Paul Woodmansterne inherited the family business with his sister and Watford-based Woodmansterne Publications has become a leading publisher of fine-art and culturally-inspired greetings cards in the UK. Founded originally in 1953 as a publisher of colourslides, the company introduced its first greetings cards in 1987.
Be quiet and listen
At the very start I was gung-ho and confident I was always right. All people could do was just fall in behind me. But self-confidence often grows into audacity and if audacious acts pay off, a leader is tempted to stop listening to others and becomes arrogant. If that continues to be successful, vanity is almost inevitable. I’ve now realised that what’s best is a quiet humility. I’ve got good staff around me so the more I shut up and just listen, the more it allows people the opportunity to shine and the space to grow. I now know it’s best that, as the boss, I provide support from behind, which allows people to have their own ideas.
Don’t practise on your valued customers
As well as running my business I also put on concerts and there are many strategic similarities between the two. When you’re putting on a concert you’ve got the score, the rehearsal, the concert itself and then the applause at the end. The score is equivalent to your business plan, a very clear vision that you’ve got to write down. The idea of rehearsal is, of course, to practise things. But don’t rehearse on your most important customers – we try and get things right with smaller customers and make sure we work out what’s successful before we go to the multiples.
The equivalent of the concert is presenting your new product at an exhibition or trade show. Make sure you galvanise your staff and focus them on one goal, as they don’t want to embarrass themselves by not having everything ready. And the applause is about celebrating success – we like to give recognition on a minute-by-minute basis, but also we have parties and on our anniversary we gave everyone a day out of their choice.
Generally, companies have an appraisal policy for staff, but the poor chap at the top usually doesn’t get that. Who trains the MD? I’ve been a member of the Vistage directors’ club for five years and have encouraged all my directors to join, as it’s revolutionised my thinking as a managing director. As a businessman I’d been sceptical about unrealistic positivism and inspirational speaking.
I’d fallen into business, inheriting the firm with my sister, and we managed to do everything unwittingly rather well for ten years. We grew quickly but failed to grow our management style and learn good business practices. Eventually, we had a business that was growing faster than the internal engine could cope, so it was time to raise our game.
The best team is a diverse team
If I put on a concert and I use freelance musicians I tend to employ experts, as they’re obviously competent and are faster at picking things up. But in the mixture I always add in some students. They remind the experts that it’s a learning process and it keeps the experts from getting cocky. And I always put in an amateur who provides enthusiasm. It’s exactly the same in business – this approach provides a fantastic mix and a dynamic team.
Staff turnover is not a bad thing
Recruitment is the key to growing your business. Make sure you have people around you who empathise with your aims and objectives so you don’t have to explain why you’re doing something. I used to have the attitude that it was bad to have high staff turnover, but now I look to have between 15 and 20 per cent annual staff turnover, as it gives you the opportunity to get rid of those employees that aren’t quite right. If a business is growing it’s evolving and people must grow and evolve with it. If they’re not, it’s perfectly right that they move on.