Dave Brooks... wish I'd known

May 07 issue

Dave Brooks is CEO of cakemaker Finsbury Foods. Since taking control in 2002, he has seen profits rise as a result of his hands-on approach to management and business.

My first job was working for the local council as a trainee accountant but it didn’t take long until I was thinking, ‘I’d better get out, I don’t want to be here all my life.’

I got into manufacturing when I started at the global health and hygiene specialist, Kimberly-Clark. It gave me a real taste for the sector because you have a tangible end product.

Unless you run a chicken farm, in which case it works the other way around, you start with 20 things and end up with one. It’s a process you can actually relate to, which appeals to me.

When you’re enthusiastic about the job you’re in, going to work isn’t a chore. I love the food sector as everyone can relate to it. Whether you’re a cleaner or someone with a loftier job title, you’re bound to have contact with the products.

Personal development
When I started in business, I was a bit rough around the edges, but thankfully my boss at the time, Richard Ashness, saw something he was prepared to persevere with. I used to have these meetings with him, in which he’d list the people I’d got on the wrong side of. At the age of 21 or 22 it’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance – you’re still maturing – and I didn’t really know how to deal with people.

I never lose sight of how lucky I was to have a boss who didn’t dismiss me as a troublemaker. So I make a conscious effort to encourage our junior members of staff and I’m happy to recount this story to them to show them that I can relate to their position.

It’s important to be candid and upfront with people. I’ve never read a management book and used to get annoyed when I was sent on staff development courses.
But if there is one thing that I took away from them, it’s that if you’re going to implement an off-the-shelf management strategy, it should work in the background. Don’t try to push it in people’s faces because they are really turned off by jargon and management speak.

I tend to be quite detailed in the way that I manage. I feel that I understand the business because I’ve worked through the ranks, so I conduct regular reviews with the management team. Communication keeps you involved in operations: it’s the way that I have always worked.

If you’ve put a budget together as a general manager and had little or sporadic input from the senior management, the chances are that if something goes wrong, you’ll be the one carrying the can. Unfortunately, you run the risk of being hoofed out as soon as you fail.

Ensuring regular contact between management and the team means that responsibility is shared across both parties and this is better for morale. It’s not a partnership approach to management, but it’s not far off.

City life
Having an AIM listing means we have to deal with the City relatively often, but I have always found that side of the business to be pretty straightforward.

There’s an air of mystique about the City, but I make sure I’m well advised about what we can and cannot do. The most important thing is to know your business really well; make sure that you are the specialist and they are the generalists.

If you have got a good business, you don’t need to try to hype it. We understand consumer trends and we only undertake activities that we can be the best at.

As far as I’m concerned, success hinges on four key points: innovation, consistency in quality, efficient delivery of products, and always offering competitive terms. As soon as you have those in place, you’re in a good position.