Meet the MD: John Silker of Magna

Meet the MD: John Silker of Magna

As the MD of Magna, a venue that hosts business, science and sporting events, John Silker has a lot to deal with. He talked to BQ about how he alleviates stress and what he believes it takes to be a good leader.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

I’m chief executive of Magna, an award-winning visitor attraction and events venue based in Rotherham. We’re a science adventure centre, but we also host a multitude of corporate and consumer events, as well as organising our own.

As chief executive I lead a team of 85 staff and oversee the growth of the business. I manage its strategic direction, and am responsible for making decisions that ensure its future success.


What is it the company does?

As a science adventure centre we host school trips and welcome individual visitors and families keen to discover more about science. We host corporate events for brands such as Kia Motors, Royal Mail, HSBC and Mercedes. We have close links with the business community and are currently preparing to host the Barnsley and Rotherham Chamber Business Awards in July, as well as our own city region event, South Yorkshire in Business, on 29 September.

And we host sporting events including boxing and darts matches, concerts, educational events and art exhibitions. We also run our own diverse programme including wedding shows, an Oktoberfest-themed beer festival and Christmas parties.


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

I’ve spent my whole working life in the leisure and hospitality industry and have worked in venues all over the UK. I started my career with Whitbread Hotels 37 years ago and from there I have worked for Holiday Inn, QMH hotels and other private hotel groups.  I also managed the VIP suite at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground.


What do you believe makes a great leader? 

A great leader needs tobe brave without being reckless. And by definition leaders have people behind them, so they need to look after them too. You’re only as good as your staff.

You also have to have passion. I once met Bill Shankly, the former Liverpool FC manager, and he said to me ‘be the best in whatever you do in life’ - to me that is about passion. You have got to have a passion for what you do.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Magna was a bit of a ‘sleeping giant’ but I could see the potential in it. My team and I have worked hard to realise that potential and we now have more event bookings than ever, and have achieved a positive working culture amongst our staff, who share our visions for the business. Magna is such a unique venue and I felt sure it could be something quite special.


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

I like to watch football – especially when Liverpool are winning – and when I’m not watching other people exercise I like to do a bit myself, by walking. It helps me clear my head and focus my thoughts.


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

I'm a scouser. I wanted to play for Liverpool Football Club!


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

I don’t like negativity. Even when the chips are down it’s important to keep looking forward and I try to lead by example.


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

I’d like to see Magna become the first choice for business events in Yorkshire and beyond. We’re ideally located just off the M1, and have seven unique event spaces that can cater for five to 5,000 people, so we can definitely offer choice!

As a visitor attraction, we’d like to be see record numbers of families coming through our doors and more children than ever experiencing the educational exhibitions and workshops. We’re getting behind events aimed at inspiring young people into careers in science and engineering, so to know that in five years’ time some of them have gone on to work or study in those fields, would be fantastic.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Have vision and make sure your team believe in it too. Don’t look back, and never stop driving the business forward.