A GLASS HALF FULL
Looking back, Mark Wilson of Berrymans Glass, the UK’s largest purchaser and recycler of waste glass, can pinpoint the opportunity which was the turning point for him to make the move from finance director to CEO. We catch up to talk about how that one moment shaped his future career and the passion he has for letting talent shine through.
Tell us about the early days in your career
“I suppose I fell into accountancy. After leaving the RAF I wanted to pursue a career in business and my father suggested that I considered accountancy; I joined what is now Deloitte in Newcastle and once I had completed my training I looked to make the move into industry as soon as I could.
I held roles at British Steel and Encon before joining NG Bailey as FD – it was there that I met the then MD Mike Carpenter who was very influential in determining the future direction of my career.”
“I approached him about doing a MBA and he suggested that if I were to do my dissertation on the strategic opportunities facing the M&E market – and it was any good – it could become the cornerstone for the next five year plan at NG Bailey.
I studied at Bradford Management School and that piece of work not only gave me the opportunity to develop a theoretical project which then went on to influence the business but it made me firmly believe that my future was in general management as opposed to finance.”
Would you consider him to have been a mentor?
“No, he wasn’t a mentor, certainly not in the way we use the term now but he was someone who very much opened my eyes to opportunities and possibilities. You probably get maybe five real opportunities over the course of your career and it takes someone to give you those opportunities and for you to grab them so that they turn into something significant.
Mike was a quiet, unassuming MD but he had a real ability to recognise talent and believed in letting a person have the chance to shine; he gave me my chance and this is something which I’ve held close and has shaped my approach as I’ve looked at how I develop my own teams”
Were there others that have influenced you over the course of your career?
“That’s an interesting one; for some people they may be able to identify a mentor or a particular teacher who has been influential but personally I have found that my strength and the drive was very much something that came from within. I had a comprehensive school education which, at the time, wasn’t really geared towards identifying pupils’ strengths and talents. It was my time in the RAF that helped to instil something in me – a belief – to go on and be the best that I could be.
They were allowing me to fly a plane when many people my age were just learning to drive, they were pushing me and by giving me belief in my own capabilities, I was able to develop an inner confidence and drive.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
“I never set out to develop or craft a particular leadership style; I’ve always just aimed to be myself. Leadership is about finding your true self – not setting out to please others or behave in ways that is expected – and giving that true self to your teams and the business. It’s about finding a way that is empowering both to yourself and others; find yourself, be yourself and let talent grow whilst adapting your approach to suit the situation, individual people and the circumstance.”
How do you see the balance between developing internal talent and external recruitment?
“That is something which I think is very much down to the individual – and it’s important to always remember that people are individual. If you have a stable team, one with good knowledge and experience, they are performing to the very best of their ability and the business is thriving, do you need to change? But if the business is being held back, you need to be able to make those changes and identify within the team who are the anchors and who has the ability, the freedom and the drive to push forward. Sometimes the changes you need to make are significant, sometimes you need to tinker around the edges.”
You mentioned that it is important that people feel empowered – how do you achieve this?
“There has to be the framework within which everyone can operate – a framework of purpose. What are we looking to do? What are we looking to achieve? And you have to be able to delegate what needs to be done to each and every person in the leadership team.
The empowerment comes from allowing them to be free to deliver that purpose to their teams in their own way – and then they in turn must follow that through and help those in their team to feel empowered as well.”
The decision to embark on an MBA was a significant one for you. What do you feel someone needs to focus on to make the move from CFO to CEO?
“The desire has to be there to move away from being a CFO to something which is outside your comfort zone. You therefore need to be brave and you need to listen to the knowledge and experience that is around you. It is important that you have a good supportive team as it can be a steep learning curve. You need to push yourself but you also need someone to recognise that you have more to offer and to be prepared to give you that opportunity.”
What has been your biggest challenge?
“I would probably turn that on its head and say that the real challenges have also been my greatest opportunities. When I came here the business wasn’t performing as well as it could and was in need of some changes quickly; that was what attracted me to the business as it was clear that there was something I could do.
We are a small leadership team and have completely transformed the business, so now everything we do is reflected in our success or otherwise and you can see the influence of what we are doing on a daily basis. That gives us an incredible sense of fulfilment.”
You are a keen sports fan. Do you draw any performance parallels between sport and business?
“The RAF taught me the link between being physically fit and being more capable mentally and I think that in business, particularly as you get older, the fitter you are helps give you a sharpness and a competitive edge. There’s also that desire to want to work as a team and achieve a shared purpose. I don’t like the words ‘mission’ or ‘vision’ – for me it’s all about the purpose and recognising that as individuals alone, you couldn’t achieve what you need to achieve. Together, however, you can achieve extraordinary results.
Look at the recent win for the Irish rugby team over New Zealand in Chicago. The All Blacks had been on an incredible winning streak at the time but it was the Ireland ‘team’ that secured the victory.
Losing together is important too; tasting failure means that you know how it hurts but you grow from those failures. You want to be around people who are going to learn and respond positively because business is competitive – who are the people that are willing to get up and have another shot?”
Is there anyone in particular from the world of business that you respect?
“It’s easy to look at the Bransons and the Sugars of the world and admire their achievements; I respect anyone who has developed a business from nothing as that is not an easy thing to do. But they are also very much removed from my daily life and I prefer to look closer to home and the dozens of people we are surrounded by every day who are achieving their own successes and should be very proud of what they are doing.
What inspires me? That can be drawn from many places. One that I look back on was when I, along with some colleagues at NG Bailey were invited to Wakefield Hospice after completing a charity climb of Mount Etna. We were shown into a room which was painted the most incredible bright yellow colour and the nurse explained that this was the room where the terminally ill children that they cared for spent their final days and you could only imagine what they and the parents of those children have been through and the strength they must have. Today, if ever I am feeling a bit sorry for myself I recall that room and remind myself of what’s really important.”
What is the next big challenge or opportunity?
“I’ve been here for five years now and we still have more to do and achieve. This year will see a £20 million investment project in London come to fruition in what will be a watershed moment for us.
Beyond that? I’m not really looking that far ahead – this project is the key focus for us right now and is taking all our energies and endeavour as it will shape many future opportunities for the business.”