After a career with Wedgwood, John M Mohin, OBE now operates within the business consultancy sphere; advising, mentoring, lecturing and public speaking on business, enterprise, intellectual property and entrepreneurship. John talks to The Industry Leaders about his life and leadership journey, including incredible moments like negotiating with the International Olympic Committee prior to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, setting up new export markets for the historic Wedgewood company, and forging close personal relationships with leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Marco Pierre White.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
While studying business at Harris College, now the University of Central Lancashire, I began to dream of working for Wedgwood; I was heavily attracted by the combination of business and the arts. I applied and was duly invited to attend an interview. The company was very English in fabric but with a strong international dimension and well-defined management structure. I accepted a position as Graduate Management Trainee and never looked back.
The company ran a management induction programme, and I was given the opportunity to learn the business from every angle. Wedgwood was driven by profound respect for the customer and was adept at predicting taste, which they seemed to do, consistently well, all of the time. I saw how they could literally read the market and continually produce an array of prestige products & designs that invariably found immediate take-up in a hungry market.
To refine my understanding of the distinguished heritage, I started holding lecture evenings, with two primary objectives in mind. Firstly, to practice public speaking and secondly, to build my knowledge and be competent to answer questions about 250 years of Wedgwood history, design and tradition.
I was subsequently given responsibility for markets in the Middle East, the Far East and the Caribbean. Success continued, and I opened up new export markets in the Indian subcontinent that ultimately altered the Wedgwood factory's structure, as manufacturing colleagues changed production schedules to accommodate the new business I was writing.
As a result, Wedgwood financed a senior management education course for me at Harvard Business School in Boston. I found this to be hugely beneficial, and the discipline acquired remains with me to this day. I appreciated more than ever that, for any business to succeed, all the variables have to be in place and work in harmony, including sales, marketing, human resources, legal and risk, finance, operations and IT.
I was later appointed to run overseas companies in Japan and Asia Pacific. This level of experience teaches humility, and the combination of experience and humility together brings knowledge. So, when making corporate decisions, operating in a different time zone on the other side of the planet, you have to become self-reliant. I find myself very lucky to have the experiences that I did and to have become suitably equipped in this way. I now serve on the Advisory Board to the Dean of the School of Business and Enterprise at the University of Central Lancashire, which takes me right back to where it all began, dreaming of joining Wedgwood, at Harris College.
What kind of work does your role involve?
I consider myself a salesman; I create brand-nourishing income streams. My work is to create wealth and share the challenges faced by my clients or whomever I am advising. I scan the commercial horizon and identify threats and opportunities often before they materialise. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do have many of the questions. So, taking this as a starting point, I use market intelligence to analyse and formulate a strategy.
In every campaign, whether you're making love or war, the first step is to gather information. One crucial piece of strategic advice I advocate is never to waste time attacking competitors: the best use of valuable resources is to attack the market instead. This can have the effect of frightening competitors to overspend on marketing, which can ultimately have the same result.
I bring an external perspective that aims to provide value for my customer, whether that's a company, entrepreneur or student. This level of insight, correctly harnessed, enables the companies and universities, entrepreneurs and students that I advise, to preempt issues, avoid crises and capitalise upon opportunities.
I've worked with Anglo Minerals, Steelite, Royal Crown Derby, Beeston Shenton, and Liverpool John Moores University. I currently serve as Visiting Professor at the University of Chester, and I am Chairman of Graham Shapiro Design, a leading player in creative communications with a portfolio of leading clients all with valuable international brands. Our goal is to ensure that we consistently outperform the marketplace.
What gets you excited about your industry?
I get excited about challenges, obstacles and find adversity is a form of learning. Even when there are barriers and difficulties, all the roads you take always lead somewhere better, I find. My advice is to learn to use this like a writer might absorb life, or a painter uses colour.
I get excited about an entrepreneur who thinks of something that hasn't been tried before, maybe creates an alternative point of view, advocates an exciting new market or direction. I have sufficient reserves of humility to be able to learn from a variety of sources. The pandemic is creating opportunities that we never imagined would constitute a market for a particular product or service, and that's enormously exciting.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
As I said previously, I learn from various sources and, in the same way, I draw advice and indeed, inspiration, from everywhere. For example, Albert Einstein said:
"The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits." I love that.
Celebrity chef, entrepreneur and my good friend, Marco Pierre White, gave me his personal philosophy and it's something that stays with me:
"What I know is that self-control is true power, a clear conscience is true strength, and good family and friends is true wealth."
Marco considers roots to be important, and I agree, he said:
"A tree without roots is a log."
In corporate affairs, as much as anything else, character and reputation are easier kept than recovered. Perhaps the best advice I was given is to listen to everybody. I take note of that wonderful treatise Desiderata, which counsels us in this way:
"Speak your truth quietly and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit."
Therefore, the 'best advice' you asked about changes all the time and what works today may have to be adapted for tomorrow. There are no permanent solutions or permanent problems, it's a question of applying experience correctly with prudence and dexterity.
What, or who inspires you?
I'm continuously drawn toward, motivated, and inspired by great leaders; to me, the very essence of leadership is truly inspiring in all its various forms. I admire a leader with the integrity to tell the truth, the charisma to make people listen and the guts to act upon it.
I think the reason I respect strong leaders, male and female, is their capacity to build coalitions. When Margaret Thatcher spoke at the peak of her career, the rest of the world paid attention. We became friends largely based, I have to say, upon a shared passion for English bone china and porcelain; she was a passionate connoisseur, had been collecting for many years and loved the subject so much:
"We do not proclaim loudly enough our many skills and designs.
