Delighting all the senses of Leadership.
Fairy dust. I am sure of it.
There is something quite delightful about Jo Fairley. Seems corny and, perhaps, cliché however there just is… My dear friend urged me to speak with Jo and everyone from Raise the Bar had nothing but great things to say about her and I can see why.
I am not sure what sort of magic fairy dust this lady possesses but it definitely stems from a steely determination. I was incredibly fortunate enough to have some time with Jo and have a conversation about leadership – her take on it and what drives her.
We know her as the cofounder of Green & Black’s which was started with just £20,000 of her savings, and has grown into a brand worth approaching £100 million worldwide in less than 20 years. Despite its widespread global availability, Green & Black’s has retained its luxury cachet: it is the only food brand featured in the UK’s CoolBrands Top 20.
Jo left school at the age of 16 armed with 6 O-levels and a comment from a teacher which drives her to this day.
“You will never make so much as a girl Friday”
Whilst Jo does not condone what she says, she has found it to be her rocket fuel : “I still have something to prove, it still drives me on. It was humiliating- in front of the class- and I could have just bought into that story and worked on the Pic ‘n’ mix in Woolworths however it was that moment that I can still feel to this day, that got me here”.
As it stands, Jo thrived at secretarial college and armed with her secretarial diploma dreamed of private jet bookings and high end executive assistant roles but, first, found herself working for 2 old professors – not quite the EA dream! And then, at the age of 19, ended up on a start up magazine. With writing in her genes – her father was a journalist – writing was, and felt like, the normal thing to do. Journalist is a firm part of Jos identity as it gives vast insight and has given Jo exposure to everything from sumo wrestling to Romanian orphans!
She was Britain's youngest-ever magazine editor, editing first Look Now and then Honey. She has co-written two beauty bestsellers - The Beauty Bible and Feel Fab Forever - and once wrote an environment column for the Times.
This talent and journalistic background served Green & Blacks well in the marketing and promotion of the products.
At the age of 13 Jo was gifted a book “A shoppers guide to saving the planet” and even though there wasn’t too much that could be done as a 13 year old it was a very formative element and, from that moment, Jo vowed to tread a little more lightly on the planet.
“I understood the disposability of fashion. Even as a young teenager I would buy really good clothes”. This dedication led to one of the backbones of all that Jo talks about – ethics and CSR principles – and is a foundation observed in all her companies.
And now, Jo is a proud ambassador of Green & Blacks – her husband, Craig Sams, is still on the board and now runs an organic bakery in Hastings, a well being centre and the perfume society – a subscription organisation for perfume-lovers, offering events (including 'meet the nose' events), courses, sampling opportunities, and a beautiful regular downloadable magazine, The Scented Letter.
In between times, I think she sleeps.
LS: What has served you well in Leadership?
JF: I have 3 younger brothers and I was brought up to lead a small team – we are close in age and we were a platoon. That helped me, I think I was more used to Leadership because of this.
LS: What would be your biggest lessons in building a business and letting go of a business?
JF: Be aware that it’s always going to feel like your ‘baby’ and you want to make sure the ‘adopted parents’ are going to be good to it, otherwise there’s heartbreak ahead. We’ve been very fortunate with the new parents of Green & Black’s. And secondly, if you’re an entrepreneur, don’t think you’re suddenly going to turn into someone who can stare happily at sunsets…! There’s probably another enterprise beckoning.
LS: This magazine/web is all about Leadership. We firmly believe that all people are leaders – what do you nail in leadership?
JF: It’s a cliché but I like to lead by example. In other words, hard work, and not being shy of rolling up my own sleeves. I’d never ask someone else to do something I wasn’t prepared to do myself.
LS: When times are “not so good” how do you lead? What do you put in place? What are the processes?
JF: Don’t hide behind the sofa. Make everyone realise: ‘we’re in this together, but it’s going to be fine.’ Because mostly, it is, and they don’t want to see you wobbling. But it really helps to have someone to ‘workshop’ it all with – in my case, my husband, Craig Sams, who was my Co-Founder at Green & Black’s. If I’m down, he’s usually up – and vice versa. So it works well. It’s lonely, leading entirely on your own.
LS: What gets you through the day?
JF: Speedy Hercules English Breakfast tea from The Rare Tea Company, a blend originally made for me personally but Henrietta Lovell, the company’s founder, but which proved so popular when she tried it out that she now offers it herself! (Actually, I called it ‘Hercules’ – it’s that strong - but I think she calls it Speedy Breakfast.) Three cups, in a day.
LS: Best person you have ever worked with and why?
JF: A man called Howard Robinson, my first magazine Features Editor, who threw me in at the deep end and told me – when he asked me to write something, and I responded, ‘But I can’t write!’ – that ‘everyone can write’. (With a four-letter word thrown in for good measure.) So I got on with it.
LS: What gives you courage?
JF: The thought of that postcard of a man on a diving board, saying: ‘If you don’t do it, you’ll never know what would have happened if you had done it…’
LS: How do you motivate and inspire people? (Apart from launching a £100 million brand!)
JF: Work-wise, by ensuring there’s enough fun and laughter to balance the hard work. And in business, by showing – as Green & Black’s has done – that you can do good, through doing business.
LS: What brings out your dark side?
JF: 70% Dark Green & Black’s, of course. What did you expect me to say…?
LS: What are you certain about?
JF: Anything my instincts and gut tell me. It only goes pear-shaped when I try to be rational.
LS: What is your go to pair of shoes/ lucky pants / fave song/pen/stationery for when you have an important meeting or you have to present- could you send us a picture of them please?
JF: My ‘speaking shoes’ by Chie Mihara. Gold lace-ups, very sturdy, can stand and walk in them for hours.
LS: Most embarrassing leadership moment (that still brings you out in a sweat?)
JF: None, mercifully, but I do have anxiety dreams about standing on stage with my skirt tucked into my knickers.
LS: How do you create balance?
JF: Yoga three mornings a week at 8 a.m. People say, ‘How do you have time?’, but if I get to Yoga, it’s as if I have TWO hours back in my day.
LS: How do you stay calm?
JF: See above. And I make sure to get enough Vitamin B, which is good for stress (Marmite, and supplements).
LS: What do you dream about?
JF: I have incredibly vivid and varied dreams, and have been known to smell perfumes in dreams.
LS: Would you employ you?
JF: Oh, if only I was available…!
LS: How do you keep fit for business?
JF: As well as the Yoga I literally walk everywhere I possibly can.
LS: What is taking up your thinking space right now?
JF: The Perfume Society. Just checked the orders at www.perfumesociety.org and we just had our best day ever! But it’s hugely enjoyable as well as being massively time-consuming. My particular passion is to help people develop their sense of smell, which has lapsed to a fraction of its power.
LS: Favourite book on leadership/life/dream making abilities?
JF: Martha Stewart’s The Martha Rules. You just have to leave aside the thought that she went to jail for insider trading; notwithstanding, it’s a GREAT read for female entrepreneurs/leaders, in particular
LS: How would others describe your style of leadership in 3 words?
JF: I’d love to know! I hope they’d say: ‘Firm but fair.’
And so there we have- Jo Fairley. The feeling of passion and encouragement I possessed after the conversation is priceless.
My learning’s from Jo:
Catch up on some of Jo's current projects below. I think she is all about resting when she is dead!!
Keep in touch monthly (or even more frequently with us*).
* We promise not to virtually stalk you, it will be (at max) weekly round ups and elements that it would be rude not to tell you about...