Phil Jones MBE is Managing Director of Brother UK. As a global Japanese brand, Brother technology can be found in offices everywhere you look. An Information, Communication and Technology business supplying products and services to hundreds of thousands of UK enterprises of all sizes, the UK headquarters are based in Audenshaw, and Brother UK are very proud of their Tameside history.
Phil has been with the company for almost 25 years, practically his entire professional life. A veteran of the IT industry, he’s witnessed the birth of the internet, bluetooth, mobile phones and cloud computing platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Previously named on the Power 100 for ‘Insider North West Magazine’, a Top 100 Thinker by ‘Britain means Business’ and a Top 100 figure in the Manufacturing Industry, Phil is one of the established thought leaders in organisational design and enlightened leadership, and consequently is an in-demand public speaker on the subject.
A former winner of Institute of Directors Manchester and North West Director of the year awards, he retains an all round capability on business growth, innovation and market development. He sits on the ‘Advisory Board’ to the Manchester Growth Company advising specifically on technology, growth and business acceleration. Phil also served as President of Greater Manchester Community Foundation – Forever Manchester– from June 2014 to June 2017. Under his leadership, Brother UK have been named a Times Top 100 place to work, an Investors in People Platinum Workplace, CIO ‘Technology Business of the Year’ and PC Pro ‘Printer Vendor of the Year in amongst a raft of other product awards. Phil has been granted ‘Fellow’ status of the Institute of Directors and ‘Companion’ of the Chartered Institute of Management for his work around Leadership and Business growth. He was awarded an MBE for ‘Services to Business’ in the Queen’s birthday honours list 2016.
GM Business Connect caught up with Phil at Brother UK’s Audenshaw offices to find out more about the successes and accolades the business and their MD have enjoyed, and to try and reveal the business methodologies that have made the business grow their market share and turnover to over £100 million last year:
You started out as a Fax Salesman for Brother in 1994. Only 6 years later you had become the UK Sales and Marketing Director, followed by Managing Director in 2013. What made you stay with the same business for over 20 years?
“I never expected to be here that long. At the time I thought I’d only be here 2 or 3 years and then move on, as salesmen tend to do. Three things have kept me here. Firstly, I really enjoy learning from the culture of Japanese thinking and doing – a very considered business methodology for long term sustainability.
“This led secondly to a feeling of family-led culture. I felt welcome – as though I had ‘come home’. The business made me passionate about what they do and I always felt bound together as a big global family. This strongly sat with me as an individual.
“The third thing is that I’ve always felt challenged here – the markets we work in are so dynamic and fast moving, we never have two days the same.
“Next year will be 25 years at Brother UK and I wonder where that time has gone as I have enjoyed it so much. The support from Brother during that time, particularly early in my career, has been invaluable. In my time here at the company, I have had many great role models such as Kazuaki Tazaki, who moved from Japan to set up and oversee the European operations in 1958. He was so clever yet very caring and passionate about the people he worked alongside. I learned from him that to be a good leader at Brother, you have to be good at your job, but also you have to really care for people. This resonates with me and I want to continue to nurture this culture, under my own leadership.”
We last spoke at the beginning of 2015 about long term plans for both Brother UK and Brother International as a global business. Has that stayed on course in light of the turmoil from Brexit and the recently developing isolationism from the US?
“Globally Brother is reporting record results. As a business model, Brother has different categories, regions and currencies. As a result it has become very resilient in how it operates at the global level. As far as the UK is concerned, we did see a post-referendum shock largely due to rapid currency devaluation leading to a difficult 6 months as our local sterling prices went up sharply in response. This was because a lot of our products are pegged to the Euro, so unfortunately we had to push price increases through as we could not absorb them. We are dealing on net profit levels of between 2-3%, so when we had an 18% movement in currency we simply couldn’t absorb it and had to pass through the increases via our supply chain.
“However, our long term plan helped us pass through this tumultuous time. When I speak to other business leaders about successful strategies, I often refer to ‘your dot on your horizon’ (where ‘dot’ is an acronym for ‘direction of travel’). What I mean by this is that every business needs to be clear about where their ‘dot’ is on the horizon. Essentially, you need to know broadly where you are going. Once you broadly know where you are going, then you must follow that pathway without being distracted in order to be successful. Broadly, because being too prescriptive right here and now doesn’t allow for the changeable environment that many businesses are working in.
“For example, we need to be able to face unpredictable changes, adjust and say “despite what is going on, we are still going over there albeit the route may deviate. This attitude also helps to gain clarity, keep perspective and galvanise your people. Chris Paton of Quirk solutions coined the phrase ‘freedom in a framework’ which really resonates with me.”
As a consumer-led business, how do you gauge appetite for your products, and how are those viewpoints and appetites reflected in your marketing and product choice. How do you see your marketplace changing in the future and what actions are you taking to future proof your products?
