Not many people can claim to have worked for the same company for as long as John Hall. He joined automotive products group Ring in 1979 and steered the management buyout of the firm from its American owners in 2005. During his tenure as chief executive of the renamed Volvox Group, he continued to take the company from strength to strength. We caught up with the former buyer at ASDA and Schofields department store to shine light on a successful career which spans almost 40 years.

Tell us about the early days in your career.

I didn’t do particularly well at school and gained only a handful of qualifications. My first job was in retail – I’d been working in Woolworths over the summer and after leaving school my father suggested a role at Debenhams; I joined the graduate training programme as a junior. This led to a two year course at Leeds Polytechnic as it was then, which I loved – the syllabus gave me a real grounding in business, covering a host of subjects including accountancy and economics – and from there I moved to Schofields in Leeds as a trainee floor manager before securing a role as an electrical buyer at ASDA.

What happened next?

I’d been with ASDA for a couple of years when I was approached by Danny Rivlin, the founder of Ring. I decided to join him as I wanted to learn more about the selling side of business; I thought I would be there for a couple of years before moving on again but 25 years later I was at the helm and preparing to lead a management buyout!

Is there a piece of advice that you have carried forward throughout your career?

During my time at Schofields – I was in my early twenties, so still very much at the beginning of my career – they acquired a store in Sheffield which was to also come under my responsibility. My manager introduced me to the person who would be working for me, a chap in his sixties, and he said to me “make sure you treat him well because one day that will be you.” His words rang true and to this day they have shaped the way I look to deal with people in my business life.

What is your business philosophy?

I’ve always felt that it is important to do everything ethically. I would see people moving quickly, doing whatever they could to get ahead, and wonder why because more often than not there would be something that trips them up. For me, trying to do the right thing and taking an ethical approach goes hand in hand with long term success.

Are there qualities that you look for when building a team of people around you?

A person’s intellect – and by that I mean their ability and desire to learn – commitment and potential for development are the things that stand out for me. I’m also taking into consideration someone’s emotional intelligence – the softer qualities which are fundamental to achieving business success and their capability to be, or become, a good leader.

Would you say that good managers do not always make for the best leaders and vice versa?

I don’t necessarily think you can ‘make’ someone a great leader; a person has to already have the necessary qualities within them such as the ability to motivate, empathise and instil belief in others. There are those however, who may have those qualities but need the right guidance, support and mentoring to enable them to fulfil their potential. I think I’m pretty good at working who those people are whilst, at the same time, believing that you have to give people who you may have a question mark against, opportunities to prove themselves – sometimes they have gone on to surprise me!

Do you favour talent which has been grown from within over external recruitment?

Not necessarily. There are often only a handful of people who will remain with one company for the majority of their working life. With people it is important that you are able to create a sense of value – and that has to work both ways – so both employee and employer recognise and understand what is expected and needed from and by the other. You have to be able to motivate and inspire people to want to do a good job – and it’s not always about financial gain, offering shares in a business or equity. There are those who are reluctant or resistant to bringing in new recruits, particularly into senior or managerial roles but generally I enjoy hiring external people into a business; it’s an opportunity to modernise, improve and change the way things have been done previously.

How do you keep things interesting for yourself?

I like to ask questions. You learn by asking questions so I have always made a point of taking time to walk around the manufacturing floor and speak to people. Not only does it enable you to develop trust but you gain real insight – you see more, hear more and pick up on things which you can change and improve. The times that I have enjoyed the most are when there have been situations or challenges to overcome. I’m always looking for where improvements can be made, questioning how things could be done better; it keeps me interested and motivated to ensure we are always developing and moving forward.

Your work with Hollybank Trust – The Mirfield based charity which provides education and residential care for people of all ages who have complex and severe disabilities – is hugely important to you

I first became involved with them over 25 years ago and have spent the last 10 years as chairman of trustees. So much has happened in that time, we have relocated and expanded the centre in order to offer care for adults and thanks to the continued fundraising efforts, been able to provide additions such as a swimming pool and hydrotherapy centre. We have fantastic facilities and a wonderful group of people who have such passion for what we are trying to achieve; this all means that we have created an environment where the best care and support possible is provided – and it truly is a real team effort.

What advice would you offer to the next generation of business leaders?

The right education is fundamental but whilst getting a good degree from a respected university will stand you in good stead, you shouldn’t hang your entire future upon it. Being savvy in your approach is equally important – there is an element of being streetwise which is essential for success in business. With my own children I hope that I have set them a good example and am able to be supportive of them without interfering – telling someone how to do something can potentially be more damaging than offering no help at all.