Sam Kirk, is Managing Director of J-Flex, A Retford based company who has established itself as the UK’s leading elastomer solutions provider, he shares a day in his life.
I know it may sound like a cliché to suggest this, but no day is exactly the same for me. Yes, there are certain aspects that are repeated, however the nature of people – employees, clients, suppliers, strategic partners – and the nature of our industry and the markets we’re involved in means that I’m faced with different challenges each and every day.
Although our work day runs from 8:30am until 5pm, I like to get to the office for 8am (rather than sit in rush hour traffic). It also gives me 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted thinking time.
I then have a daily briefing with our Finance Director, Commercial Director and Operations Director to ensure, in simple terms, that we are; getting paid, achieving sales targets and getting the product(s) out of the door. I also have a bi-daily conference call with a strategic partner in Germany, where we have a joint venture.
Promoting the company in a positive light is something I work closely with our Marketing Manager on, and it’s hugely important for our future recruitment plans. Specific areas, such as entering awards – J-Flex was recently named one of the Top 3 Family Businesses in the Midlands – and our charity partnership with Bassetlaw Hospice (our team managed to donate over £10,500 last year) have certainly given us a PR boost!
The rest of my day can then include customer or supplier visits and meetings with our strategic partners – as a SME we rely on external companies to provide support in HR, IT and Accountancy. There is an element of overseas travelling too, with regular visits to Germany (our biggest export market), a handful of other European destinations, China and India where we have an office in Mumbai.
I make sure I get out of the office for 30 minutes at lunchtime and walk into the town centre here in Retford. Again, this thinking time is invaluable. Another tool I find equally important is something nicknamed “signposting” – this was introduced to me by one of my early mentors, a lady called Jo – whereby you pick two road signs on your journey home and by the first sign you’re telling yourself to switch off and by the second sign you’re already thinking about something else!
It’s important to note that I’m still, relatively speaking, in my infancy in this role (having been appointed Managing Director in April 2018) and that I’ve taken on the baton from my Dad, John, who co-founded the company (with Mum, Jill) back in 1984. By and large we’ve had an incredibly successful 35 years and we are pretty good at what we do – it’s my ambition to take us from good to great, and that means gradually introducing new processes and procedures.
The succession and new leadership of the company has also lead to a cultural shift within the business with increased accountability, empowerment and engagement. As well as our “day jobs” the Senior Leadership Team have mutually agreed SMART Objectives in place and I’m currently working on one of my objectives; to review and deliver a revised performance management process to replace the out-dated (and quite frankly, dreaded) annual appraisal. Once in place, this will mean that all staff will have; their own objectives aligned with our organisational goals, and a personal development plan which helps us to a) identify the need for skills, knowledge or competence, and b) select appropriate development activities to meet those perceived needs.
My advice to anybody new to a manager, director or chief execs role is this; don’t be afraid to ask for help – you can’t be expected to know EVERYTHING! One of the best forms of help I’ve had is a chap called Tim. Tim is my coach and we meet up once a month – we’ve been working together for just under 2 years now. Not only was Tim a great cultural fit for J-Flex, his background as MD of a hugely successful PLC and a family-owned SME has been an enormous benefit for my development. My coaching sessions with Tim are a great vehicle to confidentially discuss challenges or problems that I (or the business) face, and for me to then work out the solution!
Based in Retford, J-Flex has established itself as the UK’s leading elastomer solutions provider. Solutions include high performance rubber sheetings for gasket conversion and lamination applications plus manufactured rubber components such as mouldings, extrusions and bellows.
With regular exports to over 55 countries, J-Flex has firmly cemented itself as a world-class company and was recently shortlisted for the International Trade Award at the 2019 East Midlands Business Masters. The company is also in the running for an additional 3 accolades – Employer of the Year, Family Business of the Year and Company of the Year – at the upcoming North Notts Business Awards.