Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” highly respected Executives.
Our eleventh interview is with Nick Manning, Group CEO at John Cotton Group Ltd. Throughout his exceptional 29-year career, Nick has been a highly influential and strategic leader within multiple companies, with extensive experience in business transformations.
John Cotton have been dreaming up innovative sleep solutions since 1916 and today are proud to be Europe’s leading manufacturer of pillows, duvets and mattress protectors. With an annual group turnover in excess of £300 million, the group employs over 1500 people and operates across the globe in UK and Continental Europe, Asia and Australasia. The Group has recently expanded in Continental Europe with a new ‘state of the art’ manufacturing site and ‘first class, cutting edge’ technical equipment.
In this interview, Nick has given an insight into his impressive three-decade career, including his transition from CFO to Group CEO at John Cotton Group, whilst also detailing how the business has remained competitive, sustained exceptional quality and advanced with the times, over their 100 years of trading.
Interview with Nick
Can you give us an overview of your incredible 29-year career?
From a very young age, I was fascinated by manufacturing after spending time in, and working for, engineering businesses that my father ran. I was drawn to the shop floor, the manufacturing process and the transformation of raw materials into a finished product. From this early exposure, my desire to lead a UK manufacturing business was set.
For me, the route into business was through Finance as I believed it would provide me with end-to-end involvement in the running of a business. I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto the British Steel Graduate Training scheme and proudly deployed into the home of the steel industry in my hometown of Sheffield. British Steel (now Outokumpu Stainless Ltd) was an amazing training ground where I completed my CIMA qualification, an MBA at Warwick Business School and gained 13 years of experience, in 10 different roles in 3 different countries.
With the Outokumpu footprint shrinking in the UK, I decided I needed to move into a lead finance role and became Finance Director of Cooper Lighting and Safety, part of a large quoted American corporate (Cooper Industries as was). I gained experience in the number one finance role along with a number of interesting projects/acquisitions. However, the financial reporting requirements of a quoted American corporate was taking me further away from my manufacturing passion, so I decided to move on.
In 2011, I moved to the Group CFO role in John Cotton Group to financially lead a mid-sized privately owned Group. From day 1 it was clear that the scope of the role would be far wider than a traditional CFO role and I was delighted to embrace the challenges this brought. As the role and I developed, I took on the responsibility for our international manufacturing operations, which connected me directly to my passion for manufacturing.
Earlier this year I was appointed as Group CEO as the business looks to the future and structures for the opportunities and challenges we face ahead.
How have you set and accomplished your career goals?
My career goals were essentially simple, get my accountancy qualification, progress up the finance career ladder and move into general management. I chose the route of working hard, demonstrating value and committing to employers for long periods of time. Nearly 30 years into my career, I’ve only had three employers. I believe I’ve accomplished my goals working within employers that suit my style, where I feel happy and can demonstrate hard work and commitment.
In 2022, you moved into the role of Group CEO at John Cotton, following an extremely successful 10 years as CFO, can you tell us more about your vision for the business, and how your new position allows you to drive this?
The Group has two main business areas, Filled Products (pillows, duvets, mattress protectors etc) and non-Woven products used primarily in the mattress industry. Our shared vision is to be the leading and most innovative supplier in the markets we serve.
As a Group, we have demonstrated significant growth over the last 10 years and have pulled together great plans for the coming years. There are many opportunities for a market leader in the UK, Europe and Australia to expand. I am here to drive this development of the business and to replicate our very strong UK market position in other territories.
In a personal capacity, and as a business, we are passionate about sustainability. Today we use thousands of tonnes of polyester fibres made from discarded plastic water bottles, use old clothing from Oxfam to create felt pads for mattress construction, take old feather duvets and reuse the material (after sanitisation) in new duvets and are pioneering closed loop recycling for mattress materials, pillows and duvets. It is critical for all of us that we find ways to sustainably manufacture products and reuse them at the end of their life.
Clearly, my new position allows me to drive both our business growth and sustainability agenda, which I believe are aligned with our shareholder value enhancement goals.
Were there any personal or professional steps/challenges that you had to overcome to support your transition from CFO to CEO?
After close to 30 years in a finance leadership role ‘letting go of finance’ has probably been the biggest challenge, as I am sure my new CFO would confirm. Personally, I am fortunate enough to have a very supportive wife and family who have always supported the travel, working hours and challenges that come with the modern corporate world.
John Cotton has been trading for over 100 years, in your experience in the business, how have they remained competitive, sustained quality in product and service and advanced with the times?
Our business DNA is to continuously improve. The continuous improvement in our manufacturing technologies, our material usage and sourcing and people has allowed the business to keep up with the times and ultimately, lead the markets in which we operate. The vision and commitment of our shareholders has underpinned this for over 100 years now.
What are you most excited about, for the future of John Cotton?
There are many things to be excited about, so it is difficult to call out one specific item. However, I would call out the transformation project we are undertaking in the UK, which will see us with a new business Target Operating Model, new business processes and a new ERP system in the UK early next year. A huge challenge but immensely rewarding.
Unforeseen social and economic changes can be challenging to navigate through. As CEO, how do you tackle these challenges proactively for The John Cotton Group?
The last three years have presented unprecedented challenges. We have navigated these challenges and I believe have come out better prepared for the future.
As CEO I simply tackle these challenges head-on, one by one, and with the fantastic John Cotton team. It is very rare we are unable to find a solution.
What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
I am not sure I would use the word great but, the accomplishment I get the most pleasure out of is coming up with an idea that has ultimately led to new technology for automatically applying the binding tape around the outer edge of a duvet. With a finance background, it is fantastic to have been able to release the frustrated engineer in me to deliver a significant benefit to our manufacturing processes.
Outside of your successful profession, what are your greatest loves and hobbies?
Much of my time outside work is spent with my family and our dog. The dog is a recent addition that I spent years resisting but now could not live without.
Watching the F1 as a family, walking and holidaying on the Isles of Scilly are my key interests.
For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring an Executive or Board Level appointment, please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or email@example.com.