Some of the most well respected senior figures in the food and drink business distilled down everything they have learned about leadership at this year’s Leadership Symposium, as they explained what it takes to succeed at the top. Here are some of the highlights from an informative and insightful day.

Lesson One:  Combine chutzpah and respect

Lord Stuart Rose, Ocado chairman

  • You need energy, enthusiasm and chutzpah. Be prepared to get smacked in the face then get up and do it all over again the next day. You will get diverted, you will have some accidents, but just do it. Keep pushing and eventually you will get through.
  • Always remember that leadership is about respect. You can only be a good leader if people respect you. So treat people the way you would like to be treated. Everyone deserves respect, they are all part of the machine. If the driver doesn’t deliver the goods to the front of the store, then you won’t sell anything.
  • The worst thing you can be is a bullying boss. There is no excuse for it. If you come across it, try to deal with it. 


Lesson Two:  Manage your talent

Heather Jackson, founder and chair of An Inspirational Journey

heather jackson

  • Great leaders have all understood what drives people, so talent management must be at the forefront of every leadership strategy. Get the right people into your team, then leverage that performance.
  • And you have to have better talent than your competition, otherwise they will be more successful than you. 


Lesson Three:  Trust the data

Andrew Hawes, director of Newton Europe

andrew hawes

  • As individuals we naturally focus on what we see and hear. The best leaders take what they see, but they also take the time and the intellectual curiosity to work through the numbers and the data that sit behind it. It’s easy to dismiss data as unwieldy and it’s hard to do it well. But once it is done and gathered, great results can be achieved. Instinct, experience and ­charisma are important, but getting those last few percentage points of opportunity out of something that already runs well is where the challenge is. And that’s where data comes in. 

Lesson Four:  Trust your gut

Julie Sneddon, former VP at Disney


  • Everyone is different. My make-up naturally says trust my intuition. But as I’ve matured in business I listen to my gut reaction, then back it up with data. The more senior I got when presented with a situation, the more I needed more data points. That data either tells you you’re wrong, or you can let it back you up. But ­intuition is great, especially in a ­personal situation. When you’re interviewing people, that comes to the fore very quickly and you should absolutely use it. 

Lesson Five: Drive change, and keep in touch with 
the coalface

Justin King, Former Sainsbury’s CEO

justin king

  • Regardless of how steady you feel a situation is, if it’s not changing you need to deliver change. The job of a leader is to bring about change, and to manage it. Have a clear destination, as well as clarity over where you are starting from. Be honest about that starting point and give people something to aspire to.
  • Don’t be frightened to take responsibility. If you’re a great leader, people will follow.
  • But always remember that the further up the ladder you go, the danger of becoming detached increases.
  • The universal truth of leadership is to stay connected to the coalface. Know what’s happening before the rest of the organisation tells you about it, otherwise by the time you find out it will be too late.
  • Be relentless. That’s what leadership is. There is no time to pause and relax. That ­forward focus is pivotal to great leadership.
  • The most dangerous words in leadership are ‘it can never ­happen’. If you believe it will never happen, it almost certainly will.