“It may surprise people to know that we are more of a B2B operation rather than B2C. Round about 90% of our sales are to businesses. As a business, we are passionate about being close to the customer – an ‘at your side’ ethic. Whilst the product may be physically at your side, we are also there as a business– always ready to help and always inventing to solve problems. We have technologists and futurists continually looking at trends and needs as they evolve. We need to predict change. We are for example already fixing specification for products that will be released in 2020. This mindset is essential to remaining relevant to our customers by understanding their pain points.”
Has this direction impacted on your market share?
“Brother in the UK have a very solid market share. Taking a look at our categories, in laser printing we are the number 1 brand. In labelling, we are number 1. We are number 1 or 2 in every category in which we are competing. In 1994 when I joined the company, we were number 5 or 6. We have always been ‘challengers’ and then leaders, so in all the years I have been here I have never let complacency creep in. We are a solid business with both discipline and excellence and as a result, we have over £100 million worth of sales and a substantial customer base.”
Does Brother offer a recycling service on its products or, intend to?
“Absolutely. Everything we sell, we recycle. We have a plant in North Wales where the products for recycling go, and the plant itself has zero waste. We recycle and repurpose everything. It’s incredible what can be achieved
to reduce environmental impact with the right resources.”
Also, we talked about diversification in the past. How strongly are you pushing this in the UK marketplace?
“For every business there is a constant dilemma: What is serving you now? versus, What do you need for the future?
“It’s about how you proportion your resources. Teams need to be focused. It is important to ensure that the people who are employed to grow the future are given scope to focus on specifically this – and not distracted by present day targets or objectives related to the current business model. I’m satisfied that our future portfolio is looking bright as we are achieving considerable growth in those areas that we set out to, by looking at vertical categories and new markets.
“We need to market enter, market make, market build and this takes time and patience. My outlook is as always, cautious but confident taking calculated risk. One big problem I see businesses often make is that everything becomes a ‘priority’. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. It’s simple. All I do here is prioritise my people and their main effort – what’s important is who does what; once people know what their main priorities are, they will give their discretionary effort to get there. If instead, you are constantly changing your rhetoric and moving the goal-posts then you create a state of confusion that leads to inertia. You need to give people clarity for them to give you clear results.”
What is Brother’s commitment to apprenticeships and how many do you currently have?
“We just reached the ‘magic 5%’ of our workforce who are apprentices or, have come up through our apprenticeship programme. What I’m really proud of is that 5 years ago we didn’t have an apprenticeship programme and we hadn’t had one for 20 years.
“I was passionate about encouraging young people and creating opportunity, so we started our scheme in 2013. When we started, 3 people joined us as apprentices, and they are still with us today in full-time roles. We have 180 people here and have had over 10 apprentices come through now, more than 5% of our workforce – which is the ‘golden number’ of apprentice workforce considered to maximise the future of UK PLC. If all businesses were achieving this, then so many issues could be overcome nationwide. Our apprentices are a massive contribution to our business. I would recommend that businesses bring young people in, train them well and see what they can do for you.”
You were one of the first businesses in the UK to achieve a Platinum ‘Investors in People’ award. Can you let us know the specific milestones you had to reach to win this?
“That process started for us in 2013 when I wanted to ratify our great skills, culture and people. I wanted to start accrediting us. We had Sunday Times ‘Top 100 Employer of the Year’ which was great, but I wanted something that was based more around learning, development and growing people – rather than the workplace itself. IIP is recognised in 78 countries – and I wanted that standard recognised for us at Brother UK.
“Our pathway led us to Gold initially – but this was before there was a ‘Platinum’. We were actually there at the conception of the Platinum standard and I knew we wanted to achieve this. We were indeed one of the first to win (actually, the second by virtue of a few days!) and it was a great milestone for us, setting us apart from many organisations. To achieve it, we had to capture and evidence robust data that showcased our meritorious practice and continual positive progress. To win, businesses had to demonstrate excellence by 9 principles (with 4 levels within) where we needed to be excellent (highest level) in at least 7 of the 9 major areas – reflecting elements such as leadership, orientation and strategic alignment.
“Since the Platinum standard has been rolled out we have actually achieved the highest position within that class of top performing businesses. Of course, we still have improvements to make, but as it stands we are demonstrably one of the best places to work here in the North West, in the UK, and in Europe. The employee survey conducted by IIP evidenced that our people feel valued as individuals, that they can be trusted to act and, that they trust our leadership. Essentially – they are valued and provide value.”
Tells us about winning the Queen’s Award for the second time. Also, what does it mean to you personally to pick up an MBE for services to business?
“It was wonderful for us. In particular because it was our 50th Anniversary. It is one of the toughest and most prestigious awards to win so the timing was excellent. It is awarded for sustainable enterprise – not just about being environmentally conscious and providing a good workplace, it’s also about the sustainability of business for the long term. It shows confidence that we will be around in 30/40/50 years’ time and that ultimately, we are a ‘good citizen of business’.
