William Johnson and Michael Farnsworth joined the police force on the same day. Twelve years later, they also left on the same day to create TORRO. They talk about four years’ worth of learning to lead on the job…
Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
WJ - We started TORRO with a £250 investment each and had to learn on the job as the company grew. All decisions and working practices have evolved with the growth of the company. The current role involves a joint effort to manage all aspects of the business, including leading the team, managing the finances, growth, product design, and delivering and developing our vision for the brand.
What is it the company does?
MF - TORRO is a lifestyle accessory brand specialising in producing premium quality yet affordable leather cases and covers for mobile devices. The brand was created with the ethos of designing products that William and I wished to use ourselves and to share them with like-minded style conscious tech enthusiasts. This ethos has remained as we have extended into 'tech-fashion' and everyday essentials.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far:
WJ - We both met on our first day in the Police force in May 2002. Our paths diverged but we met again as police detectives in Newcastle where we began discussing the idea of a new brand of accessories for the rapidly growing tech market. We both left the police force on the same day in November 2014 to focus on TORRO full time.
Where did you start, how did you move on?
MF - I joined the Police when I was 20 and William joined when he was 18. We have both experienced very diverse and interesting roles whilst working as detectives but it was our yearning to flourish as entrepreneurs that was ultimately stronger. With a combined 25 years of policing behind us, we both felt that it was a now or never decision to attempt to achieve our professional ambitions and make that complete career U-turn. Overnight, we went from secure, steady professions to a fashion-orientated start-up with zero guarantees.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
WJ - Good leaders are those who have a vision people buy into. Leading a small team can be very tough, especially for start-up businesses. By articulating the vision for the company in a way that people can see the path ahead is crucial for creating that buzz and excitement. It results in everyone involved with the company being motivated and believing that hard work and dedication can drive success.
MF - This also helps ensure every team member understands where and how they fit into the future success. If the whole team is behind what you are attempting to achieve, set backs are easier to overcome. Having the right team in place means the entire group has a willingness to think of new ideas to ensure the company continues flourish.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
WJ - For TORRO it has been growing at such a rapid rate without losing control. We have gone from a collective £500 investment to a multi-million turnover in just four years. Keeping the quality high and satisfying the demand of the growing TORRO fan base has been a difficult balance. We believe our experience working as detectives, managing complex cases with multiple facets, has helped with making decisions. We are highly trained in expecting the unexpected and predicting where there may be bumps in the road ahead. We have taken this into our new roles where we forecast every aspect of the business and ensure all new product releases fit with the company ethos and production and finances are sustainable.
MF - We always concentrate on the TORRO fan base and are indebted to them for helping make the company a success. We also have to give a big thanks to our office manager, Naomi, who keeps the day to day running of the business slick and Bill, our warehouse manager, who helps ensure our stockists are always running at demand levels.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
WJ - It’s tough. It’s not like a 9-5; this job is 24/7. We’re both married and have two children each, so for me, spending time with the family is the best way to blow off steam.
MF - It can be hard sometimes because we created TORRO from nothing. You put pressure on yourself to make the best decisions for the company. When I get stressed I love nothing better than putting my trainers on and going for a run. I live on the north east coast where there’s some great scenery. You can certainly loose yourself for a good half hour and come back feeling refreshed and ready to start again.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
WJ – I wanted to be a pilot, a rock star or an entrepreneur. Now I’m older, I’m not too fond of heights and I don’t have the hairline for music stardom so that just leaves the last one…
MF - I loved science, physics, chemistry and biology. They were my strongest subjects at school so I wanted to be a scientist.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
WJ - Falling into the trap of doing something because it’s the way we’ve been doing it for a while and then accepted it as common practice. We have weekly meetings where we go through short-term goals and tasks. It’s a great way to ask the question, ‘Why do we do that and why do we do that like that?’ This gives us the opportunity to look at better ways of doing things. Tech-based systems are evolving all the time and it’s easy to learn how to use a piece of software and stick with it and then become blinkered when a better solution emerges in the future. A willingness to let the comfort blanket go and learn new things is essential to life at TORRO.
Where do you see the company in five years time?
MF - We have only scratched the surface of our e-commerce market. In the future, we aim to steady the growth and continue to ensure we have control of momentum. We see TORRO taking a further foothold within EU countries and the USA. We also intend to bring TORRO to the high street by selecting established and fitting retail partners to showcase the TORRO range. We hope to grow our workforce and move into larger premises to give room for growth.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
WJ – I would advise that aspiring business leaders position themselves within a market that they have knowledge and passion for. If you have genuine excitement and believe in a strategy or project, the team will follow with that same level of excitement. A business leader must challenge every aspect of everything you do and accept nothing as face value just because it is easy to do. If the world continued in this fashion we would not have the benefit of the great technology we have now. In 50 years when we look back at today and log the changes and advances we have made in technology and society it will all make so much sense when considered in context. However, at the time these advances require individuals taking chances, challenging common belief and being bold enough to make the changes they believe in.
MF – This is also advice we remind ourselves of. If you want to be a part of innovative progression, don’t just settle for the easy option- we would still both be sitting in a police criminal investigation department office if we did.
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