My advisor and friend, Jeff Hartstone at BKL, told me that I have a story to tell that would be interesting and helpful to others. So, I am delighted to share it with the Circle Square community.
My wife, Lesley, and I met as teenagers and have been married for over 40 years. Our two sons, Josh and Marc, are happily married to Dani and Avital, respectively, and we are blessed with six wonderful grandchildren.
I’d describe myself as a rather average student and couldn’t wait to leave school. I trained for almost two years to become a lawyer, which I didn’t really enjoy apart from discovering the best sandwich shops in London’s West End! While not initially fulfilling, it was not a wasted experience as it helped to shape my approach to problem-solving and targeting an ‘audience’.
Although acting and comedy really appealed to me, working in my family’s consumer goods business – Anker International – was also very enticing. I joined the business in 1979, at the age of 19. At the time, I was blissfully unaware of business risks and naively only saw opportunities. Anker was a relatively small but highly profitable business with a very healthy balance sheet – a tremendous platform for growth.
I worked alongside my dad, Henry, and my brother, Howard. We were aligned, focused, and driven. I immersed myself in every aspect of the business and absolutely loved it. Through both planned and tragic circumstances, I became MD in my 20s and later CEO. I decided to sell Anker in 2005, when it was acquired by an AIM-listed Plc, International Greetings (later renamed IG Design Group Plc). I became Group CEO of IG in 2009, leading its transformation to become a multi-category, multi-customer channel, seasonally diverse, global business until I stepped down in February 2022.
Throughout my career, I have always found huge fulfilment from helping to set and implement growth strategies, creating cohesive, aligned, and high-achieving teams, and mentoring individuals and teams to fulfil their potential. I can’t think of a significant, sustainable achievement in my career that didn’t require tremendous teamwork. A few highlights of lessons learnt include that most people work for people, not for businesses, and that whilst healthy change is often needed, stability can be a very underrated component of success. I’ve led the acquisition, sale and related fundraising to over 10 businesses worldwide and a key ‘takeaway’ from this is that when buying or selling ‘trading’ businesses, people-related due diligence is more important than all other aspects of the due diligence process.
After 13 years as the Group CEO of a Plc and spearheading prolific growth – achieved both organically and through acquisitions – which resulted in creating a $1bn revenue group and the world’s largest consumer gift packaging business, and having navigated the organisation through the unknowns and impacts of Covid, I decided to take a leap and embark on a new phase of life.
As I continue to learn and develop winning strategies and apply my decades of experience to mentor tomorrow’s leaders, I also dedicate my time to exploring various investments and indulging in personal passions, such as a love for comedy, movies, boating on the Thames, and building an Arsenal memorabilia collection.
I love spending time with Lesley and our family (including our beautiful Westie, Oscar), and with our close friends both in the UK and the USA.
For me the most powerful business-related life lesson would be that if you have people in your life who truly ‘have your back’ and genuinely want the best for you, that is an incredible and very rare blessing – which you probably most value and appreciate when it’s no longer the case.
Circle Square Q&A
What 3 words best describe you?
I’d like to think they are warm, humorous, and tenacious.
If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be?
Sometimes it’s best to have a night’s sleep before giving a response.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
In life, it would be any contribution made – if there has been any – to the kind of men both of our sons are.
Which person (dead or alive) would you most like to invite to dinner?
Sir Winston Churchill – I love him, my absolute hero.
How has age strengthened your advantage?
Age not at all, but experience is another matter! I am better at knowing when I am ‘flogging a dead horse’ and when alignment is not going to be achieved.