Shaper: David Spencer-Percival

Show aired on 27th October 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

I am Elliot Moss, this is Jazz FM and you are listening to Jazz Shapers where the Shapers of Business join the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues. My guest today is David Spencer-Percival, the CEO of No1 Rosemary Water, the first bottled water to contain rosemary extract. He is also the Co-Founder of Spencer Ogden, the recruitment business and he has also set up another business before that. When David found out more than one in ten people in the Italian village of Ataurli – I hope I said that correctly – were living up to the age of a hundred, he wanted to know why. One suggestion was rosemary, the villagers were eating a lot of it. Just six months later David, also the Co-Chair of Spencer Ogden the recruitment company, had developed and launched No1 Rosemary Water. Hello.

David Spencer-Percival
Good morning.

Elliot Moss
How are you?

David Spencer-Percival
I am very good, how are you?

Elliot Moss
I am alright. Thank you so much for joining me.

David Spencer-Percival
That’s okay.

Elliot Moss
Your life in work started at a very young age?

David Spencer-Percival
Err sixteen yes. Well if I don’t include the petrol station I used to work in when I was fourteen but yeah, sixteen I left school.

Elliot Moss
No go back, go back. Petrol station at fourteen, what were you doing there?

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah I was filling cars with petrol in the old days when they used to that in, only a few left at that time. Yeah I quite enjoyed it actually, I got to meet sort of interesting people, fill up cars with petrol, get tips, great.

Elliot Moss
The work thing for you and for those of you that don’t, don’t know David, he has set up seriously successful businesses, he has created them, he’s sold them, he’s in the middle of building a new one which we are going to come on to but some people just do jobs and there is nothing wrong with that and other people are born to do a bit more. When did it strike you that work made you happy?

David Spencer-Percival
That’s an interesting question. I sort of messed around a bit in fashion for quite a long time which I wouldn’t say was a serious career but I did quite enjoy it. I worked quite hard, I had a good work ethic. I think really bumping into a guy in a car park after I had been relatively successful in recruitment was the turning point between being an employee and considering myself, I guess, an entrepreneur because he was the first person I met to say ‘I am starting a new business do you want to come on board? You know it’s pretty risky, you’re going to have to give up this sort of lovely salary and these wonderful toys’ and I really didn’t really think about it or blink, I just thought it was such a great opportunity and I said ‘yes’ and that is the point I realised I was both a risk taker and an entrepreneur and actually fearless I think is the thing you need to have and I just thought, I can do it.

Elliot Moss
But to get to the point even then where you are in the car and as the story goes, I think you are in a… what car were you in?

David Spencer-Percival
It was an Aston Martin.

Elliot Moss
I just wanted to make you say that. I knew exactly what the car was. That’s very nice, one day, one day I will have a model car that big of my own. But you know, to get to that point you had obviously, you obviously knew how to graft David and by then you had already enjoyed work, you may not have thought about setting up your own but I guess I want to work out – you liked working?

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah I, I jump out of bed at 6.00 o’clock every morning and weirdly whatever country I am in, I used to travel a lot around the world, and it would always be up early, go to work, work incredibly hard and, and that is just ingrained in my DNA. So I am not someone who shirks away from work. I work really, really hard. I make it look easy but it’s not, it’s really hard work.

Elliot Moss
Am while you are working are you the nervous type? Are you driven by a sense of ‘it’s all going to fall apart?’ Are you driven by a sense of ‘if I work harder there is more possible?’ What do you think is the driver?

David Spencer-Percival
That’s a good question, I’ve never been asked that. Definitely not the first one. I, I work for the success that it brings, whether that’s financial or business success. Yeah I don’t work because I am fearful that something will go wrong. I work hard to achieve actually.

Elliot Moss
I want to take you back to that car park moment and you said, you know you realised quite early on that you were a risk taker, you were up for it and you weren’t worried about giving up the creature comforts because I think that’s often a problem for people who’ve got good ideas but they realise they just haven’t got the courage or they are just not inclined that way. You set that business up with a group of other people and how old are you in 2000 at that point?

