Chris is an international business developer, brand builder, multi-sector B2C-B2B-D2C marketer with 25 years’ experience covering technology, telecoms, FMCG and health & wellness industries. He has held executive leadership roles in FTSE listed, US venture capital and UK private equity backed firms on successful paths to shareholder value creation and exit.
Proven at delivering revenue growth through a blend of off-line and on-line, multi-channel marketing, digital go-to-market and eCommerce solutions. On a range of globalisation assignments, he has also worked and lived in London, Vienna, Prague, Brussels, Dubai, Bangkok & Singapore.
His early career was in the marketing and creative services industry, building Ogilvy and WPP agency networks in Europe & Asia and servicing blue-chip multinational clients. Today, he cross-fertilises broad sector and market experience to drive growth for UK start-ups and scale-ups in senior commercial, operating, consulting or NED roles working with and advising founders, entrepreneurs, investors, partnerships and Board level C-suite executive teams.
Chris Hill: Tell us a little bit about your work and your role.
- The constant in my career has always been helping businesses configure and optimise their brand proposition to best engage with their source of business opportunity, whether by targeting, communications, new products & services, competitive price positions, routes-to-market, sales channels and new territories.
- My role is a growth seeker and accelerator. Given my international background, it is often to take business places they haven’t been before, literally and figuratively.
- I like the emergence of the “C Suite” job title: Chief Revenue Officer. I relate to its commercial focus, leadership responsibility and accountability for the lifeblood of a successful, growing business.
What does your work with a client usually involve?
- My approach is to start by asking questions: sometimes tough ones. The Why? is important to pose but can sometimes be too easy to answer. Addressing the Why Not? Or What If? is often where value can be added. I mix analytical disciplines with leaps of creative and entrepreneurial drive. I aim to get clients excited about the future.
How did you get into this field of work?
I was always entranced by the creativity of advertising (1980s Guinness and Levi’s ads to name a couple). I became passionate about brands, got into advertising in 1989, and laid the foundations of my international career with Ogilvy – today one of the jewels of WPP’s network of marketing services companies. Throughout the 1990s I serviced blue-chip multinational clients such as Unilever, Pepsi, Shell, Ford, Hewlett Packard, GlaxoSmithKline and Kraft and found myself in the midst of the forces of globalisation. After 10 years, I changed “poacher turned gamekeeper” and joined a FTSE 100 consumer brands company as Marketing Director. After 5 years of “big corporate”, I left to pursue a more entrepreneurial path with private equity backed SMEs and, since then, I seem to have worked for, or with, a succession of smaller and smaller companies!
What excites you about your role?
- I have closely tracked the transition from traditional to online sales and marketing over 20+ years. The opportunities that are now open to SMEs to sell globally from a highly efficient, small (UK) platform are phenomenal. Ultimately, I am motivated to help identify, create and capture new sources of value and putting ideas into action.
What does your ideal client look like?
- A UK SME with an established, even if small, revenue and profit base (i.e. the business model is proven) which has ambition and appetite to grow. Sometimes, the management teams/shareholders are lacking either vision or focus to seek growth and I help insert and build these, and the capabilities to execute.
What have your highlights been so far?
- Taking Ogilvy, and our clients at the time, to new markets following the collapse of the USSR is in the early 90s. I was tasked to build a network of offices all over Eastern Europe to service our clients as they sought growth in these new and emerging consumer markets. It was wild! An extraordinary moment in time and history. I got to lead, build teams, pitch new business and build enduring client relationships.
- Building up Maxinutrition (UK market leader for sports nutritional supplements at the time) export business in Europe which led to the sale of the business to GlaxoSmithKline in 2012 after 3 years for a fabulous multiple/premium. The founder, the private equity owners, shareholders and employees all got richer.
What are the challenges currently facing your sector?
- Brexit has been an extremely confusing period for SMEs.Marketing investment (into top line growth) has been squeezed in the uncertain economic backdrop.
- And whilst tactical export business has grown due to favourable exchange rates, little of that has been strategic i.e. focus on long-term profitable markets and channels. Planning ahead is now the challenge.
- Serving and balancing traditional (retail and wholesale) and online business for a consumer who wants every option, all the time.
- The pace of retail technology change and the demands of driving online business are intense.
- Establishing and maintaining competitive advantages are harder than ever. Particularly when you are in a global marketplace.
- Financing growth.
Do you find companies try to do this area of work themselves – and get stuck? What are the common issues?
- Yes, and they often find that either their skillsets and capabilities are insufficient or lacking, or they stretch themselves too thin to the detriment of their core business.
Should a busy entrepreneur prioritise this area of work? How can they make time for it with everything else on their plate?
- A busy entrepreneur tends by definition to be focussed on short-term results. From my experience, they have benefited from the intervention of an additional pair of lobes, eyes and ears with a mandate to chart long-term growth paths.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
- Build high performance, collaborative teams.
- Focus on what you are good at. Surround yourself with people who are good at what you are not.
- It’s a numbers game. But the story is always more interesting than the data.
- How do you see your work changing over the next ten years?
- It will keep changing.
- What do you do when you’re not at work?
- Read. Exercise (cricket, tennis and rackets are my sports). Get outdoors. Help my children build their lives.
What are the benefits do you think of working together in a collective way like Runway Advisors?
- A team.
- Cross fertilisation of skills and best practices.
- Learning new things.
- Meeting new clients. A new source of business.
- Having some fun.
Could you provide an example of a common question or issue that clients present you with, and write a few lines in response? This will form part of our Agony Aunt series.
- How do I grow my business?
- Involve as many people in your trusted, loyal team as possible in planning for growth. Let them have ownership. Define what it is you collectively want to achieve.
- Understand what is already working. Lock it down. Define how you can do more of that, better.
- Generate and rank your top growth ideas (the what) and strategies (the how) and fully understand the implications for them on the current team, the operation and the P&L. Don’t risk or disrupt the core profitable business.
- Develop scenarios and specific plans around these new growth strategies. Cost them and compute the relative ROIs/IRRs.
- Involve the customer/consumer in your research and planning process. Always.
- Make sure you factor in capabilities and people in your planning. Have you got the “right stuff” to do this?
- Apply criteria by which you are prepared to judge their validity and prospects for success, including the risks and returns in equal measure. Put a dashboard of key performance indicators in place.
- Chart a timeline identifying the key milestones which will tell you if you are on the right track.
- Before you launch your new plans, be sure everyone is clear on objectives, that they understand their roles, responsibilities and accountabilities.
- If it’s working, at a certain time be prepared to double your investment or, as important, call it quits!
Having an external third party facilitate these questions and answers in structured workshops can be very effective to help cut through established wisdoms, knowledge gaps, entrenched perspectives, politics, factions and whatever else blocks creative and entrepreneurial drive.