New era of women take helm at family business

RINGTONS is a family business dating back to 1907, offering free personal delivery of tea and more directly to the doors of its customers. As the company comes into its fifth generation of leadership, associate directors Nadia Johnson and Brigitte Keatings, both working mothers, tell SME Magazine how they are tackling modern-day challenges in the industry, updating company technologies, and investing in the importance of people in business.

Following a rigorous interview process and an 18-month-long exercise including ongoing assessments, presentations and projects, Nadia and Brigitte joined Ringtons as the first ever female directors and marked a new era of women at the helm of the family business.

Brigitte, left, said: “Having leaders who are empathetic and understanding of the challenges that women may face in the workplace such as having children, being a mother and other health issues can help create a more supportive and inclusive work environment. It can also lead to higher employee engagement, satisfaction and retention.”

Echoing this sentiment Nadia added: “Personally, I’m a big believer in working smarter, not harder, and adapting conditions to enable more women to continue working once they’ve had children. There’s a huge talent pool of women who aren’t able to get back to work due to barriers like non-flexible working conditions and I plan on breaking down those barriers, step by step. We have already taken crucial measures like upgrading our maternity and paternity benefits and that’s something I’m incredibly proud of.

“As the fifth generation take up the leadership mantle, we will eventually have a 50/50 split of men and women at the director level of our management structure, something we want to celebrate. We believe that seeing three women in key leadership positions is crucial for other women progressing in the business, as well as how it resonates with our customer base.”

Putting people in the spotlight

One of Nadia’s key areas of focus is giving employees clarity in their roles and the tools to do their job well. Nadia, right, said: “When I started at Ringtons, I realised there were so many opportunities for us that hadn’t been tapped into, and that I had to be a part of exploring those opportunities. We want to give everyone, from our salespeople to our customer care team, all the tools and information that they need in order to thrive in their job. My passion and my background is working with people, so I’m examining how we can evolve our company culture to support the growth and changes that are taking place. With people at the heart of our business plans, I put together a people strategy, starting with a Ringtons manager foundation training course.

“Managers can make or break people and the impact of a good manager is often underestimated, so we’re rolling out this programme to bring consistency and clarity across management. The ambition is to provide open and honest feedback for all colleagues and to make sure we’re focusing on supportive performance development, rather than performance management. We feel this will help people to flourish in their roles and reach their potential. People can be your competitive advantage in business, my focus is to put more people in the spotlight.”

Essential digital development

Digital technology will also play a huge role within ecommerce, data collection and customer service. As such, a three-year digital development plan has been put in place to deliver long-term growth. With years of experience and expertise in marketing, Brigitte has been spearheading a customer-led approach to all facets of marketing and brand initiatives. She said: “I want to put customer needs at the forefront of everything we do. With this in mind, in my first few months at Ringtons I focused on understanding the data we collected and how it’s used to drive business decisions. I started by analysing the existing approach and key challenges, as well as identifying some significant opportunities. I believe that deeper consumer knowledge is at the heart of our growth opportunities and this year is all about building foundations and getting a good understanding of what our current and future customers want and need so that we can build our strategy around this.

“Of our loyal customer base, many have remained with us for over 30-40 years and have grown-up with the brand over decades. Our personal approach means our salespeople are often seen as friends to those that buy from us – a retiree demographic we are hugely centric to – knowing little details like the names of grandchildren and pets. Face-to-face relationships are even more valuable and meaningful today and they’ve allowed us to build deep connections with our customers. Our service is like no other in the market today.”

Nadia added: “Our digital transformation is just in its beginnings, as a massive enabler of growth, even artificial intelligence will take a role within the business as we strive to create a digtised customer journey that reflects the bespoke door-to-door one that we are famed for.”

Backing brave decision making

Above all else, one of the most important considerations for a business striving to adapt to a rapidly changing market is to not be paralyzed by choice or the fear of making a professional misstep. Nadia said: “We’re going to make some good decisions and some bad decisions, that’s just the nature of change and we’re going to have to be transparent about not always making the right decision. Honest communication and results across the business will ensure that our passion within our female leadership roles will continue to build solid foundations of trust with our employees and customers far into the future and keep us relevant in today’s competitive market.”