Mark Palmer - Rendered on: 21/11/2017 17:32:20

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Cawston Press


Mark Palmer is the former Marketing Director of Pret A Manger and Green & Black’s chocolate, co-founder of Cawston Press soft drinks and LA Brewery Kombucha and Chair of Union Hand-Roasted Coffee.

I was delighted to be asked by the 360° club to speak at a recent business networking event overlooking the wonderful St Paul’s Cathedral in the City. I was asked to share my experiences of working for several fast growth businesses including Green & Black’s and Pret A Manger with a particular eye on what made those businesses fit for spectacular growth.

I am a career marketing man so it was perhaps surprising that I chose to devote much of my talk to the importance of good finance and operational management. I have been fortunate to be involved with a number of entrepreneurial businesses that have much admired ‘cool’ brand status, but none of these would have fulfilled anything like their true potential without being a good performer on operational basics. By this I refer to real time financial and useful management decision making data as opposed to remote month end retrospective accounting, the importance of sales and marketing teams getting a grip on customer, channel and product profitability and the business being operationally well run such that it doesn’t run out of cash due to the invariable pressures on working capital that fast growth usually brings. Yes, it’s often called the less sexy stuff and there aren’t many awards for doing it well, but there are huge costs for screwing it up.

When it comes to fast growth SME’s, my long standing business partner and the former CEO of New Covent Garden Soup and Green & Black’s - William Kendall - always describes the importance of filling the tank full of petrol before you start the journey. By this he means don’t wait until year 3 of your business plan before hiring the right people. Find a way of getting them on the bus from the start. This may mean you have an overqualified team to run a £5m turnover business, but if you are serious about growing turnover five-fold in the next 5 years then hire the people now that will be fit for purpose later. Hopefully you’ll be travelling fast. Such a recruitment policy will also most likely flush out candidates with the right risk/reward profile - those who claim to be seeking a more entrepreneurial (and seemingly more glamorous career) but who perhaps aren’t really up for the early stage scraps may be deterred by the lack of infrastructure and teams and budgets to support them, not least the lower salary and lack of annual big bonuses in the critical building years where everything needs to be invested back in the business. Those with a greater appetite for rolling their sleeves up and backing themselves to create real value via LTIPS will most likely survive the interview process. In order of priority hire a good finance and ops person, then a sales person and finally get a really good marketing person – they will do their best work if the others have already created solid foundations.