m always extremely grateful for. And in a strange way JML actually combines the two things that I really wanted, because we do invent products – not all the time – but we do develop our own ideas and invent things, so that’s probably why I’ve remained in the business for 22 years.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?
Yes! I can’t stand mess. Untidiness. I cannot stand it. We’ve recently moved into an absolutely fantastic new building in Chiswick and I’m determined to keep my bit of the building really super tidy because our last building was a little the worse for wear! However I do have to accept that people like to make their area their own, so we wouldn’t want to enforce a draconian workspace policy. It’s important to let people have control of their working environment rather than having it dictated to them.
On the work side, I can’t stand the ‘that’s not my job’ mentality. You want people who, whatever their role is, to be proactive, take responsibility, literally pick up the rubbish. And the chairman, John Mills, is a great example of that because, despite founding this global company from scratch I have seen him tidying up the litter outside the front of JML House on many occasions when he gets out the car. You know, he doesn’t tell someone else to do it, he just does it himself. He leads by example.
Where do you see the company in five years time?
I want JML to be a household name. Some would argue that we already are but we’re not quite there yet. There are, believe it or not, people to whom you’d mention JML and they’ve not heard of the business. I would like JML to be a name that pretty much everybody has heard of in the UK – for all the right reasons. And I want them to think that we provide great products, great service, anticipate their needs and always put them first.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
I think the key to a successful business is finding great people who understand you and the business. But equally, people you really get on with on a personal level. I think certainly in a smaller business, which all start-ups are initially, you’ve got to work with people you like and you’ve got to work with people who can make things happen.
And, the last but most important advice of all is: don’t be frightened to employ people who are cleverer than you are! I’ve seen too many bosses who are very frightened of employing clever people because they’re worried it will make them look stupid. It doesn’t. Employing very bright people makes you a smart person yourself. And you’re going to need bright people to be a success.