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Success secrets of 2018's most influential business leaders

10 Jan 2019


Some of the best performing business leaders of 2018 saw their work recognised at the IoD Director of the Year Awards. After the event, Director magazine caught up with these influential leaders to discover their inspirations, aspirations and how they've excelled in their careers.

To put a spring in your step for 2019, we've compiled some of their most inspiring answers in one place...

What's the key to great leadership?

"Values and positivity. Live and breathe the underpinning core values of the business and remain as positive as possible & even when things don't go to plan.”

Daniel O’Toole, CEO, Retail Merchandising Services

What are the biggest lessons you've learnt so far?

“Don’t lose sleep over things you can’t control. Always begin with the end in mind. And embed the right culture, with the right people, in the business as soon as possible."

Daniel O’Toole, CEO, Retail Merchandising Services

What advice would you give less experienced leaders about navigating turbulent times?

“When getting a new business off the ground, start as you mean to go on. Keep an eye on costs, don’t spend on anything that isn’t necessary, and build close relationships with suppliers as well as clients. However, don’t skimp on the costs of marketing your business or driving sales. The adage of ‘you have to spend money to make money’ is true, but you need to understand where to invest and where to cut back.”

Danny Brooks, Managing Director, VHR

What's the secret to building a great team?

“A great team needs to be clear about its overall objective and the individuals within it must complement each other. At Finnebrogue we have people from different backgrounds and with different fields of expertise, all striving to make food the best it can possibly be.”

Denis Lynn, Chairman, Lynn’s Country Foods – Finnebrogue Artisan

What inspires you most in business?

“The long term success of ethical and sustainable businesses that do the right thing for their customers, and equally the demise of those businesses built on unsustainable business models and practices.”

Jeremy Brettell CDir, Non-Executive Director

How do you ensure good governance at a company as it grows?

“It’s vital to define and put in place the right governance structure and process at the outset, and then adhere to it. Review it on a regular basis, perhaps with external input, and then adapt and enhance it as circumstances and your scale change.”

Jeremy Brettell CDir, Non-Executive Director, Airdrie Savings Bank, Anderson Strathern Asset Management, Guarantee Protection Insurance, Transact and Wesleyan Bank.

How would you describe your leadership style?

“Authenticity and integrity are important to me. This means being yourself, rather than an image of what you think leadership should be. It also means always aiming to be as honest as you can with colleagues about both the opportunities and the challenges ahead."

Jeremy Brettell CDir, Non-Executive Director, Airdrie Savings Bank, Anderson Strathern Asset Management, Guarantee Protection Insurance, Transact and Wesleyan Bank

What's the essence of great leadership?

“First, it’s about being able to tell a compelling story – engaging people in this is an art. Second, it’s about being human. Great leaders recognise that success is important, but also that this shouldn’t come ‘at any cost’. Decisions need to be balanced against factors that always have human consequences.”

Dr Julian Skyrme, Director of Social Responsibility, University of Manchester

What's the secret to building a great team?

"Get the best available people, with similar ethics to the company. I make my team feel valued, like family – their opinions matter.”

Naveen Ahmed, Managing Director, The Parklane Group

The best piece of advice you've ever had?

“Never be scared of failure. You have to go with your gut instinct and take risks. If you sit still, your business won’t grow.”

Naveen Ahmed, Managing Director, The Parklane Group

The best business book you've read?

“I have recently read The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right in One Sitting. The book is written by Atul Gawande, a renowned US surgeon and writer. It focuses on managing ambiguity and complexity in a variety of sectors, from medicine and aviation to finance, by using a simple checklist."

Tamara Sakovska CDir, Non-Executive Director, JPMorgan Russian Securities

What advice would you offer other new entrepreneurs about navigating turbulent times?

“I would tell them that there is no failure; only feedback.”

Toby McCartney, CEO, MacRebur

What's the best business talk you have seen?

“I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek and the importance of focusing on ‘why’ we do what we do, I think that is really important to achieve great performance.”

Simon Pirotte, CEO and Principal, Bridgend College

What guidance would you offer less experienced leaders about how to navigate turbulent times?

Be sure of what is important. Let your values and those of your team influence culture. Challenge behaviour that’s inconsistent with these values. Involve your staff and let the culture do the job for you.

Simon Pirotte, CEO and Principal, Bridgend College

How are you approaching Brexit?

“We continue to push forward with growing our export business, spreading our risk by opening markets on three continents. The customers for our gin will still be there after Brexit.”

Simon Erlanger, Managing Director, Isle of Harris Distillers

What's the essence of great leadership?

“Delegation and empowerment. Done successfully, this matches the right people with the right skills to the right tasks."

Aishah Selamat, PhD Researcher, Data Denizens

What's the key to great leadership in your view?

“Great leaders show empathy, they are cooperative, communicate concisely, they challenge and most of all they work hard."

Dr Andy Palmer, President and Group CEO, Aston Martin Lagonda

Read the full Q&As from all of the Director of Year Awards 2018 winners here: https://www.director.co.uk/category/news.

Director of the Year Awards 2019

A celebration of leadership talent, success and achievement. Enter now.

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