Dean Williams, MD of Simpson Group
Simpson Group MD, Dean Williams talks to BQ about survival in the changing retail landscape.
What is it the company does?
Simpson Group specialises in the design and production of printed Point of Sale (POS) and Point of Purchase (POP) for the retail sector. We were formed in 1972 by Bill Simpson and now employ over 100 staff in Washington, North East, and at a satellite southern operation in Langley, London.
With over 46 years’ experience in retail marketing, our products are delivered to over 14,000 retail outlets every quarter. Our focus is on helping retail and brand marketing teams improve the effectiveness of their in-store marketing communications and achieve sustainable sales growth.
We are passionate about helping our clients achieve market leadership in their sector and stand out results in a highly competitive retail environment.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
As MD, my main duty is to develop the company’s image, and plan and implement improvements to its financial and commercial performance through agreed strategies and policies. To do that you need to build and maintain a motivated, committed and competent workforce.
I’m a strong believer in the age-old principle that people buy from people. When I took over this role from Bill McNally, one of the best bits of advice he gave me was that I wasn’t managing a business, I was managing the people who manage your business and they hold the key to success.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
If you want to be a good leader then you must be prepared to lead, but only if others are prepared to follow. That takes a lot of self-confidence and most importantly, you need to know your own personality so that you can communicate and engage with others well. We are tribal after all, you just need to get one person on your side and to believe in you to start the ball rolling.
However, remember that people are the key to your business and the success of it, and sometimes people need to be pushed to be their best.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
As this is an MBO, then by far the biggest challenge has been the people. It’s been a big transition from being a co-worker to MD and leader, not just for me, but for my colleagues too. After all, respect is still earned and is your most valuable asset.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Apart from walking our dogs, I have to say our hot tub. It’s by far the best way of de-stressing I know and allows you plenty of time to reflect and think.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An Inter-City 125 Train Driver. My dad worked as an engineer for British Rail in the yards at Doncaster. I sometimes used to visit him at work and I loved it whenever the ‘125’s’ went past. I fell in love with them during the whole ‘This is the age of the train’ ad campaign in the 70s.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Negativity, it breeds. I like positive, happy people who believe the glass is half full and needs filling. I find the best way to deal with negative people is to surround them with positive people and let them take in their energy and change, rather than suck the life from others.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We live, breathe and fight in a very difficult arena, the high street and we are very reliant upon it. As we know it’s been badly hit with several big names closing stores, and is some cases going out of business and disappearing altogether. We have however also seen some of these retailers changing their business models recently and fighting back, such as Tesco launching ‘Jack’ a discount store to take on Aldi and Lidl. That doesn’t stop us being vulnerable however, so we are looking at new markets to become less dependent upon the high street and grow our business within the next 5 years.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Start with the end in mind and focus on everything you need to do to reach that goal.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I didn’t listen to anyone when I was younger and was hell bent on doing everything my way. When I returned to the company, Mark Simpson sat me down and said “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason”, and I got much further much quicker when that advice sunk in.
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