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July
16th

Focus SB’s MD Interview

Roger Kemp is MD of successful UK based manufacturing company: Focus SB. His entrepreneurial career has taken him to finance and publishing but manufacturing, he says, is the most satisfying. Christine Alford from Design Matters, met up with him to talk business, experiences and inspirations.

When did your interest in manufacturing spark?

My real interest in manufacturing started with a job working for Vanden Plas (who made up market motor cars), which was part of the British Leyland Group. I have found it particularly motivating to “make a product” that is tangible.

Tell us a bit about how you reached the position of MD at Focus SB?

I guess by being the person with the best all round experience to run the Company and have a vision for it’s future and the money to buy the other Directors out.

Did you always want to own your own business?

Not really, however you go where the opportunities occur. Whilst I was on the Midstep scheme at STC which took potential managers through every department in the business I got stuck on a move into engineering. The department manager could not see the value of having a person in his department who did not have an engineering background. So I left to set up my own consultancy business.

You have worked, once as Sussex Brassware and second as Focus SB through two recessions. Tell us your strategy has been to pull through the tough times?

The important thing in any recession is to recognise where you are and that cash is king. All our employees are important and have various skills that are not readily replaced. So we are always in everything together and everyone takes a bit of the pain from Directors downwards. Recessions are also an opportunity to review where you are and remove any fat that always builds up when times are good.

People who are employed by Focus SB do not seem to leave.
What, do you think is the key to being a liked boss is, one that runs a tight ship with a happy crew?


My philosophy is that as employees we are all in this together in the good times and the bad. I walk the factory and stop and talk to employees, it is amazing what you can learn. I have to be available to listen to staff and their problems even if you cannot solve them.
I remember listening to a Director of Orange saying at a lecture “never get rid of the fun budget”. I did not know what one was let alone have one. You have to enjoy what you are doing and likewise for your employees, have some fun along the way no matter how tough things are.
One of our objectives is “For employees to enjoy coming to work and to be proud of the Company they work for”.
We also have a profit sharing scheme so everyone enjoys a benefit when times are good.
All these add together to make you a good employer where people want to come and work.

Last year, Focus SB grew by 11%. This is a bit of a million dollar question but - what do you think the key to growth is?

Service levels and finding a niche market and service it to the best of your ability. You have to be a company that is “user friendly” and try to meet the needs of customers when others “cannot be bothered”

What would you say the key to longevity for a company is?

They key to survival is being aware of what is going on in the world around you and changing with the times. You cannot sit with your head in the sand. You also have to continually invest in machinery and review working practices to ensure that costs are contained and errors reduced.

Were you ever once an apprentice to someone, from who you learned a few entrepreneurial skills from?

No not strictly apprenticed. Working for larger Companies Vanden Plas & STC certainly taught you how Companies worked and then you could apply these lessons to all sorts of businesses large and small. However I have built around me a group of people outside of the business who I admire and trust who have become my “mentor group”. I meet these on a regular basis and I can turn to them for unbiased advice. I particularly remember a boss of mine Ernie Witts who was a Financial Controller at STC. He was really good at his job, had no illusions to grandeur, earned your respect and had an elephants’ memory. He was one of the best and most professional guys I ever worked for.

Who, would you say has been an inspiration to you in the business/ manufacturing world? Or, any world for that matter, is there an inspiration that has influenced your career choices?

I know a lot of people have a particular person who inspired them into their career, however I really do not. I am not particularly good with my hands so this led initially to a Company Secretarial/Accountancy career. I then just took the opportunities as they came along. However I did not always get it right as in the early eighties I turned down the opportunity of a coffee shop franchise as I thought the British did not really drink coffee and it was not a good idea. I think I definitely got that wrong!!

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