Last week Bayford & Co Chief Executive and Bowcliffe Hall owner, Jonathan Turner (or JT as he’s better known), headed to the Yorkshire Post offices to spend the day as acting business editor. Later that same day, actual business editor Bernard Ginns posted a picture with Jonathan – hailing him ‘Yorkshire’s swashbuckling entrepreneur’.
For those of you who have met Jonathan, there’s more than a little of the ‘swashbuckling’ about him. Overflowing with energy, charm, enthusiasm and known for his penchant for putting the cat amongst the pigeons and causing complete chaos to the best-made business plans with the introduction of a new-fangled business ideas – Jonathan Turner is a man who knows how to make money, and have fun doing it.
We sat him down and held his attention (for as long as possible) to try and find out a little more about his way of doing business.
Did you know what you wanted to do when you were younger?
I went to business school and whilst I was there I found time to read books about Lord Hanson and Jimmy Goldsmith and a great book called ‘A Growing Concern’ by Nigel Broakes who built up Trafalgar House. So I used to read all these books about these entrepreneurs. I’m not saying that’s what I ‘knew’ I wanted to be – but perhaps it was an indication of where my enthusiasm lay.
And how old were you when you became CEO of Bayford & Co?
About the right age I guess
You embarked on a FAMBO (A Family Management Buyout) of the Bayford Group – can you tell us a little more about that?
We embarked on it in 2000, and I finished it in 2004. It’s really quite different buying a family business than any other.
In what way?
Well in most family businesses, most people either inherit them or everyone falls out of love and they end up selling them. It’s rare; in fact I’ve not met anybody else in the last 11 years that has bought a family business. I was very lucky to have the opportunity.
Did you find it energising/isolating – a bit of both?
It was quite a nightmare really because I wanted to do it, and everybody else wanted to do it – or they thought they did at the time. There were a lot of shareholders – though two clearly in control – and other family members and each understandably had their own slightly different agenda.
It was ridiculously challenging and unbelievably emotional, because you’ve got my father, my uncle, my brother, my cousin, my mother, other aunties and uncles. You can imagine all the different opinions and issues.
Do you ever switch off?
Never. I’ve got a pad and paper next to my bed so when I wake up I’ll write down something and then I’ll wake up and think what on earth does that say?!
What’s your inspiration in the business then?
There isn’t one, I’ve no idea.
What makes you tick?
I don’t know, challenges, the next challenges. Make a difference and have fun. Have fun and make money in that order, I’ve said it all my life. And if I’m not enjoying it, then I won’t do it. I want to work with people that enjoy working with me. I don’t want to work with miserable people.
Who else do you admire in business?
I just admire dogged, determined successful people. On the day my son took his school exams I told him that he’s Rory Mcllroy. He said ‘What do you mean?’ so I said ‘How do you think Rory Mcllroy won the open?’ And he said ‘he worked hard dad’. So I said ‘How are you any different to Rory Mcllroy if you work hard? If you work hard you will be successful.’
Would you have done anything differently looking back?
No. I’m one of these rare people that are very lucky to be doing what they wanted to do 30 years ago.
If someone were starting out today what advice would you give to them?
Focus, which I’m not good at. But whether you want to buy a business or sell a business, complete a family buyout, or create a Wing or design some light fittings, just focus and get on with it.
Don’t let people put you off, the amount of people that have told me that what I’m doing is madness and crazy and then later thought OK I get it. Ignore the detractors because you will get dozens of them, whether that’s people around you in the business, whether it’s the bank or the taxman – they will say you can’t do this/that.
What’s your earliest memory?
Good question – one of my fondest memories is going to school with my Dad in his Jenson interceptor listening to T-Rex or Suzy Quattro on the 8 track stereo, very cool. I was probably about 6 or 7 then, we used to live in a little house in Horsforth in Leeds, in a cul-de-sac that I remember well.
If you could pass a new law what would it be and why?
I won’t comment on that, I’m known to occasionally say the wrong thing.
What would be your X factor audition song?
‘Lucky Man’ by The Verve. I played that when I was stranded in the Gobi desert in Outer Mongolia after 8 hours of not seeing anybody (Jonathan’s 100 year old car had broken down during the Peking to Paris rally in 40-degree heat). Adam – who I was travelling with – and I were telling each other the most pathetic, juvenile jokes as we got more and more delirious because we had no water.
It’s true as you get dehydrated you get crazy, really, really crazy. We’ve got some film footage of it, I remember playing the Lucky Man on my iPod and thinking you’re a lucky man if you’re going to get out of this.
What would you consign to room 101?
Negative people – some people are born negative.
What’s your biggest vice?
Collecting junk e.g. my ice cream truck – the milk float from Eastenders – my aeroplane… does it fly?! Of course it doesn’t!
Who would you play in the film of your life?
Me. Bill Nighy perhaps, Jack Nicholson. Jude Law perhaps – he’s cheeky. I have got away with a hell of a lot over the years just by being cheeky and smiling at people. Charm gets you everywhere. Including a reasonable amount of hot water. That is a fact.
