Written by Tracey Duke, Photography by Pip Andersen
Owen Richards is a man with a vision. Dynamic and driven, his game-changing, can do attitude has, in the last three months alone, secured his Exeter based company; Air Marketing, contracts worth over a million pounds in additional revenue for 2018.
I caught up with the man behind one of the city’s fastest growing marketing companies to talk mentoring and finding ways to make it happen.
Owen, it’s great to meet with you this morning. As usual, we’ll jump straight in. I know that the whole idea and ethos of coaching and mentoring staff, is a subject that is really quite close to your heart; something you’re very passionate about. Tell me a little more about the background to that.
The reason it’s close to my heart is that as a business we don’t have a product; we effectively sell people’s time. Our biggest assets, therefore, just like any other business but more so for us, are our people. The way that we coach and mentor people has a huge impact on the success of our business directly.
Mentoring also played a huge part in my own career. I began working with my business partner; Richard Forrest, at the age of 22; I spent 8 years working with him in Sydney, Australia. I can honestly say that he is instrumental in who I am today and is both a career and life mentor to me; an inspirational father figure I guess.
I try to replicate that experience with the younger members of my team as much as I possibly can. The motivation and engagement of our team are vital to the success of our business and I know how valuable the time spent both coaching and mentoring them is.
If you don’t mind me saying, at just 33, you appear to have a very ambitious and wise, head on your shoulders. How did your working life begin and how were you influenced as a young 20 something?
Thank you! So I was originally employed for 8 years by Forrest Marketing Group in Sydney. I started there as a telemarketing agent, working on the phones, but very quickly Richard (Forrest) and I realised that we had a very good relationship.
At the time, he was looking for someone to help him take the business to the next level and to manage the team so he could go out and grow the business. We realised we had a partnership that could work; I was ambitious and young enough to see the way that modern trends were going and he was experienced enough to guide me.
When my wife and I decided to move back to the UK in 2015, we had a long conversation about what we did next; exploring ways to work together. It was from that conversation that Air Marketing was born. We decided that we would start a UK office as a sister company to our Australian company FMG; co-branding on everything. We share systems and processes; effectively Air Marketing has become a 75% replication of FMG.
Moving back and setting up here in the UK, can’t have been straightforward. What were the biggest challenges you faced?
The biggest challenge was deciding where the hell we were going to live! I’m originally from the South East and my wife is from Ashburton here in Devon. We originally went back to London simply because Amy and I met at Uni there and we had shared friends in the city; it was the only place we shared in the UK, having spent most of our relationship and adult life in Australia. Within 3 months though, we knew it was the wrong place for us.
At the time I’d taken a contract with another company while we set up Air in the background; we just had to get through a period of 9 months in London to see out that contract. My wife was pregnant, we were pretty low and it felt like the worst place; the biggest challenge was getting through that period. But we did.
Alongside that, my business partner and I were negotiating on working through shareholders’ agreements. If anybody has ever set up a business with somebody else, they’ll resonate with the fact that that is a difficult process. We’re lucky in that we had been friends for 8 years and we’d worked together for a long time as well, so we weren’t going into a business relationship for the first time. Having to have conversations with people about finance and worst case scenarios, at that close level is a hard process, but actually, I think we came out stronger for it.
I think that, whatever it is that you’re doing, unless you get those foundations right, you’re essentially building a business on pillars of sand.
I completely agree. If it all works successfully it doesn’t matter, but you have to pay attention to the finer details and prepare for the worst case, just in case.
And this is the thing. It all stems back to communication and just being open and honest.
Absolutely. You have to find a middle ground that allows what you both want to achieve financially and commercially. But there’s also the pride side of it. There’s that big chunk of pride that comes from starting a business; I wanted to feel proud of what we were doing and to be rewarded correctly.
Your business partner; Richard, sounds like a great guy to have around. What’s the greatest piece of advice that you’ve picked up from him?
One of the things that I learned from Richard is to say yes and find a way; we actually started a second business in Australia off the back of doing just that. We’ve also launched multiple things, different products and services in the UK from the same mindset, launching new revenue streams in the process.
Our latest example of that is a contract we’re working on at the moment. In September, our biggest client asked us if we could hire a team of 20 people for them here in Exeter by the end of October. That effectively gave us a month to hire 20 people. A tall order, but we said yes!
We committed to it, we made it our primary focus, thought of nothing else, went out and found those people.
It would have been very easy to say no but we said yes, we found a way and now we’re in discussions about 2018. That was never part of the original plan, but as a result of getting it right, we’re now looking to continue an initial 3-month contract. That’s potentially a million pounds of revenue for us in 2018 and that’s coming off the back of us taking a punt and saying yes.
And do you not find Owen, that when you do say yes, commit and throw everything at a project, an incredibly powerful process begins; things seem to fall into place, the right people show up, the right doors open and it suddenly becomes a very natural process.
I’m not a hugely spiritual person but I do believe that things happen for a reason, yes. So when somebody leaves our business, and at the time I’m feeling absolutely gutted that he or she has left us, I always remind myself that it’s happening for a reason. They’re leaving but somebody else will come along and will be better. More often than not, that’s the case and I think that that philosophy of saying yes and finding a way, epitomises that because it always creates another opportunity.
One of my biggest drivers as a business owner is creating jobs; it’s one of the things that I take the most satisfaction from.
And that’s one of the other things. I think that sometimes we get so caught up in chasing the next carrot, the next milestone, that we forget to stop and think about what it is we have achieved and the value we’re adding to lives.
It’s so important to recognise and reward the milestones. The reality is that we can over exhaust ourselves. We can get so focused on the one thing that’s not working, that we forget the ten things that are.
It’s good to step away from the business every so often so that you can see what you’re achieving from a distance, re-charge and come back stronger.
Absolutely and it’s important that your staff have a clear idea of your vision and plans too. All of our employees know our goals. Whether they’ve joined us a week ago or have been with us from the start, they know what our financial goals are as a business and what we’re trying to achieve.
You’re an ideas man; I can see that. When you’re considering starting a project, do you follow your intuition or are there specific questions you ask yourself?
I think the short answer is that we will always look at the commercial side of things. Every idea can look like a good idea, but the bottom line is that we’re in business to try and create wealth and opportunities for ourselves. The question always has to be, can it make money? That’s the bottom line.
Something can look good on the surface, but what are the mechanics of it? How will it work? Who’s going to deliver it? How much is it going to cost? It’s those kind of questions that you can leave until later, but if you do you risk committing to something and finding that it doesn’t work.
Do your homework. Ask the questions. If you get the right answers, then go for it. Make it happen!
Owen thank you so much for your time! You’re doing an incredible job with Air Marketing and I and the team at Grow wish you every success moving forward.
You can keep up to date with the Owen and the Air Marketing team @airmarketinggrp