David Spencer-Percival
Well umm…

Elliot Moss
Sort of just under thirty? Twenty nine ish?

David Spencer-Percival
Twenty nine yeah.

Elliot Moss
Yeah. Was it good not knowing what was ahead?

David Spencer-Percival
That’s the thrilling part for me. It terrifies many people but for me it’s the opportunity I think out there. I get bored quite quickly, I’ve got a low attention span and but yeah for me that was the most exciting bit but I was quite young at that point. I think it gets harder as you get older. You know I set No1 Rosemary Water up only eighteen months ago you know, at forty six years old, you know that’s when it gets a little bit more terrifying because you don’t have as much time in front of you to make mistakes.

Elliot Moss
But that sense of not knowing is what obviously drives you to a point. That business by the way, Huntress Group you sold.

David Spencer-Percival
Yep.

Elliot Moss
For quite a lot of money?

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah that was over a hundred million dollars yeah.

Elliot Moss
And when you got that, when you… someone said to me once they sold their business and they looked the next day at the ATM – this is a true story – and they were like ‘oh that’s changed things’.

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And then they carried on because they actually they were selling the business on. When you saw that number wherever you saw it, was there a like ‘alright yep done that thank you, move on’ or was there a, did you stop and go ‘do you know what David, you’ve done alright?’

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah it was a big tick really in life to have done that. I didn’t actually own a massive amount of the equity in that business because I was quite young and I didn’t really know how to do those deals, I do now. But yeah it was gratifying but only for two or three months funnily enough and then there was a bit of a hollow feeling afterwards that you had achieved this goal that you had been aiming for for such a long time, it took seven years and then it was, well life goes on, you know, it is life changing in some ways but in some ways it isn’t you know so it was quite a sort of interesting period.

Elliot Moss
And you said you learnt in that time? What were the two or three biggest things that you learnt about getting the right deal because you strike me as someone who is confident and you would be able to be resilient and you will crack on and all that stuff but there sounds like there was some specifically big learnings that you would get in a nine year period or seven year period…

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…that are real and quite substantive so that when you are dealing with the Goldman Sachs and the Rothchilds of the world who obviously sit there for twenty five years and that’s what they do and they are doing deals…

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
You are the inside man.

David Spencer-Percival
I think you know, there is a naivety in business particularly around start-ups. You know when I hire people now and millennials and stuff, you know they all want to be the next Mark Suckerberg and they want to do start-ups and stuff. There is a lot to learn. You get this sort of choice between you know, equity and salary when you do these deals and really long-term equity becomes incredibly valuable and you should do the best possible deal you can whereas salary is a sort of constant so year, I just think you learn you know and you can only learn over time. It takes time to build businesses, it doesn’t happen overnight. I don’t know what happens in San Francisco with these unicorn businesses, you know, it’s consistency in business that builds value and it takes a long time so if you are going to do that deal you are going to start up a business and know that (a) it takes a long time and (b) you get the best deal at the beginning because you can’t, you can’t change it as you go along so yeah I learnt a lot.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my guest, David Spencer-Percival, he will be coming back with me in a couple of minutes, but first we are going to hear from one of our partners Mishcon de Reya with some advice for your business.

There are many ways for you to dip into the rich pool of former Jazz Shapers and indeed to hear this programme with David again, you can ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of the recent programmes or just pop Jazz Shapers into iTunes and you can enjoy the full archive and by the way they are available in other podcast platforms too. My guest today as I said is David Spencer-Percival, the CEO of No1 Rosemary Water and also the Founder and Co-Founder of a number of businesses. So I want to take you from the car park, you’ve gone there, it was the happy-go-lucky ‘why not’. You realised that that buzz that you felt in your stomach which was ‘do you know what I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m alright to do this’. You learnt something about yourself. You then go again, you’ve sold your Huntress, you get a bit bored immediately or as you said, less bored more hollow feeling about what’s it about because that buzz of achievement had gone.

