Meet the MD: Claire Kinloch of Genoa Black

Meet the MD: Claire Kinloch of Genoa Black

Not only is Claire Kinloch the owner of Genoa Black, she also describes herself as a team participant, coffee maker and listener. She caught up with BQ to tell us what makes a great MD.

What is it the company does?

Genoa Black is built around the idea of solving or addressing problems through marketing. We provide services that enable us to deliver this for clients.

We have four distinct offerings including consultancy which provides 1-2-1 strategy advice, workshop facilitation, marketing strategy and communications change programmes, marketing services comprising all marketing delivery aspects for clients including branding, communications, PR, digital and events, and marketing training through 1-2-1 mentoring and guidance to internal clients.

This year we are also launching a new SaaS product globally, Brand Dash - a first of its kind, disruptive technology which takes a company’s marketing strategy and business plan and delivers a series of calls to action allowing clients with no or minimal marketing expertise to deliver ‘smart’ marketing in-house.


What is it you do?

From company owner to team participant, MD to coffee maker, listener and challenger, I need to be flexible to ensure I communicate, direct and deliver across many levels.

Genoa Black works with diverse clients from whisky brands through to highly technical energy companies, each requiring a customised and relevant approach to strategy and delivery.

I advise and support clients as well as ensure that the Genoa Black brand and offering is constantly evolving to meet but ideally exceed client expectations. Our diverse and evolving client offering means I must also drive learnings and ideas across the portfolio and multi-location based team.  


Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I started on the client side in both London and Paris for a property company, but was pulled into marketing for Ray-Ban and Revo Sunglasses for a few years.

I moved to Scotland in 1998 as I was attracted by the diverse and challenging nature of “agency” - 999 Design in Glasgow to be precise.   

I was headhunted back to London as marketing controller for Orange, managing a budget unheard of these days at an extremely exciting time of this telecoms brand’s launch and evolution.

The call of Scotland was too strong and after a few years I returned to take up a position of managing director and partner at BD Network and then the Leith Agency asked me to drive the set up of its below-the-line offering, which saw me being appointed to the board.

In 2013 I decided the time was right to develop a business that was different from the agency establishment.

I wanted to draw from my career learnings from both a marketing and business perspective and develop a company that I could truly influence in terms of model, strategy and culture.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

Being aware of what a bad leader is! Leadership needs those you lead to buy into you.

You need integrity, strength, confidence, knowledge and expertise, but you don’t need to know everything.

I learn from clients, contacts and the team every day and whilst I think clarity of direction and support is essential to grow a business, putting your hand up, asking for help and involving others (internal and external) in developing your business is critical.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Lack of funding. Genoa Black was started with an Ikea desk, a laptop, one client and an ambitious intern (who is now an equity partner).

We have grown quickly (450% growth in 3 years) in spite of limited investment.

We reinvest our capital back into the company, now have three offices across Scotland and are exploring a fourth as well as looking at London and USA.

The team are our greatest asset and being able to take great people on in line with our ambition and drive to growth has been a real balancing act.


How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Running a business can feel lonely at times so its important to try to manage yourself as well as you manage your company.

My husband is also co-director and owner which has its challenges, but the brutality of his honesty and ability to provide context to difficulties, cuts through to the core of stress I often face.

I am lucky to have a strong external advisory network in Scotland and value this greatly as it gives me some objective quick win solutions when I am feeling under pressure. Outside work, I’m a country girl and simply being in wellies brings me back to earth.


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Angela Rippon was my idol and inspiration as a strong, articulate and well-presented woman when I was little – next came an ambition to be an international diplomat (I had a passion for languages and travel).  


Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?

I have high standards and expect this in others too. On time delivery is my biggest bugbear - but that’s not just about others ability to deliver its also about my own. We now have superb resource and time management practices in Genoa Black which helps the team prioritise, take ownership and meet deadlines.


Where do you see the company in five years time?

This is a difficult question because we have already achieved so much more than I had initially planned for in such as short space of time. We’ve had so many great wins (being appointed globally by The Edrington Group being one), that I’m now reluctant to restrict the company with targets.

We’re in year three and Genoa Black has an established and strong reputation and that’s the most important aspect of all to me. The team are ambitious for the company and themselves and my main priority is to allow us as a business, and them as individuals to flourish and reach everyone’s full potential.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Be honest about your capabilities, passion and strengths. Reward your team as much as you can - they are not staff but an extension of you.  

Never be afraid to ask for help and never say ‘no’ to a coffee – you never know where the next opportunity will come from.