Meet the MD: Stefan Lepkowski of Karol Marketing

Meet the MD: Stefan Lepkowski of Karol Marketing

Stefan Lepkowski set up Karol Marketing after discovering his talent for media relations. Now after 25 years in the role he talks about how he got started, the clients he has worked with, and how he keeps calm under pressure...

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

I work closely with our team of marketing and public relations experts to develop strategic communications campaigns on behalf of our clients to add value to their business and deliver tangible results.

As Managing Director of Karol a lot of my role is also about running the company, but the part I really enjoy is mentoring and challenging my team, encouraging them to try new things and acting as a sounding board to colleagues and clients to ensure our work remains aligned to our strategic objectives and focused on return on investment.


What is it the company does?

We raise the profile and reputation of clients across a number of industries, helping them to achieve specific objectives and win more business through integrated marketing and public relations. This could include media relations, online marketing, social media, event management, design and everything in between. I’m really proud that Karol is one of the most awarded agencies in the North East and is ranked in the Top 50 PR agencies in the North of England by Prolific North.   


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

Outside of summer holiday jobs in retail and a life of odd jobbing in Alpine ski resorts, I began working in earnest when I joined North East outdoor clothing brand Berghaus after a chance meeting with Gordon Davison who offered me a job.

I basically worked for three to six months in every department of the company, from product development and design to stock control and finance. It put me in a unique position of knowing how the company developed products from concept to store, so I was always asked to manage journalist visits. My then boss spotted my talent for media relations and I ended up managing the Public Relations department after just three years. It was a role which I found both fascinating and stimulating, especially as the industry was really in its infancy.

When the business was sold to the Pentland Group I left the company to set up Karol Marketing. My first client was a little car alarm and hi-fi shop called Sounds Alarming that was run by a friend.  Within six months I’d landed a contract with footwear giant Reebok and we’ve never looked back, That was nearly 25 years ago and today we work for clients across the outdoor, aviation, healthcare, oil & gas, property, engineering, and retail and leisure sectors.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

When I look at the great leaders I’ve been lucky enough to work with through the years, I think they’ve all shared some common traits; vision, self-confidence, tenacity (most have experienced setbacks but they’ve kept going), humility, and a sense of humour. I think the sense of humour is really important. Great leaders are also decisive and have the ability to make tough decisions, often in bad circumstances. 


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

I think I regard every job as a challenge in its own way. I definitely look for the challenge in projects, I think that’s where I get my competitive spirit!


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

Anything that takes my mind away from work and helps to give me a fresh perspective. I’ve always enjoyed extreme sports as you have to be focused on the here and now – your mind definitely can’t be back in the office! I also really enjoy building things. I renovated my own home a few years ago. It’s in the countryside and there’s always another project to be getting on with, be it building a wall, a barn or a pond.


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

Truthfully, I had no idea and any ideas I did have I’d probably picked up from others. Growing up in South Africa I really liked animals so my family always thought I should be a vet. It wasn’t till I joined Berghaus and someone spotted something in me that I started to work out what I was good at and what I enjoyed. To be honest, I probably didn’t want to grow up…I’m still not sure I have!


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

I find it irritating if people aren’t respectful to their colleagues and clients. In business you meet people who you respect enormously, they respect those around them and are often modest about their accomplishments. But you also meet people who haven’t yet learnt the value of modesty and respect and they talk to their colleagues terribly. I think agencies are often exposed to more of this behaviour, as some people find it easier to treat an agency in a way they wouldn’t treat a colleague. But it’s massively counterproductive, all agencies do their best work when they’re an extension of your team.

My other pet hate…people using their mobile phones during social occasions. Put it away!


Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

We have a really talented team at Karol and big ambitions for where we want to be five years from now. I’m also really keen that we build sustainability into the business. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do the things I have in my career and I hope, through Karol, I can help my team to keep achieving great things and develop their careers.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Work hard, treat others as you would treat yourself, and have a strong moral conscious. But most importantly, believe in yourself. Oh and don’t copy me!