Interview: Phil Jones, MD Brother

Phil Jones, MD of successful printer and ICT company Brother, is seen by many as an expert in the industry. Here he reveals his tricks of the trade, some life-defining moments and his secret skills as a DJ.

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YOU’VE been in business for the majority of your career – was it what you always wanted to do?

Yes and no! I studied business at college but in the summer after I left, I started working at a pub in East London and ended up staying in the trade for about three years. I became the assistant manager, but I realised eventually that it wasn’t for me; you’re working from the moment you wake up, to the minute you go to bed seven days a week. The pub I worked in was a notorious gangster pub, too, so I’d witnessed shootings, drug dealing and despicable violence. It wasn’t worth the pay cheque, so I left in 1992. In a moment of sheer serendipity, I walked into a recruitment agency where a career in sales was suggested. I thought I’d give it a go and it turned out to be my big break. I had no idea I would be in business for so long when I first walked through that door, so there was certainly no grand plan.

WHAT were those early days in sales like?

It was eye-opening; I’d have to walk the streets of London every morning canvassing for compliment slips, not being able to return to the office until I had at least 100 slips of good quality information, carefully coaxed out of a receptionist. Then the afternoon was spent calling all the businesses up, trying to make appointments with buyers. It was tough, but it gave me the lessons I needed in determination, handling rejection and understanding how the sales funnel worked. It was also a fantastic time; the industry was flying, there were a lot of guys driving round in very fast cars, earning lots of money. I was a starry-eyed 22-year-old thinking, this is for me.

ONE word that many people use to describe you is “entrepreneur”, when in reality you’ve always worked for a business. Is that something you set out to do?

I think a better word to describe myself would be an “intrapreneur”, which means that your attributes, skills and behaviour are very similar to that of an entrepreneur but you work for a large company. Life in a corporate business still has plenty of risk, but you take that risk with someone else’s money, with the same considerations of success and failure. But it works both ways; I have the experience of what running a massive company feels like so I can still deliver insight to a fast-growth entrepreneur experiencing growing pains or strategic direction headaches.

YOU’RE a massive advocate of social media on a personal level. Does it have a place in business?

If you’re not using social media, you are missing one hell of an opportunity as a businessperson. When I joined Twitter five years ago I had no idea what it was, but I realised it was going to be a huge game changer – alongside blogging and other social media – to drive thought leadership and relationships. You simply must be in the social community in order for people to understand you and your business. People live their lives on devices nowadays and expect transparency from large brands and leaders of business. It is an immensely powerful platform.

HOW has Brother become such a renowned brand?

The big challenge businesses face is keeping a brand relevant for the time. We started as a sewing machine company, but later moved into typewriters, fax machines and printers and now web conferencing. If we’d decided in the 1980s that we were just going to carry on selling typewriters, we’d have been bankrupt because technology moved on. The Japanese are experts at analysing markets, so they are always envisioning what’s next. This is what Brother has been hugely successful at – reinventing itself – and it’s why we’ve been in business for 105 years.

WHAT’S the best thing about your job?

Working with an amazing community of people and a business that has relentless ambition. I’m very thankful that I’m in a position where I can make decisions quickly and run the company based upon local knowledge and expertise. It means the business can remain agile and responsive to the market.

WHAT’S the worst thing about your job?

When you’re part of a large international group, a lot of the time is spent around compliance, reporting and audit, all for the right reasons. As an instinctive salesman, this is the part of the role that I have to work hard at, but I’d rather be in front of customers!

WHO was your early inspiration?

When I joined Brother in 1994, a man worked here called Hiroshi Suzuki. He had the biggest, most disarming smile and personality I’d ever met, combined with killer business acumen. I realised then, the power of human leadership and the importance of passionate activity in the workplace. Times have changed a lot but people haven’t, so I’m a big advocate of emotionally-driven leadership to drive cultural and financial results.

WHAT are your passions away from work?

I’m a firm believer that you have to have passions in life. I’m a very keen cyclist; I cycle at least 100 miles every weekend; I write one of the country’s leading road cycling blogs as well as a business blog, alongside some public speaking. I’m also a huge fan of music. I started DJing at college when I was 17, and it’s never left me. I can be found on the Northern Soul dancefloors most weekends. So, I’m a busy man, as well as being a dad of two.

IF you were going to give one piece of advice to a youngster looking to start a career in business, what would it be?

People who will stand out in the future will be those who drive value and show they can apply that insight to an organisation. You must build your networks early and develop your ability to communicate. Have a network of people you can call on at any point in your career; you might find yourself at a stage where you need several jobs to pay the bills, so it’s vital to know as many people as possible.

This article was featured in a special report commissioned and produced by UK Fast.

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