On the train returning after hearing an inspirational presentation from John Timpson last week, I started to ponder leadership and its role in business success. There are whole university courses devoted to this, but I was considering the subject in the light of personal experience - either through knowing the individuals or (in one case) as a customer.
My first example is very close to home. We have competed with Booker throughout my career, so I have seen several changes of leader - some competent, others less so. However, since Charles Wilson took over we have seen a masterclass in leadership. He has transformed the business with a simple, constant strategy. ‘Focus, drive and broaden’ is the message, and everyone knows it. Clearly behind that is a great deal of hard work but focus - and the trust and commitment of the whole workforce - are a major part of the reinvention.
Malcolm Walker at Iceland leads a business he founded, and which has struggled to prosper when he has not been at the helm. Frozen is clearly not an easy niche to occupy. While others have failed to define what Iceland stood for, when Malcolm is at the helm he makes inspirational leadership look easy, whether that is his early crusade about food integrity and GM, the value proposition, the quality and range of own brand or the awards for staff care.
Fiona Dawson stands out for me as another inspiration and this was borne out in my mind by her courage in taking a stand on health and ingredients recently. Clearly not everyone agreed but she stated a position she believes in. I know from talking to Mars employees how highly she is regarded and given the speed of progress up the organisation, clearly the Mars family agrees.
My final example is Rowan Gormley - the only one of the four I have not met personally but someone whose vision and enthusiasm shine through in his company, Naked Wines. This re-invention of wine selling, making an adventure, a social purpose and a feeling of belonging out of purchasing a bottle of wine is not only inspired, but an object lesson in e-selling. The passion Rowan clearly feels is absolutely evident in every interaction with the company and customer experience, and service is at the heart of everything. He follows another inspirational leader at Majestic, Tim Howe, and it will be fascinating to watch progress there.
Leadership is about clarity of vision, impeccably communicated. It is about inspiring every colleague to deliver that vision to the customer. It is certainly about customer service, and the importance of treating staff properly in order to deliver it. Finally, I believe it is about passion and focus.
Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons