The sales and marketing director of Brother UK is the current holder of North West Director of the Year. Rupert Cornford finds out why.
It's Thursday 7 October 2010 at the Hilton Hotel in Manchester. The Institute of Directors chief Miles Templeman is on stage announcing the last award of the night – 'and the winner, of the North West director of the year is Phil Jones from Brother…'
"I was in complete shock," says Jones as we catch up in his office at Brother UK in Audenshaw. "Manchester and the North West has so many brilliant people that you never actually think that you would be judged to be top of that heap."
Jones has come a long way from when he joined the company in 1994. His first job was selling fax machines from home and he has since risen through the ranks to sit at number two in a £100m-plus turnover subsidiary of the Japanese technology giant. Following his appointment to the executive board in 2003 and promotion to sales and marketing director in 2004, Jones has become a prolific figure in the regional business community. He’s active on Twitter, writes a blog on leadership and personal development and takes regular public speaking opportunities. In 2008 he was named in Insider’s 42 under 42, and has achieved similar recognition across the press.
So in a world where accolades are coming in thick and fast, why is this award important? "If I look back at my career, I don’t have an MBA, I don’t have a degree. I’m a guy that left college and started in the pub trade. You don't get many sales guys that make it to the top and then achieve this kind of recognition. Normally it’s the people who come from the accountancy side."
But his leadership skills and business nous clicked with his peers in 2010, earning him this recognition. Looking back, key decisions have been made to steer what is a big, corporate ship through recession and a tough market. Brother UK continues to report revenues of more than £100m, with profit margins of 6 to 7 per cent. In the year to 31 March 2010, the company posted a 21 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to £7.86m, up from £6.5m the previous year. Sales were also up to £106m from £103m, marking something of a recovery after profits dipped from £9.4m in 2008.
In the past four years – "we saw the credit crunch coming early" – Jones has taken some people out the business, streamlining a few functions, and outsourced the company's warehouse function, which he believes was an important factor coming through the tough times. "We realised that we couldn't grow if we maintained our warehouse on this site," he says. "Outsourcing it allows us to expand and contract as the business needs to. During the credit crisis, when we started to think about what was working in our favour, we had this warehouse and we had cash, a lot of cash. We actually overinvested in stock during that period to take opportunities if they came. As it turned out, most of our competitors have had supply chain issues in the past year and were hyper conservative with their forecasting. So we cleaned up."
But the challenges continue. Public sector clients in the education and health sector, two main areas for Brother, face an uncertain future. So what now? Plan B has been a detailed analysis of which clients are still spending and where they are located. "For more than two years now we have worked on developing a complex and detailed database model to really understand where the hot spots are for our product by geography and industry," he says. "We have been able to identify the most recession-proof businesses, those that aren't exposed to the public sector and those that have continued to buy our products."
Everything he talks about is planned, measured and detailed. His answers on the business are precise and thought out. He speaks clearly, and with confidence. So what does he do away from the office to make sure he’s efficient in it?
"I ride my bike," he says, looking over at the expensive-looking set of wheels in the corner of his office. "It's an activity that really allows me to clear down. It's easy to drive yourself continually and maximise every single minute, but if you look at the pressure curve, too little pressure means under-performance but too much pressure means under-performance.
"You have to have mechanisms to release pressure in your life. Riding a bike is one, writing my blog is another, listening to music is my other passion – a bit of northern soul."
And his advice to others? "Working all the hours God sends seven days a week is not getting the most out of your levels of performance. I remember writing a blog about this recently and saying: the things you can do to improve performance are to take more exercise and sleep more. An extra hour in bed, every night, will dramatically improve your ability to make decisions."
Looking back, I wonder, did he have this level of awareness early in his career? "I would say I was a totally different person. When I arrived here, I was a fresh faced, 'core blimey' blue-suited salesman. When you are that age – 26 in 1994 – what you are after in life are the trappings of success: cars with big wheels, your own home, girls, fun. You are focused on your needs rather than the needs of others.
"Now I am far more focused on joy and happiness, my own emotional intelligence, the greater good, everyone moving on at the same time to be a better leader. In the early days I was just an ambitious young guy trying to get somewhere. The number one piece of advice I would give is learn about yourself before you can understand others. You will learn your good and bad bits, and that will give you more awareness of other people so you can get on in life in such a way that you achieve your objectives without always pushing so hard for them."
Also in: January 2011
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