How Jason Clough went from apprentice to managing director of Huddersfield-based direct mail print business Propack

Jason Clough’s time as an apprentice in a spinning mill laid the foundations for him to lead from the front as managing director of Huddersfield-based print firm Propack, writes Ismail Mulla.

Jason Clough’s career began as an apprentice at a spinning mill in Halifax after he “didn’t do very well at all” in his GCSEs back in 1992.

It involved him having to learn every aspect of the business from cleaning the toilets to servicing and running the machines. However, six months after completing his apprenticeship, the business was shut down.

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“It got to the point where it was cheaper for us to import yarn from France, rebox it and sell it than produce it and sell it ourselves,” says Mr Clough.

Jason Clough: “The message I’d give to everybody is if you work hard, you try your best everyday, opportunities will come up."

That is where he transitioned to the print industry following five years as an apprentice in textiles.

Mr Clough said: “I applied for a job that asked for a trainee manager at a litho printer in Bradford. I didn’t have a clue as to what print actually was.

“It wasn’t something that I was sure that I wanted to do but I got the job and it turned out to be a fantastic move.”

So fantastic that Mr Clough is now managing director and part shareholder in Huddersfield-based direct mail print firm Propack.

Jason Clough: “When the opportunity comes up, be brave and take it. That’s all I’ve ever done.”

He spent five years at the litho print firm before working between 2003 and 2006 at a print management company.

Mr Clough said: “It was a great experience but also difficult because my textile and initial print background had always been production based.

“Whereas this business was a print management company so we were sat in offices with no production at all.

“We were just outsourcing stuff, which is not me really. I like to be on the production side. It was a great experience because it allowed me to not only look at print but also data, direct mail and point of sale – lots of different aspects within a campaign.”

Mr Clough still prefers the challenges that come with production and he is still seen operating machinery on the factory floor to this day.

He said: “Even now I don’t like us using third parties for any aspects of what we do. I prefer to invest and bring as much in-house as possible.

“It’s the challenge of being able to take a real complicated or last-minute project and pushing it through the building. That’s where the satisfaction comes from – achieving what many would say is impossible.”

Mr Clough initially joined Propack as an account director before becoming a commercial director. In 2018 he was appointed managing director, a move which also involved him taking a 7.5 per cent shareholding in the business.

Propack was founded by CEO Neil Lloyd in 1995. Today the business has 72 employees working from its headquarters in Huddersfield.

For Mr Clough, it was “a great achievement” being appointed managing director. Especially after coming out of school with “poor qualifications”.

While he had the advantage of having spent 12 years at the business before taking on the role formally, it hasn’t been plain sailing.

He said: “It’s difficult in some ways in that I’ve been appointed managing director within a business where people saw me as a colleague and a friend.

“All of a sudden you’ve got this new role, where at times you have to be a bit stronger with people and make decisions they might not like. It would probably have been easier to go to a different company and do that role.”

However, his time as an apprentice laid the foundations for him to lead from the front.

“I see everybody in the business as an equal within the team,” Mr Clough says. “I’m not really one for ‘this is the structure, I’m the managing director I shouldn’t be doing this’.

“Even at 7pm last night I was on the end of one of the machines downstairs helping out. I can appreciate the different challenges everybody else may face day-to-day and appreciate just how tough some of those jobs can be.”

Propack works with the likes of Moonpig, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services and the holiday company Tui.

It has built a system in-house for the holiday giant that enables its customers to order customised brochures for holidays they may be interested in.

“We’ve got two software developers on site but we used a third party to help with certain parts of it,” Mr Clough says.

Propack sees bespoke information that is printed on-demand as a huge opportunity in a world that is increasingly expecting products and services online.

Direct mail has taken a hit from the advent of online advertising over the years but Mr Clough still believes it has a crucial role to play in the marketing mix.

He said: “The stats show that some pieces of direct mail can stay in the household for two weeks, three weeks. Multiple people might pick up that piece of direct mail and have a look at it. It has a greater impact. When you’re going down the road and you see an advertising billboard, you’ve seen it but it’s gone. You see an email, you’ve deleted it and it’s gone.

“A piece of direct mail is something tangible, it’s in your hand, you pick it up and look at it when it actually suits you.”

In fact, technology has created a marketplace for personalised print, something which Propack excels at. The pandemic presented the business with challenges as orders dried up in the early days. However, Propack used that period to analyse efficiencies in the business and emerged stronger.

Mr Clough is now looking to increase profitability of the business while maintaining its drive towards greater sustainability. All of the paper it buys is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accredited. Propack is also a part of a project with the Woodlands Trust. We pay a premium on all of our paper purchased, that premium is used to plant native woodland in the UK,” Mr Clough says. “In the last 18 months, Propack has planted the equivalent of 70 tennis courts worth of native woodland in the UK.”

Mr Clough has come a long way since the days of his apprenticeship. The key to his success is simple.

“The message I’d give to everybody is if you work hard, you try your best everyday, opportunities will come up,” he said. “When the opportunity comes up, be brave and take it. That’s all I’ve ever done.”

Curriculum vitae

Title: Managing director

Date of birth: 01/05/1976

Lives: Elland, West Yorkshire

Favourite holiday destination: Khao Lak in Thailand

Last book read: Hooked by Paul Merson

Favourite film: Tombstone or Shawshank Redemption

Favourite song: Live Forever by Oasis

Car driven: Tesla Model X

Most proud of: Alongside my children, I would have to say the development of the business’ capabilities and our people.