Roger Saul founded luxury brand Mulberry with his mother in 1971 and began manufacturing belts and handbags from their Somerset base. He grew it into one of the most successful British fashion brands in the world before leaving in 2004. How did he do it and what's he up to now?
At Heathrow Express we like to celebrate doing things that bit smarter. Each month we seek out someone who really exemplifies this approach to work and life and we ask them some questions. This month: Roger Saul
You began your career in fashion and grew Mulberry into an iconic brand. But you seem to be a serial entrepreneur and your businesses since have included home furnishings, a hotel, farming and a retail outlet. Are people born entrepreneurial or can they learn it?
Like any skill or sport I imagine it can be learnt to a degree, but intuitively I believe it is something you have, and it is something that you continue to hone as you gain more experience.
I think I was born entrepreneurial, but also the time in which I was born – coming up through the austere fifties, the sixties revolution and then the seventies (when I founded Mulberry) – meant a such frantic change in creativity that if you survived that then you were well versed to be an entrepreneur.
Thinking smarter and being creative are things many people want to be but sometimes struggle with. Any tips for unleashing creativity?
Because I have so many activities going on, from the quite banal (doing the weeding), to historic car racing, to the different businesses I run, I am constantly put in a position of change. Change in itself gives you an open mind because you are constantly presented with different predicaments.
A positive attitude is vital. If you are always looking at the problems then that’s going to restrict how your mind can be creative. It doesn't mean to say you shouldn't worry, because I do – just probably not as much as others. Also, try to think sideways and look for new options; whenever I am presented with an opportunity my mind races at the possibilities and logs the restrictions. Imagining the end result and mentally plotting the route is a key facet. Finally, your environment is also fundamental. I genuinely love the environment I am in and am a part of. Loving what I do has been the dominant force in everything I have done.
You've had several fantastic and diverse businesses. Have you had to alter your leadership style for the different sectors?
I have always tried to have the same leadership style because you are the character you are – and it’s important to have consistency.
We have tried different styles of managing: pyramid structures, flat line structures, management by objectives, appraisals etc.! You can do all of those things and I think you need to vary it and not be too rigid. Personally I favour regular updates with individual small teams – we do weekly shout-outs.
What’s been the secret to your success?
Hard graft is a given (although I was a very lazy school boy!). Tenacity, planning, detail and vision are all key, as is being on shop floor and knowing what is going on in the business.
And people of course; trying to build teams that thrive on an exciting journey. Having an amazing family around me has also been key – working with my son Freddie at Kilver Court is great.
How important is travel to you?
Travel is enormously important – be it the English countryside or around the world. I love history and landscape and meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds. In my Mulberry days, I travelled the world gaining insights into other cultures, designing accessories for many of the most famous American, Italian, Japanese and French designers. During those travels I would also be selling and buying competitors’ products so that I could take them to pieces at home to learn manufacturing techniques. It was an amazing whirlwind. Now I travel less, but still with as much passion.
When you travel, what do you always take with you?
My iPhone to take photos and keep up to date on my texts and emails. That piece of kit has become an absolutely vital business and pleasure tool.
What’s your favourite country?
I have a love affair with Italy and France. Both have amazing history and amazing culture. I love Paris, I love Florence and I weirdly quite like Milan. I love my homeland too. Sicily is the place I would next love to visit – I’m not quite sure how it has bypassed me.
And your favourite hotel?
Home. Always home.
Find out more about Kilver Court at www.kilvercourt.com
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