Exits

Jonathan Straight: specs appeal

Jun 08 issue
 

Ex-pub pianist Jonathan Straight gives new meaning to the term visionary. James Crux finds out why he likes to make a spectacle of himself

Entrepreneur Jonathan Straight is best known for shaping the strategic vision of Straight, the recycling products and services company he founded and which shares his name.

But this larger-than-life figure is also a significant investor in another important vision, his own eyesight, having amassed a huge collection approaching 200 separate pairs of spectacles in an array of styles and colours, which is insured for £25,000.

Involved in the recycling container industry since the late 1980s, Straight is chief executive and 39.35 per cent shareholder in Straight, which he set up in 1993 as a one-man operation, successfully built and then floated on AIM towards the tail end of 2003.

Origin of speccies
Recalls Straight: ‘It all started 17 or 18 years ago. I visited an optician near where I worked in Leeds, and it was there that I saw quite an unusual frame, with a different shape to normal. I asked the optician: “Do you do it in gold?” and he said: “Yes, but if you order it, you will have to pay for it.”’

Though he concedes the frames actually came back as more of a yellow, Straight was so taken aback by the positive reaction that he received wearing these unusual and eccentric frames, he decided to buy another pair. ‘This time I ordered it in green, which fitted in well, seeing as we [Straight] were an environmental business.’

As it turned out, these frames were from a Los Angeles-based company called l.a.Eyeworks, whose tagline is ‘a face is like a work of art; it deserves a great
frame’ and whose iconoclastic glasses are recognisable for their modern strokes and bold colour innovations. Its designs have been worn by everyone from Elton John and Jeff Goldblum to Cameron Diaz.

Eyewear aficionado
Bitten by the eyewear bug, Straight told the optician he was interested and badgered him for a catalogue that led him to the designs of a Belgium-based eyewear company called Theo Eyewear, known for its quirky, humorous and often outrageous designs, which he eventually tracked down via the Belgian embassy, no less.

‘These glasses were like nothing I’d ever seen before, so I actually went out to Antwerp to see them. I looked at their collection and came away with about seven new frames. Plus, this guy and I really hit it off and he kindly agreed to treat me as a trade account.

‘Since then, every year I’ve been to Antwerp or he has come over to see me and I tend to buy about 15 frames a year. Some of them are serious, some are fun and some have tinted lenses.’

Focused on growth
Surprisingly, this array of frames can play a role, however minute, in the growth of the business Straight leads, since the figurehead is so immediately recognisable and memorable.

Straight admits that his standout frames grab attention when he is attending presentations and meetings or exhibitions, ensuring he is noticed and providing a talking point at exhibition stands.

‘I’ll wear some different frames and it gets people talking. They might be an unusual colour, slightly bigger or smaller than normal, made of an unusual material or in some other way visually quite striking.’

Indeed, one of the more outrageous frames were sported by Straight during a TV appearance. ‘These were upside-down specs, bright canary yellow and with dark sun lenses in,’ he chuckles.

Vital statistics

Role: Chief executive of Straight

Age: 42

Status: Married, one daughter

Business mantra: Work hard, play hard

Life philosophy: I believe that anybody who puts their mind to it can do it

Other interesting facts: Straight is heavily involved with the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards Programme, being a previous winner in 2006. He also finds time to turn his hand to mentoring other entrepreneurs.