I attended the University of West London achieving a 2:1 in Media Technology Bsc. I then proceeded to pursue a career in the music industry before putting it on hold to develop my family business ‘Uncle John’s Bakery’ – and in 2014 I was appointed as the company's director. Since then, I have achieved a top-tier health and safety accreditation (SALSA) for the business – pivotal in securing contracts with Tesco; and a partnership with Morrison's – which are leading supermarket chains within the UK. I also rebranded the business, its packaging; and strengthened the company's structure and culture. I also increased the business' brand awareness allowing the company to gain vast recognition.
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business?
Whilst working in the music industry I always took time out to support my parents in running their business. This is as since it was established over 25 years ago, things were always changing and it was important for us to keep on top to remain the market leaders of Ghanaian baked goods. I soon realized my parents could not be on the frontline forever – as well as the importance of maintaining the legacy of our family business. As part of the second generation Ghanaian community within the UK, I made it my vocation to preserve the culture for future generations. Therefore as of 6 years ago I decided to give up my music career and focus solely on the business.
How did the idea for your business come about?
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
What books are you currently reading?
Uncle John’s Bakery (UJB) was established by John and Emelia Mensah; birthed as a result of John’s mother (Nana Mary), passing down the family’s secret ‘Sweet Bread’ recipe. After arriving in the UK in 1982, they missed the fresh bread that Nana Mary used to bake. After searching tirelessly, they only came across poor quality imports – that’s when John decided to bake it himself. 25 years later, UJB has remained a staple household name within the Afro-Caribbean Community; with a customer reach expanding across the UK along with European countries such as Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. These successes have not come without challenges; some of the toughest we have faced include standing out from the crowd amongst increased competition and successfully applying new practices and methods of practice to traditional procedures. However we have kept our motto ‘Obeyeyie’ meaning life will get better in Fanti (local Ghanaian dialect) at the forefront of our minds at all times. This is what my mum has always said to my dad to provide him with the strength to carry on through tough times.
And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?
Reading always opens the mind and books that I have read myself and would encourage entrepreneurs to read are Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Alchemist, Purple Cow.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?
I trust that with all businesses contention will always occur, however sometimes it can be more challenging when working together with you immediate family. Some of the issues we have faced since I have become company director include finding a balance between family and keeping a professional working environment adhering to the systems being put in place that no one is exempt from
How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
I believe the most effective way we handle our family business contention is by ensuring we detach family life and work life at all times. We treat each other as colleagues so that any disputes are not taken personally – whilst still maintaining the drive and work ethic of traditional family business. Additionally, it is important to make sure that family members experience a workplace culture that replicates any other professional industry. I achieve this by ensuring a culture that prizes fairness, trust and opportunities for meaningful work and career development.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
I would say effective leadership has had a huge impact on our business’ success. It has always been important for me to maintain focus on the big picture whilst supporting our staff to perfect smaller pictures enabling us to reach the final goal. I try to be extremely resilient and remain empathetic at all times – and I always inspire staff to try their best. Additionally, not being afraid to challenge the status quo, has allowed us to constantly generate innovative tactics for success.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
No matter what, you will always make it through. Though working with my family business, I have come to learn that what doesn't kill you really does makes you stronger. However, with that being said, I must admit, it nearly kills you! Haha
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Do not be afraid to take the risk. We never know the outcome of our efforts unless we actually do it. You are more likely to regret not trying rather than failure. Understand your industry well, have a business plan and always remember facts and figures are king in your business!