The Interview: Jackie Whiteley On Why Challenges Reap Their Own Reward
JACKIE Whiteley is one half of garden mulch company Strulch. The former careers advisor now heads the growing Yorkshire firm while husband and scientist Geoff continues his academic work. In this week's The Interview she reveals why challenges can reap their own reward.
What aspects of your job/profession do you enjoy the most? The freedom to make my own decisions. Having worked in big organisations with a chain of command, it is refreshing to be able to just do the job. That autonomy allows me to be creative and focused. I also love my garden and love Strulch - our organic garden mulch - and the excitement of seeing it at work in places such as Kew Royal Botanic Gardens or to get feedback from the Eden Project is such a joy. Every day is different for me - from marketing to selling to project managing. That variety is what keeps me going.
What key challenges do you anticipate will affect your sector/profession over the next six months? Similar for anyone in manufacturing; keep the client base steady and ensure the financial support is there. Once you have the product in place and it has a track record, it is then a case of ensuring the flow of business can be maintained. If people are staying at home and spending more on related activities then there is opportunity for expansion within the gardening and horticultural sector. The challenge is to find a way of capitalising on it without recourse to credit.
What key skills do you think every entrepreneur should have? The ability to seize opportunities. You create a product and have a plan - but it's key that when opportunities arise, you act on them quickly and thrive on that challenge. You need tenacity, too. Sometimes, we won't get it right first time and to succeed ,we often need to look for other solutions -so flexibility too.
Why do you think Yorkshire is a good place to start up/operate a business? We have good infrastructure, good transport, the best financial and legal expertise. There is also great support available through Business Link, The Chamber of Commerce, and networking groups such as Forward Ladies. SMEs can benefit greatly from grants but also from the training that is offered and there are some excellent training providers in the region. This has added value to my business.
If you could improve anything in the region what would it be? Perhaps Yorkshire Forward could offer more encouragement to new businesses in the technology sector. There are world class universities in the region but there isn't a big enough pool of emerging companies to benefit from the technology transfer on offer.
Your views on the recession...... It is a challenge and will highlight any deficiencies in a business. It also focuses the mind and makes us think carefully about our spending. However, there are still opportunities to grow business, if you can be creative in what you offer.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given? Keep focused and know where you want to get to! I was once told you wouldn't get on a train if you didn't know where you are heading. The same applied in business.
And the worst? It is all too risky and don't give up the day job! Didn't listen, thankfully!
What barriers have you had to overcome in growing your business/developing your career, and if any, can you explain how you overcame them. There were and are several challenges. We had to work out how to fund the patents we had for our products. We got a National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts Enterprise Award of £50,000, in 2002. A competitive award for an ‘environmentally friendly technology'. Our investment and company profits have kept the patents current. This is essential to our plans. Our backgrounds were from the public sector- academic and careers adviser. We had little commercial experience although used to working with budgets. We learnt fast! We took advantage of opportunities for self development in commercial awareness and more general business skills, networking, attending workshops. We went to accountants and lawyers surgeries. We applied for grants to access consultants who supported our business planning. It was a steep learning curve but we felt energised by the support and spurred on to put what we learnt into action. Our products are unique and innovative. The challenge was how to bring them to national attention and to make the brand well known for its ‘organic' and wider environmental credentials, including carbon saving. We had academic credibility but wanted professional credibility. We offered material for trials at The Eden Project and at Royal Horticultural Society and gardens such as The Alnwick Garden. The results were phenomenal. The Eden Project offered us free endorsement. Our bags say ‘As Used at The Eden Project' .The RHS undertook a trial and reported on it in RHS journal ‘The Garden'. Our web site contains the many quotes that the professional gardeners gave us and they still champion the product that does what it says on the label.
What was your first job and what did you spend your first wage packet on? I was a Saturday girl in a hairdressers shop at age 13! I bought a tartan ‘Beatles' bag with a black fringe along the bottom. How cool is that! Wish I still had it, actually.
If you could choose to start your career over again would you do anything different and if so what? Life has presented challenges to me but the opportunities have also been amazing. I actually think I am doing what I was meant to right now. I was training to be a lawyer until circumstances lead myself and my husband to create our company and market Strulch and other organic garden products. All my career has led me to this point and I never think there is any point in "if only...". I now only look forward. So, no I don't think so. Life has presented challenges but there have also been amazing opportunities and I might have missed them and I haven't finished yet!
Name one item/hobby/gadget you couldn't give up. Having a manicure - seriously, if you treat yourself well others will treat you well too. The dog lead, as walking the dog is such a great pleasure. My Blackberry, as life without communication would be impossible. And lipstick, naturally.