Shaper: Kate Lester

Show aired on 5th March 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Oscar Peterson with Come Dance With Me, the lovely Oscar Peterson I should say, one of my favourites. Good morning, this is me, Elliot Moss, here on Jazz FM with Jazz Shapers. It is the place, I know you know this but I am going to tell you anyway, the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a Business Shaper. I am very pleased to say that my Business Shaper today is none other than Kate Lester; she is the founder and CEO of what she calls, or people call, the fastest growing courier company in the UK, their name is Diamond Logistics. You are going to be finding out how the woman of twenty when she set this business up has blossomed into not just a business owner but also someone who writes and mentors and does all sorts of extraordinary things. Lots coming up from her very shortly. In addition to hearing from Kate, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of advice for your business and you are going to get some great music as well of course from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul including Hugh Masekela, Cécile McLorin Salvant and this from the one and only BB King.

Sage words of advice there from BB King, Better Not Look Down. Kate Lester is my Business Shaper here on Jazz Shapers and as I said, she is the founder of a logistics business called Diamond Logistics – set up when she was only a mere, well pup – is that right? Were you twenty?

Kate Lester
Twenty years old absolutely.

Elliot Moss
That’s outrageous. You were literally, I mean what does a twenty year old think they are doing setting up their own business? Thank you for joining me by the way I should say.

Kate Lester
Oh hi, thank you for having me. Well I was working for a career company that wasn’t doing very well for itself and I had been there for a couple of months and there had been various times when they hadn’t been able to make the payroll and all that kind of stuff but I could see that there was real potential in it and I could see there was no rocket science in actually running the business so in the end when they failed to turn up with yet another wage roll I just approached their largest client and said, ‘will you work with me direct’ and got bank rolled by one of the couriers to the tune of 4,000 whole pounds and that was it, done and was started.

Elliot Moss
So fast forward right now, what does the business do? Because there are a few elements to the business now and you are a five million pound business, or probably more…

Kate Lester
More now yeah.

Elliot Moss
…more now of course. My facts are always out of date you see, with you fast growing business you can’t keep up.

Kate Lester
Exactly.

Elliot Moss
So tell me, there are three elements to the business aren’t there as I understand it?

Kate Lester
Yeah there. So we are a one stop logistic solutions and that means we do everything from same day courier which is like your really important like pathologies and bloods etcetera etcetera, to overnight but on the overnight side of stuff we actually do everything from post to pallets including parcels via a multi-carrier solution and then we actually do a lot of storage and fulfilment so you know, some of our clients are importers of goods from China, they run an on-line business but they don’t want to run a warehouse so we store, pick, pack and despatch all their stuff for their sort of seamless fulfilment.

Elliot Moss
When you set this business up back in ’92, did you imagine that twenty years later or so we would be talking about this and it would have grown or was it more of a ‘well I can just do that I’ve no idea where it is going to go but I am quite happy not working for someone else’? Were there grand ambitions?

Kate Lester
I really very much wanted to work for myself so I had only had a couple of experiences you know, having PAYE jobs working in larger organisations and I really didn’t like it and so I was very determined whatever the business was that I got into that I would be working for myself. Actually…

Elliot Moss
And why was that so important, the working for yourself bit? What was the key thing?

Kate Lester
I think you can be the purveyor of your own destiny, I think that was really important. You could also be rewarded by what you put in. It seemed ridiculous working for the man for a relatively low return when you can actually you know, earn it yourself and have a better, you know, standard of living. I think there is no sort of coincidence that I had two children very young although Chloe, she hates this story, so she will hate it when I recount it again but I actually conceived my daughter and the business in the same week so she was born nine months later and as a result the business and the children very much sort of grew up together and you know, so that was one of the reasons why it stayed sort of like sub-one million for the first sort of twenty years I reckon and then when the kids went off to sort of University I had a bit more free time and that’s when I have been able to exponentially scale the business. So that’s been cool but you know, as for being a mum, balancing having children and running a business, you know the school holidays weren’t a problem, the fact that the kids were in a board meeting wasn’t a problem, you know if the kids were ill they have been known to be dragged out on many a meeting etcetera etcetera so good life balance, good quality of life, good reward, good return and I’ve not really been risk adverse or worried about having to live and die by the input, you know, or my input really so.

