What makes a good business leader? A subjective question such as this can yield many answers, mostly because leadership means different things to various people in a business. However, core attributes that are often mentioned are honesty, clarity and integrity. According to Sontay’s Managing Director Mark Newton, a company’s leader must embody all three. Sontay sat down with Mark to chat about his story and what it takes to be a good leader.
Tell us about your previous work experiences
“Building businesses has always been a key focus of mine,” begins Mark. Mark’s father established the UK arm of the Hager Group in 1983, the same year Mark joined as a warehouse operative straight from school aged seventeen. Over the next 18 years the business grew from four employees with no turnover to 200+ employees and an annual revenue of circa £35M. Mark’s father lived and breathed the mantra of ‘trusting and empowering your people to do their best everyday’. Age was never an obstacle; if you felt you could do a task you were encouraged and supported to achieve it.
“I spent around 20 years working for Hager Group and moved from field sales to sales director,” pinpoints Mark. “Then I transitioned to LED lighting for a period of 10 years for a company called Robus. I spent the first five years building the UK arm of the company and then my family and I took a leap of faith and moved to Australia where we built a Robus business from low revenue numbers to £12M+ in four years.”
What have you enjoyed in your career?
“Throughout my career I have enjoyed the challenges that come with working for an SME,” explains Mark. “This kind of business suits my strengths and appreciation for a family-style culture. I like the clarity it gives; you’re working in an environment where no one has to second guess each other. And this direction filters down from the MD level. In a business of Sontay’s size, I want people to be able to speak and be heard. Empowerment and trust are key – this past year has surely highlighted that. I’m also a working-class lad at heart so I like these environments where you want to treat people as you would want to be treated.”
It was six weeks into Mark’s new role as MD when covid hit. “As this happened, my priority was to safeguard the lives of employees,” explains Mark. “I cancelled sales targets, attended to the people who were worried about working from home, and just generally made sure they were doing ok. It felt important for me to set that tone; if I had pushed, we may have had some short-term wins, but there would have been a lot of upset in the business. I am very proud of what we achieved. We were a family coming together to battle adversity. We managed the business, learned every day and came out strong.”
Mark’s attributes – approachable, driven, fair and courteous – definitely make him a good fit for navigating and building a business during a pandemic. Sontay’s plan, according to Mark, over the next five years will be heading to new markets. “At the moment Sontay is very healthy,” continues Mark. “As a business, I know we will continue to surprise.”
"At the moment Sontay is very healthy, as a business, I know we will continue to surprise.