Leadership Development

As a leader you need to recognise what you're good at, and where your strengths lie.

This week, Small Business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about leadership development.
Hamish Gordon, managing director of Natural Sugars (New Zealand) and Pure Bottling.
Hamish Gordon, managing director of Natural Sugars (New Zealand) and Pure Bottling.

Hamish Gordon is managing director of Natural Sugars (New Zealand) and Pure Bottling.

You recently graduated from the Icehouse's Owner Manager Programme. What motivated you to do that?

I knew people who had been on the course and said it changed the way they thought about their business, but I put it off for two years because I had a young family and wasn't ready to let go of what I'd worked so hard to achieve.

When I started the business everything was very much up to me but the business was now bigger and I had to change the way I managed it. We started Natural Sugars in 2009 and grew from a team of three to 13 and annual revenue from zero to $50 million today. In late 2014 we also bought a new business - Pure Bottling - with nine staff, which was a whole new challenge.

Although I was still really motivated I felt I was taking on too much and the energy wasn't there to keep going at the same pace.

I think a lot of people starting their own business fall into the same trap; it's hard to let go of something you've worked so hard on for so long and also pick the right time to take a step back.

What key leadership lessons did you learn from that experience?

My mindset has definitely changed since the programme because it outlined the power of working on the business rather than in it. For seven years I'd rarely taken a proper lunch break and spent a lot of time putting out fires and on day-to-day challenges. From a leadership point of view I needed to empower my staff and give them total ownership of their jobs. Good people are a huge asset to a business and we have a great team. As a company we needed to create a vision and make sure that staff were involved in that.

Starting a business from the grassroots level you have a 'roll up your sleeves and do what you need' mentality. As we grew, staff kept saying to me 'I don't even have a job description'. I've learnt people need scope and meaning - a reason to get up and come to work. Happy people are much more productive.

What changes have you made in the business as a result?

We have implemented a leadership team and given key staff the autonomy to own their jobs. We have also included staff in creating the company vision for both firms and they've written their own job descriptions and KPIs. We now have regular meetings to share successes, challenges, and opportunities as well as team events, and an out-of-office conference once a year.

What other experiences have helped you develop your leadership capabilities?

I think a lot of leadership comes down to emotional intelligence. I've put myself in situations over the past few years that were out of my comfort zone, which taught me a lot about myself. As a leader you need to recognise what you're good at, and where your strengths lie.

One example of how I've recognised this is with our Harvest Oils brand. Although I'd put a lot of effort into developing that in supermarkets I felt an FMCG specialist would be much more effective. Not only has this been effective but it's also given me room to put my head up and take on a new opportunity by way of Pure Bottling, which focuses on the contract bottling of juice and premium carbonated beverages.

I've also learnt there's a big difference between management and leadership. I love working with people but I'm very goal oriented and do what I need to to achieve them. I definitely believe I'm a better leader than a manager. Although I believe I'm fairly understanding, I expect solutions not problems from staff. I am a big believer in people being proactive and if they want to better themselves I will support them 100 percent, but it has to come from them. We have some strong managers in both Natural Sugars and Pure Bottling and implementing a senior management team has really helped in this area.

The way I've led has definitely changed over the years. I used to think leadership was about spending more hours in the office than anyone else but now when I look at the big picture it's about 'less is more'. Family is really important to me as is exercise and if you have that balance then you're stronger in more challenging times and a hell of a lot more efficient. I have the clearest head when I'm out of the office and I find people solve more issues themselves when I'm not there.

- NZ Herald