In conversation with…Jon Wilkins

I sat down for a good chat with Jon Wilkins recently. If you’ve not met Jon yet he’s the Global Managing Director, at Accenture Interactive and the Chairman of Karmarama.

We talked about how Grans give the best advice, the power of music and the importance of helping those around you grow.

What was your first-ever job?

My first ever job was sweeping the floors at Woolworths in between school and homework. It was great because people used to drop money on the floor all the time. The staff all had a ‘finders keepers’ mentality which meant I could easily double the £1.20 an hour sweeping up coins.

However, my first proper job was with Granda TV. I landed a job working in their marketing and research team, which I was incredibly lucky to get. I was part of the media team – loads of fun people and was my first introduction to the world of advertising. Worked hard doing mundane jobs but learnt a lot.

Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

Too many to think.

Some of my mates for sure.

Outside of that, the Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel. I find his story amazing. I’d love to chat with him about how he’s come into the club with no resources and transformed from mid-table to the Champion’s league. He somehow managed to get people aligned, communicate effectively, motivate, and win. That must have taken some doing.

Highlight of your career (so far?)

I didn’t realise it at the time, but probably going out on my own and setting up the agency Naked. When I look back now, I can see how it helped me learn from my mistakes.

It felt like a crazy risky thing to do at the time. Luckily, I had lovely business partners and one, in particular, was very forceful…

And, it was the early 2000s, entrepreneurship was in the air, it felt like to time to do it – or when would I?

Nature or nurture?

A bit of both I think, but nurture is super important. I believe that it’s important to develop people. To help them move to a different level by nurturing. I’ve always felt it’s important to give people the space and support they need to grow.

There’s a superstar in everyone.

I think we should create as much space as the talent in that person allows. Then help them adapt before giving them more space again.

Best advice you ever heard or received?

Personally, it has to be from my Gran and her values. It’s treating people like you want to be treated. Karma is the way the world works and it has an unusual way of paying you back. Give without expecting and see what happens.

Professionally, this links back to starting my own business. Someone told me to try to only do what only I can do. To fight the tendency to try and control or steer everything. The only way to move forward as an entrepreneur is to stay with what you can do and don’t drift.

What talent do you yearn for?

We’re about to have another child – so limitless energy!

A little bit more patience.

I naturally want to jump on problems to try and solve them. I’ve learnt to give it a bit more time to settle. Give things time to play out, before I go charging in.

What is your favourite brand and why?

I’m not a big brand lover, prefer life experiences to brands.

That said, I love music, it’s incredibly important to me. So, I like what Spotify is doing. I think, overall, that it’s helped the sector and is doing a lot of good things.

I love the yearly round-up – tells me so much about my state of mind during the year.

What book do you most recommend to others?

I love The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet, by Benjamin Hoff. It’s all about how to deal with life and the anxiety that’s part of it. Pooh is nearly constantly happy, whereas Piglet is the over-thinking, anxious one. The interaction between the two shows the importance of balance – it’s a good parable for life.

The author really gets into A.A. Milnes writing and uses this to explore deeper ideas. It’s about people grappling with the complexities of life and looking for peace.

What last impressed you at work?

I’m lucky, where I work I’m impressed most days.

We’ve just been doing the end of year review of the work at Karmarama. I love the extra commitment and excitement when people are doing some amazing work.

I love hearing how the creatives are coming up with a new idea. For example, one of our agencies in South Africa is finding new ways to get black people into the creative industries.

I love their courage and commitment, that they’re doing something with an extra bit of love.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?

You fail a lot when you do your own thing. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing.

There are lots of circumstances where you can make bad calls.

I think bad calls on people are the hardest. I invest a lot of energy into people, I get to really like them. But that sometimes makes it harder to do the ‘right’ thing – for them and the business. Liking people personally can cloud your judgement – it can stop you from telling them what they need to hear. It means I can’t always see what needs to be done to help them.

What do you want to do when you retire?

I don’t want to ever really retire unless my brain stops working.

I think this will be my last ‘proper’ job. Although, I’m not looking to stop any time soon.

The next chapter will be Non-Exec, advisory, mentoring, that kind of thing.

I’m still really ambitious about what I want to deliver. I’m passionate about growing the people around me. I’m gearing up to spend more time putting stuff back in.

When you’ve been through the mill of a small business – you realise that a lot of people in the same position could benefit from the mistakes I’ve made.

I’m keen to spend more time working with Giles Peterson and his work with Worldwide.

I’d also like to spend time mentoring senior-level people – to help them make the most of their ambition and ability. And those at the younger end, helping the next generation get the basics right.

I see a lot of anxiety about work. I see work as just a game. A game where there are stakes, sure, money is involved, but when you hover above all that, it should be an enjoyable experience. It’s a game to play with integrity – being your real self. Shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Work is a fun, strategic, tactical game. Nothing wrong with that.

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