This month, John Fontana, President of Yankee Candle Europe, tells us about setting up an international business in Bristol, the challenges of high-speed growth and his passion for poker.
Hello John, tell us about Yankee Candle and your role as President
Yankee Candle is a candle and home fragrance company based in the US and is part of the Jarden Corporation. We are a fast growth company, certainly the fastest growing in our market. I’m President of the international division of Yankee Candle, making me responsible for all business outside the US and Canada. We operate in 70 different countries from our base in Bristol. We provide a number of key skills to ensure the success of the business, especially marketing and distribution.
How has the current economic climate impacted on your activities?
When the economy is rough, consumers are more careful with money so will gravitate towards products that have strong branding and a good reputation for quality. There is a need for retailers to stock products like ours that consistently generate customer pull and increase sales. Our good reputation also means that people are more likely to want to join our company, which helps to fuel our growth.
What challenges are you facing over the next 12 months?
Our fast rate of growth is a challenge to manage effectively. We nearly doubled our employees in 2013 and are looking to keep the growth trend continuing in 2014. On boarding these staff, retaining our corporate culture and staying true to our values is difficult. Making sure our supply chains are effective and we have enough stock to distribute around the world is also a priority.
Do you think that the government is doing enough to support your business?
We created our base in the South West without any government support at all, including our development of the site to reach 160,000 square feet. There needs to be more appreciation of the good that business does for society. We need to celebrate the success of business and business people otherwise we have an uphill struggle to get growth and encourage people to get involved.
What is your view on the South West business scene?
Yankee Candle loves being based in the South West – it is convenient to all parts of the UK, and increasingly easy to get directly to the Continent without going through Heathrow. The talent is very strong here and so is the work ethic. The network of other businesses that we depend on and work with is also a real strength.
Do you have any Non-Executive Directorships? If so, what have you learned from the experience?
I don’t currently have any Non-Executive roles, though I am on the lookout! Non-Executives are a vital part of a business and have a serious responsibility in terms of governance. I have a very busy job, so I don’t currently feel like I have enough time to devote to Non-Executive roles that will do them justice.
Do you have any advice that you’d pass on to a newly appointed company director?
Directors must act with the utmost integrity and possess genuine leadership skills. The best on boarding starts with listening and respecting the team around you and acting in a way that in turn earns their respect. Don’t expect to be Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with God’s word on tablets. Rather thoughtful, informed, intelligent and listen to your fellow board members to truly understand the business.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I enjoy playing poker at the Rainbow Casino in Bristol or Dusk Till Dawn in Nottingham. It’s a good way to socialise, think strategically and brush up on my negotiation skills. If I happen to end a night out with an extra £50 all the better!
Who is your hero/personal inspiration?
My wife is a great inspiration. She has fought through illness, brought up three great children and we have built a 26 year marriage together. She is my rock and lets me do what I need to do in the business world. I feel grateful for her every day.
What are you reading right now?
Strategy: A History by Sir Lawrence Freedman. It’s a fantastic read for any business leader, especially about the differences between strategy and planning.
What has been your experience of working with Moon Consulting?
Moon Consulting are incredibly thorough and make sure that they do their homework. At the end of the day this saves clients a considerable amount of time and money.