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah, yeah.

Elliot Moss
You want to go again. It sounds like it was serendipitous that you met Sir Peter if that’s not wrong?

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah correct.

Elliot Moss
And then what happened in that conversation because you must meet lots of people David but you are not going to jump into business with all of them?

David Spencer-Percival
No I think Sir Peter was a bit of a game changer, I mean I went to… as far as I could with that previous business after we had sold it. I knew I was really at the top of my game within that sphere, within that you know, that sort of business genre and Sir Peter had phoned me up – I was on holiday, I remember it very, very clearly – and he said ‘look do you want to do something?’ He said ‘I’ll back you, I’ll finance it and you do it’ and again I didn’t even think twice about it, it was the call I was sort of waiting for I think. I just did it and that was quite a big thing because I literally sold everything that time to finance my life post-Huntress and I also knew that if I was taking the salary out of start-up it’s money that we weren’t putting back into it and I put some of my own money in as well. That was a big, big life change that one but I knew I was absolutely top of my game and I knew he was a phenomenal backer and it was an opportunity I just couldn’t miss. So yeah.

Elliot Moss
When you say you sold it on, I mean you made a bunch of money off the Huntress sale, are you saying you then in order to make life work you had to live off of that while…

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah so when you sell a business you do this sort of classic thing of you know, look in Country Life and buy a great big house and sort of all the toys that you really wanted to…

Elliot Moss
I had you down for somebody bigger than that David. You’ve just literally, my bubble has been burst.

David Spencer-Percival
And then what you do is you end up with this sort of circus around you of lots of things and then to get back into the feel of a start-up, you can’t be driving around in sports cars and living in big houses and I felt it just wasn’t right and I did feel that I needed to shed some of this stuff from me and get back to the nitty gritty of cutting edge start-up and that’s mostly why I did it. Also to liquidate because you know, when you do start-ups you need cash to fund yourself and your business and you end up unfortunately with lots of assets and no cash so I had to reverse that very quickly and I sold virtually everything in three months.

Elliot Moss
And now we are talking about a business of which you are the Co-Chair. You’ve still got a significant slug of it, you are turning over a hundred and twenty million pounds, plus still independent. I look at lots of websites, obviously I do research for these. It is a very vibrant looking company. I’ve not personally interacted with it but I look at recruitment businesses and it is a recruitment business obviously and a serious place, you’ve obviously… it feels like your personality and I don’t know Sir Peter’s or anyone else involved but it feels like you have kind of gone ‘do you know what, it doesn’t have to be dull and stuffy, it’s going to be like this…’. Is that fair?

David Spencer-Percival
That’s very fair. When we built the business and created it we wanted to do something different. We used much more of a kind of tech start-up feel to it. We employed lots and lots of young people and the average age of our employee over five hundred people was twenty three years old and we realised very quickly that we had to create an environment that made them feel like they were working for Google and Facebook and in fact we sort of laugh at ourselves because we were almost like the first We Work. You know, we created these environments that were very, very, very vibrant, very high octane, very cool and did it purposely which had never been done before in our genre. I mean it’s done a lot now you know, even sort of accountancy companies set their offices up like Google do but it was new when we did so yeah and even now you know, the legacy is that it is a fantastic company full of very young, bright, motivated people and that is the legacy that I felt I’ve left. I mean they have taken it beyond that now and it’s a, you know, a serious business but that was how it was started yeah.

Elliot Moss
And just briefly before we go to some more music, inspiring and keeping a twenty three year old interested and we all hear about these kind of cliché things about millennials and you know, I work with millennials isn’t that amazing, so you do you. What is it do you think if there is a secret to ensuring that that individual feels good and feels part of stuff so that you get the most out of them?