So describe your perfect day then?
Every day is a perfect day. You wake up in the morning and think thank god that happened. You make your own luck.
Ideal day away from the office?
Scotland, holidays, kids, rallying through some slightly dangerous places.
Who would you like to have dinner with and why?
Cameron Diaz or Kylie because they are quite cute. But seriously, I don’t get phased by anyone. Whoever it was would need to make me laugh. No point having dinner with Putin he doesn’t look much fun.
What charities do you work with?
I’m an ambassador for the Archbishop of York, so the Archbishop of York’s Youth Trust. My job is to help him promote the work that the youth trust does around Northern England. I’ve also got my own charity, the JayTee Foundation set up to help young disadvantaged children in Yorkshire.
What was your first job?
My first job was great. I was at Newcastle Polytechnic, now called Northumbria University, and I did a business degree and these two women, Sue and Trish came in. They ran a toiletries, textile and cosmetics business. They stood on the stage and told us all about toiletries and textiles and I thought that’s such a cool business. They were girls and they were quite good looking so I thought, I want to go work for them. So, I contacted them afterwards and went to see them and they gave me a job for sixth months selling mainly out on the road knocking on doors..
I was 21 and they were great, they made pomanders the things that you squeeze and smell, they made scented cushions, coat hangers – bath salts, Mickey Mouse bubble baths – really girly stuff.
They said to me go to Selfridges, Jonathan, and see if you can sell them this (Minnie Mouse bubble bath, Minnie Mouse bath salts etc.). So, I went down to Selfridges and sat with this woman I remember she was called Sue Purchin, and I must have charmed her as she bought all the products. When I went back the girls were beside themselves saying we’ve been trying to sell to Selfridges for years. Then they said go to Next and try sell them it, so I did and I got a big order from Next and they said this is unbelievable. Go to BHS and sell them it, and so I did.
It was only for six months and when I finished university they wanted me to go and work for them. I very nearly did as it was heaps of fun. We learnt that sex sells. I sold to the girls they sold to the boys. Genius.
If you weren’t doing what you were doing now, what would you do?
I could well be doing that (selling smellies), and I really enjoyed it!
What was your best subject at school?
English – I used to love English. Still do.
Cars aside, what are your hobbies?
I’m lucky to have a thirst for adventure. I want to go to Cuba, Nicaragua, Columbia, Buthan. I am lucky. My whole life is a hobby – I don’t have time for much more.
Top time saving tip?
Delegation – learn what you’re good at and stick to it. About 15 years ago I was running businesses and Liz [Managing Director, Liz Slater] was helping me. Liz was better with the detail than me as I’m chaotic, so it was decided Liz would run the business and I would do all the razzle dazzle.
When Alex Ferguson was managing Manchester United for all those years, he didn’t kick a ball once, and I say that all the time. So that’s just how our business is – if someone’s doing a good job I don’t need to bother them at all as I’d generally cock it up – it also saves time.
Favourite time of the day?
Waking up and I’m thinking I’m glad that happened.
Best thing about Yorkshire?
Being here, the people – the frank, openness and honesty. The sense of humour. The beer.
What’s your favourite garment?
I’m fond of my Union Jack jacket. I was racing at Goodwood and I went up to this guy and said ‘sorry I’ve never done this to anyone before but I’ve got to ask where did you get that jacket?’ So he told me and I bought one. Last year with some mates we did a 24 hour pre war race. The first time that cars pre 1939 had raced for 24 hours since 1938. I raced a 1926 Bentley and a 1933 8C Triumph with some fellow Yorkshire nutters.
I said to the organisers do we have to wear race suits – why is everyone wearing a race suit? They never wore race suits before the war. They said it’s up to you, so I wore the Union Jack jacket. So yes, I’m very fond of that.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s given you?
Somebody once said that no matter what you do for some people, they will never appreciate it and always keep asking for more. I remember that because it is emotional.
We’ve made loads of mistakes – I am prone to making mistakes – if you’re not making any you’re not learning and not taking any risks. It’s important to keep developing new ideas
In your opinion how much is risk taking and how much is entrepreneur characteristics?
It’s everything – that’s what it’s all about – that’s what defines an entrepreneur as opposed to somebody else. A very good friend of mine came to see me about 2 years ago. He was in paid employment with a full time job in a very high profile business. He told me he wanted to be an entrepreneur. And I said you’ll never be an entrepreneur – you’re a businessman. You’re in a high profile job, earning loads of money, it’s a PLC safe job – why do you want to leave it? You’re either like that or you’re not. Yes it’s more fun being a Pirate than being in the Navy but the pay is regular and predictable in the Navy!
What would you most likely to be remembered for?
Making people happy, in lots of different ways – maybe because I can tell a joke (often a shocker) or because I can maybe make people money or lose it! There are a lot of people that I’ve had a good laugh with – if I’m not having fun, learning or giving something then I won’t do it. That’s why I don’t watch telly – how can you sit and look at a box? It’s just not for me. I have to be doing something.