Elliot Moss
Well there you go, that’s the reasons why you should work for yourself from Kate Lester, my Business Shaper. Lots more coming up from her in a moment. But in the meantime some music, Cécile McLorin Salvant and Wives and Lovers.

Cécile McLorin Salvant, Grammy winner you will probably know with Wives and Lovers. Talking about wives and lovers okay.

Kate Lester
I don’t have a wife.

Elliot Moss
You don’t have a wife.

Kate Lester
No.

Elliot Moss
No but you’ve… we were talking before about balance and the kids came exactly the same time pretty much as the business and you have and we will talk about also this book, books that you have written, I don’t know where you get the time but we will find out.

Kate Lester
I don’t sleep a lot, you can blame my daughter for that as well actually.

Elliot Moss
Poor Chloe is getting blamed for everything today.

Kate Lester
I’ve got to mention Oscar in here as well so he gets a mention on the radio too.

Elliot Moss
We’ll mention him as well. You have been incredibly stable through your work. Does it make a difference though to private life when you’ve got sort of things already set in your life, when things are going really well. I mean you’ve, we talked, I mentioned the wives thing because you’ve been married a few times.

Kate Lester
A few yeah, three times actually. It is not something that I am proud of but it is a reality. Yeah it does, it massively impacts on it and I think particularly for women in business I think there is a real challenge finding a sufficiently supportive partner who ticks the boxes on the understanding front, you know, of how much your career is actually going to take out if your career is one of your major passions. So you know, I’ve got two major passions, one is my business and one is my children. So someone who plays the third fiddle in that I think would find that really challenging.

Elliot Moss
And do you think that is what happened?

Kate Lester
I think most of them did but equally speaking again, I guess I am pretty intolerant so that doesn’t kind of work. So yeah what I am trying to say is that if trying to find someone who can be sufficiently supportive but then I am still a girl who wants a guy to be a man and finding that mix is different so you kind of want everything and I think again, that’s probably a typical entrepreneur really isn’t it. So you want a real man whose like totally mellow and allows you to kind of lead and all the rest of it but you know, probably not too much of a walk over that he can tell you when you are being foul or whatever yeah.

Elliot Moss
So this intol… and that makes perfect sense, I think yeah many people I interview kind of do want it all and expect a lot from other people because they expect a lot from themselves. In terms of people inside the business though, is it the same? Are you as intolerant with people and I want to come to the post-twenty years and the kids thing separately but in general have you been intolerant with people that just don’t cut the mustard in the business? In the same way you have been in your private life?

Kate Lester
Yeah you absolutely have to be but we’ve got a 50/50 split at Diamond. Diamond is pretty vegemite actually in terms of its culture, you either love it or you hate it and I am really comfortable with that and I’ve got people who have been there for over twenty two years so they wouldn’t be there still if I was a tyrant but equally speaking there has been people that have been there for three days and I’ve just said ‘I am sorry it’s just not going to work out for you’. I think I have been a little bit maternalistic in the way I have employed my team and now, particularly as we have scaled the business I have had to harden my perspective or actual fact, you know, sort of delegated that out to sort of other people so I tend to see the best in people and I tend to be incredibly encouraging and I probably give a little bit more slack than I should do so you know, I’ve got the joyful thing of recruiting an ‘i’ dotter and ‘t’ crosser now who can do more of that for me as we scale because that’s really really important but no, I think I am a… well I think I am, but you don’t know really, you’d have to ask them direct. A fairly popular kind of leader but they know that there’s a sort of an authority behind that.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my fascinating Business Shaper, Kate Lester; she is the founder of Diamond Logistics, a business which were are going to find out very shortly is going to be scaling significantly and exponentially in the near future. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that, some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya for your own business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning I have the privilege of talking to someone who is shaping the world of business. If you have missed any and would like to catch up then iTunes is your destination or British Airways when you travel next or CityAM.com if you fancy that as well. Kate Lester is my Business Shaper today; she is the founder of Diamond Logistics, a business that is growing quickly in the logistics world and all the different things you were hopefully hearing about earlier. I think Kate what struck me and what strikes me so far is just how driven you are and that you talked about the things that are important to you, you talked about your work and you talk about your kids and almost it is very difficult for anyone else to play that, you know, they would be playing a third fiddle. Where’s that drive come from do you think? Why are you you?