David Spencer-Percival
Very, very challenging. I mean they are a completely different mind-set to anything that’s come before. You have to keep them engaged, you have to keep them interested. They don’t particularly like authority, they can be a little work shy but what they lack, they make up for in creativity so you know, they are, they are just very different to manage and you have to be… you have to think differently, you have to think like they do and not think ‘oh well we are going to do it my way, they have to work my way’. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. They just won’t react to it so they are quite complex actually.

Elliot Moss
So they are not saluting and calling you Captain.

David Spencer-Percival
Unfortunately not. How aggravating.

Elliot Moss
That is really annoying. Stay with me for more from David Spencer-Percival, my Business Shaper today. Time for some more music from Herbie Hancock with Driftin’.

That was Herbie Hancock with Driftin’. I am with David Spencer-Percival – it’s a double barrelled name – you are very posh David and he is a successful entrepreneur, not just once, not twice but three times, hopefully this third time is the newer one. In the Spencer Ogden set-up you obviously had a point where you said ‘there is only so much I can do here’, the energy of the start-up is different to the energy of continuous management as it were. Do you always know instinctively when it is time to say ‘I think I’ve done as much as I can do running the business day-to-day’ or is it an evolution? Is a point ‘hold on a second, I’m just bored?’

David Spencer-Percival
I think it’s actually a time thing, it would appear to be in seven year cycles. I think the initial three years of a start-up are really hard work, very frenetic. You then go through this sort of wonderful period of growth, the Sunday Times Fast Track is a good example you know, in there six or seven times. That, that’s really good, it’s exciting. When you get to sort of year five, six and then eventually seven honestly you get a bit worn out actually trying to create such exponential growth and then the business takes shape and becomes big, lots of management, lots of complex moving parts and sometimes better run by other people I think is the truth in it. You know, I am a really good start-up guy, those first five years, decision making, moving very fast. Beyond that I would argue that there are certain people and CEOs that drive businesses better than me.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of you being a really good start-up and I understand that, it makes sense to me, is that also when you are at your happiest? Is there a correlation or is it just that you are really good at it? Because I kind of, I imagine you would want to enjoy yourself, you don’t want to be going ‘I don’t want to do it’ and as you said you are up at 6.00…

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…but are you… is there a moment – it may sound a bit soft – where you are going ‘I am really enjoying this?’

David Spencer-Percival
I think I must do because I must… I am sort of a bit of an adrenaline junky when it comes to work and I guess yeah there is a point where I am saying ‘this is great’, you know we are building something magical here and there is lots of people along on the journey and we are sort of having a lot of fun along the way. Absolutely, you know, there is… for me that’s the exciting part, is the creation of something from nothing and then driving it through to become a big, respected business. Yeah for sure, there is definitely something in me that says ‘this is really, really good fun’.

Elliot Moss
And the achievement bit and you talked about that. Is it a recognition that you as you look in the mirror go ‘I’ve done alright’? Is it that your wife says ‘David I am really proud of you’? Is it family? Is it wide respect and as you said, Sunday Times? What does recognition mean?

David Spencer-Percival
That’s a really good question actually. It starts… it started with me with financial recognition. The first thing I wanted to do was make money. The second thing I wanted to do I guess after that was recognition with my peers and now I am less bothered about it. I am much more about trying to build an interesting and great business but yeah I think you go through those three stages, I would imagine other people do it. Certainly the recognition thing was you know, quite, quite a big part of the second business. That’s the three stages I went through.

Elliot Moss
And now, so if we are in the wiser stage of David’s existence here…

David Spencer-Percival
The village elder.

Elliot Moss
The village elder. He has come to pronounce along with the bounty, he has come down, what is he telling us? He is telling us that No1 Rosemary Water this new thing, based on this lovely little village in Italy – if you haven’t seen the film you have got to go and have look at it – this is the new buzz for you. Is it because it’s better for… you know, that it does something beyond making money? I mean it feels like to me that you genuinely might make people feel better?

David Spencer-Percival
I…

Elliot Moss
Or is it just a nice interesting business?