“This business is considered to be doing really well, and the acknowledgement was an all-round award for recognising good practice. This means so much to me: seeing apprentices in their teens grow with us, flourish and build their potential to go all the way, and particularly with many of these young people coming from the local community.
“Many businesses say they have a problem finding talent. We don’t have this problem. Talent is knocking on the door – they want to work with us, they aspire to work with Team Brother UK. Getting the MBE was a total shock! Absolutely wonderful, although for me it’s always ‘cause before applause’. So when the news hit me, I actually found this personal accolade a little uncomfortable . I don’t look for personal awards, I look for awards for ‘us’ at Brother and so I’m humbled, grateful and honoured. It’s important not to be defined by personal awards – and to just do good in my opinion.
“I’m from humble beginnings and grateful for my life – and so in recognising this, I try to help others on their personal journeys too. I have been poor and struggling as a young person, and have come to believe that ‘your beginning doesn’t define your end’. I’ve had a lot of opportunity, and over time I developed the confidence to take up those opportunities – and to try. When you really try, it’s amazing what good will people will show you.”
After finishing your presidency of Forever Manchester, have you stayed on board with the charity? Also, what other areas of Corporate Social Responsibility are you involved in as a business?
“I’m not officially involved but we have a Brother UK named fund set up specifically for projects in Tameside. This is centred around education, the elderly and entrepreneurship – the things we are passionate about. Louise Marshall (one of our directors) sits on the board as trustee so we still have strong a link. I learned some years ago that we can’t help everyone as our resources are limited. I also didn’t want to spread our support too thinly so I take the stance that it is better to be a big help to someone, than little help to many. So, we decided that our passion is for our community – around Tameside and the wider Greater Manchester community – which is where Forever Manchester comes in. We’re also looking at direct support of STEM or STEAM subjects within the educational sector, again at a local level supporting our local community, plus other charities that mean a lot within our immediate community – our employees.”
How are you planning to celebrate your 50th anniversary with staff, customers and your wider business support network?
“We have marked the milestone in a number of ways already, including our summer party with all our staff. We have a gold wrapped BMW i8 travelling around our key customers as a central focus and conversation point around our 50th anniversary. The vehicle is a visual metaphor for the speed, sustainability, relevancy and modernity of our business. We’ve actually found the gold i8 has been received well by our customers also by the local community of young people within schools for example. There’s something about a business featuring a gold-wrapped sports car that seems to be very attractive to the young people we have talked to, making us an attractive prospect as a career path for them. Something we’re very pleased about. Judging by the amount of pictures we see of it on social media channels it’s having the desired effect!”
“Also, there are a number of customer events planned around the country themed around our anniversary, plus a major dinner in November for all the other MDs of Brother Europe. The dinner will also be attended by our European CEO, and the Global President of Brother Industries will even fly in to help us celebrate. We have the Lord Lieutenant visiting in October and the Japanese Ambassador coming too, along with other regional dignitaries. A busy year! For me however, I’m going to enjoy it and yet also stay on the journey – I’m looking to the next 50 years and where we are going next.”
You have achieved many goals within yourself and with Brother UK, what other goals would you like to achieve as MD?
“The main thing for me when my retirement comes is that people will review my time here as hopefully having set the business on a successful path for the next 50 years. I’d like to think that when I step back, it was left in an excellent state with a pipeline of talent coming through. Our young people joining us now will be our future top talent – hopefully with one of them running the place. This will be my ideal legacy.”
What tips would you give someone reading this interview and maybe working in a large organisation? What advice would you give with your experience to get in to senior management?
“I recently spoke to an audience of young ambitious people about my career tips. I had two pieces of advice for them: master yourself and, master your subject matter. To truly master yourself is to understand, observe and respond to your own psychology. For example, how you think, how best you work, your internal thinking styles and habits plus biases – and how you control or express your emotions. This congruent understanding of self will lead to a deeper understanding of others which means you can’t fail to be a really good team player adding immeasurable value to an organisation, comprised of many people. To master your subject matter properly is to do so in a ‘T-shape’ – where true knowledge is having both a depth of vertical knowledge (the job), topped by a breadth of application across how a business works and will grow.
“These two techniques put together (and applied to the business) will ensure that top management will notice and encourage such a person, where growth of the individual and growth of business can happen simultaneously. A line we have used in the past is so apt: “Grow yourself through growing others” which ultimately has only one outcome when applied successfully. That is we help to make people and businesses more successful more quickly.
“In organisations, we always have teams, with sub-cultures within – each holding a variety of ideas and outlooks, a team of teams. However, when viewing the overall team, in our case ‘Team Brother’, the result is a successful cohesion of all involved.”