Kate Lester
Do you want to speak to my therapist? I don’t know. I guess founded on my parents, my dad had his own business, always worked really long hours, was always the purveyor of his own destiny. One of my first jobs was actually working in my mum’s boutique in Australia. Quite a sales kind of role. As for ambition and drive, it’s also a good sense of fun as well. I love what we are doing, it’s really really exciting. I am motivated to get up. I do get up really early, you know, we are building this really kind of big business and it is like a… there is a power in me which is bigger than my desire to procrastinate which makes me bounce out of bed when the alarm goes at you know, 4.30 or whatever but it is almost like a hook that kind of picks me out of bed because I get as knackered as everybody else does but it is just there. It’s just there and it’s a really good energy. It’s not, it’s not like, I always kind of presume that people that were this ambitious were kind of tortured or it was because there was something missing or something to that effect but the more I see, the more entrepreneurs I get to meet, it’s far more than that – it’s a passion, it’s an enthusiasm, it’s a delight you know and what we do is fun, you know, it’s fun making things happen, it’s fun helping people build their businesses, it’s fun helping people you know, employ more people. It’s fun.

Elliot Moss
Now you talked about building your business and you said you know, the business was a decent size for pretty much coinciding with the time that your kids were kids and then they go off to University. Did you know that you would want to go bigger once the kids were kind of free from the nest?

Kate Lester
Yeah absolutely. I was eternally frustrated by the size of the company and I couldn’t see how I could scale it so actually from 1999 onwards I actually did eleven, twelve years actually of consultancy as well as having the business. So a couple of days a week I would be dropped into other people’s businesses and whether that was on a take a share cut of their business or as a consultant director or NED and basically looked at a whole variety of businesses within the logistics industry from software to haulage companies to overnight companies to same day courier companies and either helped them do turnarounds or big acquisitions or big sales uplifts and I just saw so many flawed ways of working in the logistics model that I actually started to formulate the concept of this expansion around sort of 2011 but I knew that I needed a second service tier to add to the business and then a chap called Dan Allen came up with the idea of this second service tier and that kind of matched with what I wanted to do and that’s when we decided to look at the sort of franchising thing so we actually only piloted the franchising in 2012 with two sites and we actually only launched the franchising in 2013 and as the different kind of franchise model in that we have kind of, it’s more like network partners but we have now got twenty five sites so for under three years of network development and we are all self-funded and self-capitalised and all the rest of it so we have done pretty well.

Elliot Moss
And either just before the 2011 period when you had been doing it because you said you were consulting and the business was kind of flat lining in a way but just because that’s the way it had to be.

Kate Lester
Incremental growth over many years.

Elliot Moss
Incremental growth, healthy but not spectacular.

Kate Lester
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
You don’t make it sound like a breeze but it strikes me that any obstacles you would have come up against you got through. If you got through them, how did you get through them?