David Spencer-Percival
No it’s quite a serious story actually, the village is you know, it’s real. There are an awful lot of centenarians live in this village who are pretty healthy. I think for me it was a case… this is certainly the riskiest thing I have ever done because I knew I could do recruitment but I have never been in the food, drinks industry and also to look at a story that was sort of almost magical and try and put it into a product and make people believe in it is an incredible challenge. But for me, yes I think this is a very, very special project and it’s testing me in many, many, many ways but I, I think it’s incredible. The story is incredible. I think nobody had made the drink which was extraordinary and I took on a huge risk to go and do it but yeah, I think it’s something that people should really think about and be into and I think is quite special.

Elliot Moss
I am going to come back to the testing bit in a minute in my final chat with David, plus we will be playing a track from Natalie Cole and Diana Krall and that is coming up in just a moment, don’t go anywhere.

That was Natalie Cole and Diana Krall with Better Than Anything. David Spencer-Percival is with me just for a few more minutes and we have been talking about not just going once, not just going twice but going three times and it is not an auction, it is actually his life. Three massive, well hopefully third one being a massive business and that energy David that you obviously have for the start, for the beginning of things and the creation. You mention that it has been testing, forty six years old doing it the third time round, what’s the difference when you are older and you know more beyond obviously what can go wrong? What’s made it harder?

David Spencer-Percival
Physically its harder. I was jumping out of bed and working extremely long hours and actually travelling around the world with Spencer Ogden and not really feeling it. Now you hope that you can swap out the physical testing of a start-up with the knowledge that you know, it sometimes balances it out but it doesn’t. I mean in any start-up that goes successful, quickly you get hundreds and hundreds of emails, thousands of decisions, it is incredibly tiring, I mean you literally come home absolutely exhausted and you are flat out again the next day. So yeah, it’s… I would argue the younger the better, it gets more difficult.

Elliot Moss
And what about breaks? You said you are obviously an adrenaline junkie and you are not the first person to say that to me sitting right there. When do you manage to switch off if you do and if you do, where is that? I read somewhere that you love nature. Is it something when you literally just turn the phone off and you go for a walk?

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah I bought a farm in Ibiza and the farm is in the middle of a valley surrounded by only two other farms. It is quite remote for Ibiza which is quite a noisy island. That’s where I go and you know, I go down this long sort of camino and I shut the gate and I am in nature and paradise and actually I feel really, really good there. I feel quite refreshed, it recharges my batteries. Whatever, I’ve always had that space even in the first start-up I had a tiny little cottage in a forest in the middle of nowhere which we used to go to at the weekends and just shut the door and turn the phone off. Without that I don’t think I could do what I do because you just have to recharge at some point.

Elliot Moss
How often do you recharge? Is it almost every day, do you find a little bit of space?

David Spencer-Percival
Yeah I have to now yeah. Not so much when I was younger but now days I do. I mean I will have a power nap in the afternoon for half an hour and go right down under and then come back up again. I think it is sort of quite important really. Otherwise you will burn out.

Elliot Moss
And how do you divide your time, your Co-Chair of Spencer Ogden, you’ve obviously got board meetings to attend. Is there stuff in between as well as running this new business?

David Spencer-Percival
No Spencer Ogden fortunately has become… has a life of its own now, it has a great CEO and yeah I spend less and less time there and I think that’s a good thing you know, I was a big shadow to come from behind and the legacy I left there and I think it is now, it is a very independent business so no, I don’t spend a lot of time there but the other reason is that No1 Rosemary Water is full on. I mean there is not enough time to think about anything else so fortunately I don’t spend a lot of time just sort of guidance and wisdom as the village elder in board meetings.

Elliot Moss
And this is your third, your third iteration as a person you said you are kind of coming into this stage now. What is success going to look like for you this time? Is it the big billion pound deal at the end of it or is it something else?

