The business career of Richard Slee has been fast-moving and he now finds himself the chief executive of print company Adare SEC. Business reporter Ismail Mulla managed to catch up with him.
Just over a year ago Richard Slee jumped into the world of print and communications when he took over as CEO of Huddersfield-based Adare SEC.
Prior to that Mr Slee had never worked in print so it would seem an unusual, even risky move on his part.
But when you examine his CV, a picture begins to emerge of a business leader who has never stuck to one sector. It all started at Rentokill for Mr Slee.
He said: “I was offered an opportunity to become a service manager for Rentokil.
“I kind of look back and think that was quite a fortuitous time because my first role at the age of 21 was to look after about 40 different people.
“It allowed me to mature my management skills at a very early age and very early on in my career.”
He joined at the same time as Sir Clive Thompson, who went onto be known in the City as ‘Mr 20 Per Cent’ due to his penchant for growing the business by 20 per cent every year.
“He applied a principle of management that if you were the manager of something you looked after all pieces of it,” Mr Slee says.
This managerial independence helped with his progression and learning. Mr Slee ended up at Securicor. He ended up doing well and was made managing director of Securicor’s logistics business, Pony Express.
Mr Slee said: “Pony Express at the time was a national same day courier business. I made it into the market leader in the UK.
“The business was half franchised and half managed. That taught me some new skills.
“What happened was it took me into a business which was completely different. I had to learn it very quickly, I had to understand the salient bits.
“I was never going to know the ins and outs of same-day courier work as much as somebody who had been in it for ten years.
“But having to make that adjustment helped me in later life and made it easier for me to adjust from business to business.
“I guess that sort of partially explains why I feel confident in coming to a company like Adare, with not having had any experience in this particular arena.”
Around 1997, he made a switch into another totally different industry by going to work for John Caudwell, who owned Phones4U.
“He’d built this mobile phone empire and I joined him as the managing director of a company called Dextra,” Mr Slee said.
“Dextra basically distributed accessories for mobile phones – things like mobile chargers, headsets, cases, batteries and car kits.”
Here he worked at switching the business away from being overly reliant on the deal it had struck with some manufacturers. Instead, Mr Slee focused on introducing third party products.
“The business grew, the profits grew but also more importantly it gave a longevity to the business that it didn’t really have before,” Mr Slee said. “I really enjoyed my time there.”
As well as enjoying his time there, it also introduced him to Peter Jones, a star of the BBC TV show Dragons’ Den.
“He was running another of the Caudwell businesses, a company called 20:20, which was a phones distribution business,” Mr Slee said.
“He left to form his own empire with a company called Phones International.”
Not long afterwards, a phone call came from the future Dragon, asking Richard Slee to join.
“I moved at this time from the Midlands down to the South and I ran Phones International for Peter Jones,” Mr Slee said.
This was at the turn of the millennium and Phones International was looking to float on the stock exchange.
“All of a sudden the dotcom bubble burst and tech stocks plummeted,” Mr Slee said. “It wasn’t a good thing all of a sudden for Peter to float his business.”
Mr Slee then made the switch to American telecommunications giant Motorola and in a short period of time was made a vice president at the company. He set about changing the American firm’s approach to the European market, where it was lagging behind.
He said: “A lot of American models that had been built to satisfy American markets didn’t suit the European markets.
“Most of my competitors were Europe based businesses such as Siemens, Nokia, Ericsson. They were much more in tune with what European customers wanted.
“I believe that I played quite a part in helping transform that so that we captured European demand and persuaded Motorola internally to create a phone which was essentially built on European requirements. That made a big difference.”
He was involved in the development of some eye-catching phones such as the Motorola Razr but the firm made some wrong calls and a collapse became inevitable.
Mr Slee then joined a set top box manufacturer as president of international markets, before making a return to logistics with TVS.
“If I was to talk to you about the time when I really was more successful than any other point in my career it was probably when I worked for TVS,” says Mr Slee.
He added: “I joined a business that was essentially in logistics of a different kind. I was very much left to my own devices.”
As a the CEO of TVS Europe, he helped the firm, as part of a consortium, secure a major contract with the Ministry of Defence.
A short stint at Premier Farnell then brings us to the current day and Adare SEC. The print firm employs 550 people.
Adare prints football tickets for Premier League clubs, it prints financial statements and is also involved in the printing and posting of polling cards.
The company has a complex history having gone through a series of acquisitions.
“We have many different backgrounds and one of the jobs I’ve got is to meld all those different cultures together, to form a new structure, which allows us to do homogenous things across all of those sites,” Mr Slee says.
Digital disruption has played a big part in the print industry. It’s a fact that is not lost on Mr Slee.
“Part of what we do now for customers and part of what our vision is for the future is we are communications aggregators,” he says.
Print is a totally different industry to those he has been in before, so what is the secret to Mr Slee’s adaptability?
“I’ve honed an ability to see the woods for the trees,” he says.
Title: CEO at Adare SEC
Date of birth: 14.03.62
Lives: Just outside Harrogate
Favourite holiday destination: US
Last book read: Play On – Mick Fleetwood
Favourite film: The Name of the Rose
Favourite song: Something by Neil Young or Randy Newman
Car driven: Volvo XC90 T8
Most proud of: Family
Education: Leeds Grammar School, University of Newcastle (History BA), University of Durham (MBA).