Kate Lester
I guess it is focus on end goal and there has been some massive obstacles, you know, there’s been days whereby you’ve looked at the sort of cash flow and gone ‘oh my gosh’, you know. There’s been days whereby, particularly as you expand your business, you begin to rely on people a lot more and there is days when you wonder you know, whose left the gate open on the idiot farm, you know, it’s really challenging but there was always the focus on this end goal, there’s always this focus on you know, the minimum of forty sites, there’s forty million revenues which I will put my name to within the sort of five years of launching the sort of franchise network and it was just like, right I acknowledge that’s an obstacle move on, you know, go round it, you know, find a way forward and we have had big things so we had a software provider who provided like over a third of our business go bust. We had City Link that knocked out a third of our services over a year ago. We’ve had banks that were unprepared to support us in the initial stages so in the end I had to sell the family home so that was quite fortuitous that the children were actually going off to University. You know, we moved into our sort of weekend home down in Brighton but you know, it was just, it was never going to be a game over. It was just ‘what’s the next thing’ you know, move on.

Elliot Moss
Business never as usual but Kate Lester is very happy dealing with that. Lots more coming up in a moment. Time for some more music, Gregory Porter, we all love him and this is Hey Laura.

That was Gregory Porter with Hey Laura. Kate, you talk about things in a way where it seems like there is an indomitable spirit and that nothing will stop you achieving these objectives, the end goal as you said. The forty million in five years within, as you said, the beginning of the plan. You must envisage, I mean you talk about problems almost being like little children that just need to be managed and then you carry on but there must have been some stuff that spooked you, properly spooked you where you’ve gone ‘I think I’ve had enough’. Have you ever done that? Where you have actually stopped you?

Kate Lester
I would be lying if I said no. Yeah there are definitely days whereby you are waking at 3.00 o’clock in the morning thinking ‘how do we actually get through this’. I don’t think anybody should underestimate how stressful it can be.

Elliot Moss
Where do you go for foradvice in those instances? Are there people that you lean on when you say ‘oh I really…’?

Kate Lester
Yeah I am really lucky, I share the business. I’ve actually gifted some shares to some directors and as a result of that I feel that I have got partners in the business and that’s great so that’s quite supportive. I am very close to my parents, that helps an awful lot and I have also got some great mates that owned like career companies and have been in the business themselves and when there is stuff that has really gone wrong, yes I do talk to people so I don’t feel quite as lonely and isolated perhaps as some people do in that respect but in the end I think the big thing is it is always going to be on your head and that’s part of being a leader so a great leader has to accept that in the end that ultimate decision is theirs and in the end the ultimate stress is there and I guess there is a lot of people to be inspired by that, you know, from Winston Churchill sort of downwards really but leadership is a real challenge and it is the qualities of a great leader that you acknowledge that stress, you deal with that stress and you kind of swallow it up a little bit because the most important thing is that when you know, it’s very very dark, luckily Buddhists say it is always darkest before the dawn, but you know, when it is very very dark you don’t want to that to filter down to the rest of your team, it is your job to be that filter, it is your job to mitigate that kind of stress so that they can you know… because that’s not going to do them any good, it’s not going to do their performance any good but you know, eventually it passes and as long as what you are doing is right and what you are doing isn’t broken then there is always a way round it and I think the other thing is too that with twenty four years’ experience, after a while you get to know that ‘it’s not going to be game over with this one’, you know, your track record starts you know reflecting that and so yeah, getting older, is a great thing. When I was younger and the company was really little and it was a tiny sort of like five thousand pound overdraft that we were all worried about that was mission critical and it was extraordinarily stressful and now it’s just you know, whatever it is we can deal with it more.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Kate plus play a track from the great South African trumpeter, Hugh Masekela, that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

That was Hugh Masekela with Grazing in the Grass. Kate Lester the founder of Diamond Logistics, one of the Elite 100 companies in association with Mishcon De Reya and CityAM as well I should add, means that she is a super-fast growth person with a super-fast growth company as well, is my Shaper just for a little bit longer. This target you have got, you say it with great authority you are going to make it. How do you know you are going to make it? I mean obviously you have got a plan in place, the franchise element of the business is what is going to be the foundation for this scale but I sort of look at you and I think ‘she’s got another, she’s got a belief’. Is there anything else apart from belief and a good plan or is that about all you need?

