Meet the MD: Karl Barker, Cube3

Meet the MD: Karl Barker, Cube3

Karl Barker leads brand marketing agency Cube3, from its Manchester office. He started the firm some seventeen years ago, and explains how he came from ‘squatting’ in someone else’s office to employing a team of 37.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

My role as CEO is to oversee Cube3’s strategic development as a whole, build key partnerships and help guide and develop the senior management team to deliver the business’ goals.

What is it the company does?

Established in 1999, Cube3 is one of Manchester’s leading brand marketing agencies delivering end to end solutions from brand strategy, digital platform development and multi-channel marketing services.

Cube3 has a strong team of strategic, creative and digital marketing professionals, delivering fully integrated strategies and campaigns that focus on brand engagement and conversion through rich creative, interactivity and content delivery.

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

My career started at 18. After doing a year at 6th form I decided that academia wasn’t for me - or more to the point, having no money wasn’t for me.  At 19, I was offered a great opportunity with a leading global publishing company.  After a brief stint in SoHo, by the ripe old age of 23 I decided that Manchester was always going to be home and I returned to the North in late 1998 starting Cube3 early the following year. 

The last 17 years has been dedicated to the development of Cube3 from its humble beginnings squatting in an office kindly offered to me by Gordon Warnock, who was my first proper boss. He was a huge influence on me at a young age, a really insightful entrepreneur.

Moving to our second home in Bolton in late 2000, a dilapidated 4000sq ft building which with very little money transformed one of its rooms to a studio for then just three people.  Within a couple of years, we had acquired the lease for the whole building and a team of 16 people working closely with clients such as Mercedes Benz, Bolton Council, Bolton Community College and the national retail chain Cash Generator.

In 2011, we made our third move to Manchester city centre where we have established ourselves as a leading independent agency in a peer group that makes it extremely humbling.  Since our move we have grown the team to 37 people and counting and a loyal customer base that reflects our true business partnership principles.

We are now in a very exciting position after realigning our business plan and developing an exciting growth strategy to the end of 2020.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

It is often stated that some people are ‘born leaders’ and in some ways I believe this to be true, although I do think that there are also various leadership styles that can be radically different from one another and still equally effective.  I suppose the key is about being natural, because natural is authentic and that is what builds trust and respect.

In my view good leadership is about balance, being fair, but firm, and importantly inspiring people with a passion that goes deeper than the conscious. 

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

I couldn’t say there is one single biggest, burning challenge; it’s more a case of many smaller challenges that create a big one.  The main challenges are the most obvious. Keeping clients happy, keeping the team happy, motivated and inspired and keeping the balance sheet happy. Anybody who can achieve these in equal measure gets my absolute admiration.

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

In the past I let stress be an acceptable part of my life, which on the face of it sounds like a way of dealing with it.  It isn’t -  it’s just a way of accepting it.  Nowadays I try to not get stressed at all.  When I do, I stop and think, I assess why I am getting stressed, rationalise it and stop.  Learning to still care, but without the worrying has made a big difference in my life over the last few years.

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

I still am little :) Aside from the aspirational astronaut stuff, I think my thinking has always been destined around creativity, creating value and developing opportunities. At 11 I was making £40-50 every week selling raffle tickets and scratch cards at school. I was boring my friends with ideas to make money.

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

I try not to get frustrated by small things, and try to be liberal most of the time. Respect yourself, respect each other.

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

This is a good question and one that is very poignant. We are currently running to a business plan that takes us to the end of 2020. It is an exciting time for us and one that we believe is the best opportunity to get to where we have been aiming all this time. 

We have currently undergone an operational restructure of the business which has aligned us to scale and we have the backing to develop my vision of creating a centrally owned independent agency network of specialist agencies that together provide a formidable integrated marketing services ecosystem that clients have been waiting for, for so long.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Don’t wait, do it now, enjoy yourself, win, fail, laugh, cry, make goals, achieve them, make some more, achieve them, repeat. When you stop enjoying it. STOP!