Curry, Clarkson and not Cheryl Cole! An interview with…

When you are a specialist it is vital to surround yourself with other specialists, that way you can work with your clients in a rounded way and work with businesses rather than merely providing a service. More years ago than I care to remember I had a phone call from an Advertising Salesman by the name of Rob Willis; we immediately hit it off and have never looked back. Our relationship is an odd one: we have sold to each other, we have sold for each other, and we have worked on several projects together for mutual clients. We have a very similar ethos, and we work together incredibly well.

Rob moved away from a specific toy magazine around 18 months ago, yet is still to be seen at toy exhibitions around the globe and is very much part of the trade. He told me that he’s not lost touch with anybody because within his stable of magazines there is Progressive Gifts, and the Licensing Source Book. A huge number of toy firms will either offer licensed product, or will sell into the gift sector. The gift market is really growing in its toy offering as parents see a gift purchase as less frivolous than a toy. Rob has published a specific guide covering ‘toys and games for gift shops’ which has proved very popular. I’ve read the retailer feedback and you can really see that gift shops are big buyers of toys.

In terms of licensing, Rob has a huge reach, as in addition to the Licensing Source Book, his firm also owns and organises the Licensing Awards which is attended by the industry’s elite – totalling over 1300. Over 4500 licensed products are entered cross category but we all know toys are a main driver to this. Rob works closely with major retail buyers on the judging process and they also attend the awards ceremony as guests of licensors or licensees.

Ladies and Gentlemen… I give you…Rob Willis…

Tell us about your current role? “I started as an International Sales Executive, moved to Advertising Manager, and am now business development manager for Max Publishing – a firm with a portfolio of magazines, awards, and exhibitions. I’m responsible for running established titles, but mainly launching new supplements and titles over time. There’s a lot to look forward to, but a lot of hard work to be done first! I’m fortunate that every one of our existing products is a market leader if not sole operator”.

What is your background: “I fell into advertising around 12 years ago, when I took a job based purely on its location in relation to a ‘lady’ I was seeing at the time. A week later I was in Dubai at an exhibition and I quickly realised that media was probably a nice place to be”.

Favourite driving music? “Clearly not Radio 2, Dire Straits, nothing like that at all. I’m really cool, honest”.

Favourite comfort food “There aren’t many people who don’t know I’m a ‘Curryholic’, I crave Indian food every day of the week from morning until night”.

Why do you do what you do? ”The variation, no week is really ever the same and I get to travel to some great places. Over 12 years I’ve lost count of the countries I’ve been too, but I have favourite memories. I always say my job is simply chatting to my friends, but I think I’ve made it that way and believe if I feel like that, it must be a good experience for my clients too”.

Who are your customers? “My clients are suppliers and manufacturers, along with licensors / rights owners. I deal with everyone from a one man operation up to multibillion dollar firms, and genuinely value each one equally”.

Greatest achievement? “I can’t pick out one, but I am rated as an account problem solver. I tend to get the business that others can’t seem to get”.

What would you see as your biggest failure? “Not travelling when I was younger. I’m so insanely jealous of people who pack a bag with a few hundred quid and come back two years later. I have investments that mean I might be able to do it at the other end of life – if the Government don’t bankrupt as again, or again, or again”.

Who is your hero? Sorry! It’s Jeremy Clarkson. Drive fast cars in hot countries, tell the truth, and get paid for it. What’s not to like, really? (the pic was to illustrate Mr Clarkson but I love a Corvette and could not resist).

Tell us your plan? “Work hard now to retire young, stick to my morals. I’d like to be a billionaire but I’ll settle for retiring young enough and well off enough to spend 8 months a year out of the country. I think I will get there, but I still buy lottery tickets just in case. I’d be quite happy to do it via a big win, of course. I’m not driven by money; I’m driven by the desire to have choice, and to repay my understanding lady for me never being home.

How big is your big picture? “It gets bigger as I get older. I realise now that when I was younger I’d only be thinking about the next 24 hours and how fast my car was. Nowadays I accept that whatever happens I will be alive and kicking tomorrow, hopefully, but I actually can alter my own life with a bit of planning and direction”.

Where do you get your inspiration? “I’m not inspired by big figure people as such, as everyone got lucky somewhere along the way. I’m inspired by people who enjoy what they do, and people who do it with good grace and respect for others. Respect is a big thing for me, in the media you quickly find out who’s playing you off against competitors, or at least trying – if only they realised how much we all actually talk to each other..!”

Where do you get your motivation? “A few places, but mainly the sunshine, silly as it sounds. A friend of mine mentioned that she dreams of ‘living somewhere that I can wear flip-flops all year round’. That for me is more motivating than some corporate analogy about helping each other cross rivers. A simple picture of a Greek sunset inspires me to think hard and work hard. I’m a dreamaholic.

Who do you admire? “I admire genuinely friendly people in business. As we get older (I haven’t dealt with this 30 thing, have I…) you realise that whether it be now or 10 years time, you never know when you might cross paths with someone again”.

What makes your toes curl? “Pigeons!! And potatoes that are sprouting. In business? Not a lot”.

What makes your heart soar? “My beautiful wife Carly, and not Cheryl Cole”.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A lorry driver. I’m not sure why – though some days it still appeals!

How you going to change the world? “In an ideal world, I’d do something to help young people that aren’t interested in academia but are capable of holding a conversation and building relationships. I was booted out of school at 15 with just my patter to work with. My father often says that ‘sales is a craft’, there are a lot of young people out there who’d be really valuable if they had recognition for that”.

Thanks Rob for the valuable insight into the trade; all of this was done in the middle of ‘trade show season’ so please excuse the madness!!

I work in many different ways, I am a recruiter, I am a mentor of individuals and I am a facilitator within businesses. Most importantly I choose to work only on projects I believe in. Contact me to find out how we can work together to improve your career and your business. Give me a call…x


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