From joining the RAF at just 16 years old to running a successful furniture business, Andy Kendall-Jones has had a varied career so far. He talks to BQ about his journey and why it’s valuable to work your way up from the bottom.
What is it the company does?
Southerns Group is a workspace interiors specialist and FF&E (furniture, fittings & equipment) provider. We deliver a complete service from initial design and space planning to fit out and installation.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
My role within Southerns has changed dramatically over the last few years as the group has focussed on expansion. From originally leading Southerns Office Interiors, I now focus on the overall strategic development of the wider group. I am continually identifying and evaluating the potential of companies to acquire, as well as overseeing acquisitions and ensuring their successful integration to the group. I also oversee the organic growth strategy of our existing businesses and am focussed on achieving further expansion within these firms.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started out in the RAF at the age of 16 during the Falklands War. After seven years of service I left the Forces and joined the Burton Group, working in their Leeds warehouse picking and packing products. After working my way up through the ranks at Burton, I left and went to work for Office Equipment World. I then joined Southerns as a salesman, eventually working my way up to CEO. Starting my business career at the bottom of the ladder has proved invaluable. I have a genuine, first hand understanding of every process involved in our operations which has given me the skills and understanding I need to run the group effectively today.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I think that one of the greatest attributes of a leader is having the ability to listen to those you work with. Whether an employee, customer or supplier, listening to their insights and experiences is invaluable and putting these learnings into action will help drive success.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Southerns Group has undertaken many acquisitions over the last few years which has been a key element of our growth strategy. Trying to integrate the different cultures of the businesses that we have acquired so that they are aligned with our own vision has been challenging along the way.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I have a four year old son and seeing his little face as soon as I get home on an evening alleviates any stress I have built up during the working day. It brings me back to reality and makes me see the wider picture.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A footballer. Football is my passion and as Leeds United fan my dream was to one day be able to play at Elland Road.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I have two major pet hates that anyone that works for me will know well. The first is untidiness. I cannot tell you how much an untidy office riles me! Being in the industry I know all too well the importance of having a well-designed and appealing workspace - it really does boost morale and efficiency. But no matter how beautifully designed or furnished an office is, if it is untidy this will have the opposite effect. Rather than preaching, I try to educate staff as to the benefits of being tidy. My other pet hate is people not doing what they say they will. I find it very annoying and unprofessional. I try to educate all of my staff on the importance of not over-promising and always sticking to deadlines and agreements.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
It is our objective for the next five years to be the market leader in what we do and to achieve turnover in excess of half a billion pounds. As part of our growth, I am also committed to sustaining the brilliant culture we have at Southerns and want everyone working for us to enjoy the journey.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Enjoy what you do and be passionate. Your enthusiasm will shine through and help you get to the top.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
To see each obstacle and opportunity as a lesson and to never stop learning from your actions. I have learnt everything I know from my experience in business – good and bad. It’s important to take from your experiences and to develop further. I also believe in mentoring and would encourage anyone starting out to find a good mentor to help them along the way.
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