Chris How, Chief Executive of Swallowfield tells us all about establishing a strategic vision, the importance of listening and being a newcomer to the South West.
Hello Chris, tell us about Swallowfield and your role as Chief Executive
Swallowfield formulates, designs and manufactures personal care and beauty products to the world’s leading brands. We work with brand owners to develop their products. We have two factories operating in the South West, factories in the Czech Republic and Shanghai and two development laboratories. We employ around 600 people. Our company has a very long history: it was formed in 1876 by pharmacist Walter Gregory in Wellington and has expanded into a multimillion international enterprise.
As CEO, I am responsible to the shareholders and stakeholders for ensuring the long term health of the business, its growth and profitability. I engage with our staff so that they can grow the business within an agreed set of priorities and strategies. I also make sure that the business remains committed to its core offerings and values, including innovation, quality and accountability. Together with the management team I am also responsible for developing the overall business strategy, identifying where we should be concentrating our efforts.
How has the economic recession impacted your business?
We have experienced a few ‘soft’ years recently where the economy has been a contributing factor. I do want to emphasise that the wider economy is not a driving factor. For any business, 80% of the factors that contribute to success or failure are within our own control. The macro environment will influence the strategy you make, but the success of that strategy is up to you. As the economy picks up, it does help a little, we are seeing demand from our clients increase.
What challenges are you facing over the next 12 months?
I am new in the role, having started 3 months ago. My key challenge is to clarify the company strategy: what markets and customers we should be engaging, and how to ensure that all our stakeholders are aligned on the objectives. In our sector there are a high number of potential markets and customers and we need to be clear as to where we can be competitive and where we can grow.
Do you think that the government is doing enough to support your sector?
I am not going to dwell too much on government assistance as I have already stated a business should be self-reliant. However the government could do more to support businesses on elements that are outside of their control. For example we have a large facility in a residential area, it is not particularly convenient to access and there is no potential for growth. There was a proposal to create an industrial zone on the outskirts of the town which would have benefitted both businesses and the community, but it is failing due to lack of government support. The government should step in to help with schemes that can benefit everyone in the long term but lack funding.
What is your view on the South West business scene?
I am actually new to the South West, so I don’t feel I am in a position to judge just yet! We are very keen as a business to maintain and develop links with our local suppliers: we use South West packaging, printing and chemical companies for our products. Most of our customers are outside of the region. We would welcome more input from local authorities on how to fulfil local needs and local jobs.
Do you have any advice that you’d pass on to a newly appointed company director?
As someone new to the role myself, I would emphasise the importance of listening. Listen to all your stakeholders: shareholders, directors, customers and staff. What do they want? What are the issues? What can we do or not do? After absorbing these perspectives it is then important to develop and communicate a plan and a set of clear priorities.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to keep active and I play football or cycle when I have the time. I work in the South West during the week and go back home to Cheshire for the weekends, so family time is very important to me.
Who is your hero/personal inspiration?
I have always admired people that have managed to overcome adversity by showing great resilience and focus and by always keeping to their principals. I admire anyone that embraces self-improvement. Obvious examples are Obama and Mandela, but I also look up to golfer Nick Faldo who is always calm under pressure and has worked very hard on himself to become the very best he could be.
What is on your I-Pod and what are you reading right now?
I have a great variety of music that I listen to, from Doo-wop to Green Day and everything in between.
What has been your experience of working with Moon Consulting?
Moon Consulting placed me in my current role. They are highly competent, have a great network and made the whole process comfortable and enjoyable.