Letter from Margaret Thatcher dated 31st January 2003.
Building effective alliances are absolutely essential in the world of business and very necessary in civil society. Great leaders know when an alliance, either formal or informal, tightly structured or loosely organised, can be made to work: they make judgements based upon what they expect to achieve, and I find that endlessly inspiring.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?
I draw information from many sources and read extensively, very happily, I might add. Chief amongst these is a long-standing passion I have for a weekly magazine that calls itself a newspaper. I probably shouldn't advertise and have no interest to declare, but I must tell you that I am quietly addicted to and have come to depend very heavily upon The Economist. It offers such remarkably broad insight about the full range of economics, a subject that I still consider to be more of an art than a science.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
I once found myself negotiating with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Switzerland. As crazy as it sounds, my lofty objective was nothing less than to secure the marketing rights on behalf of Waterford Wedgwood, for the forthcoming Olympic Games, scheduled to take place in Sydney, Australia in 2000, the start of the new millennium.
It wasn't that the IOC were difficult, quite the opposite really: they were courteous, professional, honourable but also formidable, in so many ways. I suppose it was just the sheer scale of what I set out to do that was challenging because my aim was nothing less than to secure the use of the Olympic Rings, one of the most famous, heavily protected, intellectual properties in the world. I fully expected the terms and conditions would prove onerous or maybe even prohibitive but was pleasantly surprised, as we talked through my proposed world marketing campaign.
In addition, I wanted to gain access to the Olympic Archives and the vast array of images and artwork housed in the Musee Olympique in Lausanne, dating back to 1894, when the modern Games were revived by Pierre de Coubertin. I was astounded when I was granted access to this rich archive, one that opened up, right before my very eyes.
I secured the contract that later proved to be worth millions and millions of pounds, creating years of work for our factories. The framework we negotiated together became the template for subsequent Olympic Games, proving that good contracts are those that impart benefits to all parties.
This was business negotiation executed on an Olympian level, and I learnt so much. Lord Wedgwood, head of the family and distinguished senior colleague, immediately saw the potential this held for international business development and wrote:
"Your inspiration is the company's fortune".
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
I have always been and indeed remain, hugely inspired by the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and indeed, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh himself, whom I have spoken with many times, over the years. For me, the Duke of Edinburgh is one of the towering figures of the twentieth century; to my mind, he is one of the most impressive people that I have ever met and particularly admire his no-nonsense, direct and forthright manner.
To address your question, I would channel funds to enhance the Duke of Edinburgh International Awards scheme, which holds such enormous potential to provide for young people's well-being and welfare worldwide. I am pleased that my youngest son Charlie, has just enrolled on his own initiative and it is my dearest wish that my grandson Bertie, Albert John Mohin, will one day join too. This internationally recognised programme operates in 144 countries and is designed to encourage young people to develop positive skills and lifestyle habits.
At the same time, I served as a Director, later Chairman, of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia in the UK. Given the chance, I would do as much as possible to help a phenomenal organisation serving people living in the remote Australian outback.
We mounted an ambitious campaign to finance and fully equip an Air King B500 jet aircraft. It was later named Friends in the United Kingdom and launched by HRH Prince Charles at a ceremony held at Broken Hill airbase, in New South Wales. My affinity with Australia is strong and sincere in every respect. I was honoured to be granted Australian Citizenship, which I hold jointly with the United Kingdom.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I enjoy family life, take great interest in my three children's affairs, and my wife and I spend every opportunity to be with them. This has been recently complicated by the pandemic, but even so, we get together whenever we can, and social media keeps us in touch.
As Patron of the Wedgwood Collectors Society, I have an abiding interest in ceramics and scour forthcoming auctions for pieces of historical significance. From time to time, I occasionally see pieces come up for sale with a Certificate of Authenticity originally signed by me. My' release valve' so to speak, is to exchange notes on collectors' pieces with a network of devoted connoisseurs in North America and Australasia who stay in touch with me.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
The loss of life caused by the pandemic has affected us all, and there is no avoiding the scale of human tragedy. But as we emerge from this appalling phase, we will soon be able to look toward new dawn, one that is loaded with optimism. When we have safely overcome the pernicious menace of Covid-19, my dearest wish is that business leaders learn from the scale of adversity we have faced. Specifically, we need to advocate that as part of world societies- all of us - we step forward and point to the profound spirit of discovery and recovery that prevails.
The pace at which vaccines have been created has produced celebrity scientists who have effectively empowered medicine. That is both a life lesson and such an incredible force for good.
For people in positions of influence, it's time to get on with the task of economic recovery and begin to stimulate the next decade, one that could herald the 2020's as perhaps a new 'roaring twenties' how about that! This is a moment in time for governments to work with scientists, economists and business people to shape our future, one that we know we can share, just as we were forced to share the threat of a deadly virus.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
Statecraft by Margaret Thatcher, first of all. Margaret gave me a copy of her book which I found prescient and remarkably relevant as a modern-day treatise, equivalent in many respects to anything written by the father of modern political philosophy, Niccolo Machiavelli in the sixteenth century. I would also cite White Heat by Marco Pierre White for all his wisdom, craft and commanding knowledge of people.
In terms of podcasts, bang up to the minute for me is Checks and Balances by The Economist. It is quite simply unbeatable, in so many ways. Podcasts started exactly 20 years ago, in January 2001 and remain an essential means of collating and evaluating the prevailing political & economic climate.
How should people connect with you?
You can connect with me via LinkedIn or www.johnmohin.com.
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