David Spencer-Percival
Yes is the answer to that. I do think we have a billion pound brand because nobody has ever done what we are doing before but I also would like to really introduce you know, ancient herbal medicine and wisdom into the world. I think it is just lacking and I do think that we use a lot of pharmaceutical drugs now when we should be looking at nature and nature is there, it is a medicine cabinet and that is what I am going to try and bring to the world and yes I do think it will create an enormous value and I think it will be a very successful company but I also believe that people should be you know, taking herbal medicine. I think it is a lost art, I really do.

Elliot Moss
It’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you for being so honest.

David Spencer-Percival
It’s been a great pleasure.

Elliot Moss
You had no choice in that because you didn’t know what I was going to ask you and by the way neither did I obviously. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

David Spencer-Percival
So I chose Crazy by Gnarls Barkley and the reason I chose this song is because the lyrics are quite poignant, you know, when you say to your friends and family and other people that you are going to do a start-up you look at them and they look at you and they go ‘oh that’s really good, that’s really good’ in the depth of their eyes they are looking at you and saying ‘you are absolutely crazy’. So it is sort of quite a poignant record because its saying you know, yeah I’m crazy because that’s what people think you are but actually not so crazy now.

Elliot Moss
That was Gnarls Barkley with Crazy, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, David Spencer-Percival. He understood at a young age that what gave him the buzz was the start-up vibe, was those first few years of making it happen. Equity not salary, according to him that’s what going to make a big difference but boy does it make a difference to your mental state and finally a word to those who are managing younger, and you will be listening if you are younger too, creativity is really important, it’s not about authority, you’ve got to work out what really inspires those people working for you. That’s it from Jazz Shapers, have a fabulous weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds of more guests available to listen to in our archive. To find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes.

David Spencer-Percival

David Spencer-Percival launched his second business in 2008, having sold everything he owned, including his first business, to pay for it. In a few years, the recruitment agency he founded with business partner Sir Peter Ogden was worth $100m. David was ready for a new challenge after reading a story of an Italian village of Acciaroli. Residents there were living to 100 years old and David was intrigued. He investigated their diet and lifestyle, and discovered that scientists had identified rosemary as the key ingredient in the residents’ otherwise traditionally Mediterranean diet. From there, David vowed to create a rosemary product that would make it easy for people all over the world to enjoy the benefits of this extraordinary herb.

In 18 months, No1 Rosemary Water has become a fast-growing F&B brand to be reckoned with. David has taken a personal approach to every element of its style, positioning, development and even advertising. No1 Rosemary Water is a favourite of influencers opinion formers with high-profile fans like Victoria Beckham and Edward Enninful. David has delivered a successful product launch in Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Harrods in 2017, before expanding into listings in Waitrose and Marks & Spencer in 2018. Now, No1 Rosemary Water plans to launch globally and focus on innovation. David has worked closely with botanical scientists at Blue Sky Botanics and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to develop a brand new range of products – No1 Botanicals.

“The turning point between being an employee and considering myself an entrepreneur was when someone said, ‘I am starting a new business do you want to come on board?’ I really didn’t really think about it, I just said ‘yes’.”

“Whatever country I am in, I always get up early, go to work and work incredibly hard. That is just ingrained in my DNA.”

“I work hard for the success that it brings, whether that’s financial or business success.”

“There is a naivety in business particularly around start-ups. When I hire millennials, they all want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg and own start-ups but there is a lot to learn. ”

“Consistency in business builds value. Know that (a) it takes a long time and (b) get the best deal at the beginning because you can’t change as you go along.”

“Sir Peter was a bit of a game changer – he gave me an opportunity I couldn’t miss.”

“In a start-up you need cash to fund yourself and your business. You end up with lots of assets and no cash, so I had to reverse that very quickly. I sold virtually everything I owned in three months.”

“The company was full of very young, bright, motivated people and that is the legacy that I feel I’ve left.”

“I am a really good start-up guy, those first five years, decision making, moving very fast.  Beyond that there are certain people and CEOs that drive businesses better than me.”