Why did you start your business in the first place?: I started working at Sainsbury’s in Halifax when I was 16, and from there on I loved the retail environment. Working at store level there’s always a desire to progress and move up to head office, so after studying Business at Sheffield Hallam I worked as a supply chain analyst on the graduate programme at Asda. Working on the buying side was challenging, but I wanted to get more involved with selling products into the retailers. After a spell at Highland Spring Mineral Water I was approached by Ye Olde Oak to work with them. Having progressed through the business over the past 18 years I eventually took over the role as the UK Head. We moved from London to Halifax about eight years ago, and the business has doubled in size since then.
What is your business motto?: My approach is about building partnerships. The success we’ve had has been because of our great relationships with our large partners, rather than competing with others and a ‘race to the bottom’ on price. We want what’s best for everyone we work with, from suppliers to buyers. I’ve always felt that if you deliver on what you promise you’ll have a great working relationship with everyone.
What advice would you give to anyone starting their own business?: Having not actually started the business, I can’t give much advice for those early days that you can’t get elsewhere, but as the head of a business there’s a lot of important things to consider. When you’re starting a company or launching a new product, always play devil’s advocate with your proposition and look at it from every side. It’s easy to convince yourself that something will work. Get honest opinions, pull everything to pieces and get every single fault sorted. Do as much homework as you can.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your role?: Pushing for continued growth in a challenging and ever-changing environment. Retail is fast-paced and always shifting, and demand for products from buyers change every year, as do their business models and strategies.
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What do you enjoy most about your role?: I’d have to say the thing I enjoy most is all the wonderful people I’ve met working in the retail industry. There’s always a lot of turnaround with staff as people take on new roles, so you’re constantly meeting new people. It’s a fantastic environment to work in. On top of that, I have some amazing colleagues who make my day job even better.
What do you enjoy least about your role?: 6am flights to our manufacturing facilities in Holland in December!
Which business figure do you most admire and why?: Sir Malcolm Walker, the founder of Iceland, particularly after reading his autobiography. I related to him as not only was he from Yorkshire, he worked in retail as a teenager and had bigger aspirations. When he founded Iceland, he was simultaneously running it next door to his day job in Woolworths. He became very entrepreneurial and went from selling food to freezers. Despite being incredibly wealthy, he stayed real and true to himself, looking after everyone who worked for him. Iceland has a great company ethos. He’s made a lot of money and helped a lot of people with his charity work, while still being down to earth.
What achievement in your career are you most proud of?: I’m most proud of being able to use my position within retail and the local community to further causes that are close to my heart. Ye Olde Oak has donated tens of thousands of cans of hot dogs and soup to help alleviate food poverty across the county, something we’re immensely proud of and continue to do. I’ve volunteered with the Calder Valley Mountain Rescue Team and was one of the founding members of Andy’s Man Club, who do amazing work across the country tackling the stigma around men’s mental health. More recently, I’ve worked closely with the Happy Days homeless charity and help to direct the strategy of their community bike shop.
Where do you see your business going in the next five years?: We’re currently in merger talks with another large Dutch family company, which will give us the opportunity to enter new markets and expand. Ye Olde Oak has the potential to massively grow with this merger, we could double in five years’ time.
If you could invent one new product, what would it be?: A fantastically healthy, zero fat, protein packed, high energy, incredibly tasty hot dog, which is perfect for a pre or post workout snack. Oh, and it would have to heat itself up, and come in a carb-free bun, with low salt/sugar ketchup and mustard. Not asking for much!
If you could work for one company, who would it be and why?: I wouldn’t want to work for another company. I enjoy my time here. My Grandad used to say, ‘if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life’. If finances allowed, I’d spend my time working on a voluntary basis in the community, supporting charities and organisations using my commercial knowhow. Perhaps that’s a plan for retirement.