Kate Lester
Well it’s worked so far so I am talking with some kind of sense. The business plan is not complicated. Business is not complicated. Anybody who thinks it’s complicated is making a mountain out of it and I guess that’s probably an important thing so it is very straight forward. We build forty small businesses to a million pound revenue around the UK over a five year period. That’s really straight forward. That doesn’t take into consideration any of the nationwide accounts. It doesn’t take into consideration we are probably going to sell more franchises, it doesn’t take into consideration the fact that a lot of people are building businesses over and above that size already. So we are already at twenty five, it’s just about scaling those and also, you know, I’ve put that figure out there – that forty million pound out there because I think that makes me accountable too because again as purveyor of your own destiny. I set my own targets so if that’s out there then that is something we need to be chasing. My team are focussed on that and I’d really like to think that by the time we get to the end of this year that you can maybe review it upwards.

Elliot Moss
I hope we will. Now let me ask you this, a couple of things. You are a mentor if I am not mistaken in this charity, the Bath Tub to Boardroom, sorry. London based not for profit charity helping people find employment through entrepreneurship and creativity. You have also written two books?

Kate Lester
Yep.

Elliot Moss
I think one is out, is the second one out?

Kate Lester
No I have got two out. One is called Stop Reading Self Help Books and the other one is called JFDI.

Elliot Moss
And obviously we can’t say what JFDI or so I imagine.

Kate Lester
Just Flipping Do It.

Elliot Moss
Just Flipping Do It.

Kate Lester
Elliot. Just Flipping Do It.

Elliot Moss
Thank you and then the other book is about what?

Kate Lester
It’s called The Manicured Fist, that’s actually going to be about women in business and the challenges of and why women don’t necessarily succeed the way they want to in business.

Elliot Moss
In a nutshell, what’s the sentence? Why don’t they succeed the way they should?

Kate Lester
There are so many and so one reason would be unfair. I would say a lot of it is choice. I think a lot of it is the post-kid thing and I think that needs acknowledging but that is not to say that people can’t go back to doing great careers post having children, you know, I think there is a great wealth of women out there in their forties and fifties that could jump into the entrepreneurial kind of stuff like I am doing now. I think a lot of it is the way we bring up girls. I think there is an awful lot of conditioning in terms of women being quite risk adverse and quite failure adverse and so I think we need to look at the way we are teaching girls from a very early age to how they kind of position themselves because I know that there is an awful lot of extraordinarily competent women out there that simply believe they are less able than their male counterparts but the reality is that the male counterparts are just more confident so I think there is an enormous confidence sort of challenge there.

Elliot Moss
And are you, just before we have to close off with you, are you on a mission or is it just you are saying that ‘I am observing this and any way I can help I’ll help’ or is it more than that for you?

Kate Lester
No it’s any way I can help I’ll help. I think my mission is to help small businesses to develop around the UK. I reckon small business is a way of personally empowering people, it’s a way of people enjoying social mobility. It’s a way of people fulfilling their dreams and it’s a way of people balancing life, career and something that they’ve got a real passion for. So it is really about running your own business that I am really passionate about.

Elliot Moss
Well look thank you so much for spending time with us today.

Kate Lester
Thank you, it’s been a real pleasure.

Elliot Moss
We are going to be doing a new program later this year, it’s all around bringing guests back after a period of time, we are calling it ‘Encore’ and it’s when we can ask you in a couple of years’ time, we can get you back here and say ‘right Kate…’

Kate Lester
About this forty million pounds turnover.

Elliot Moss
‘…about this forty million, let’s have a chat’.

Kate Lester
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic stuff. Listen, what is your song choice before I let you go and why have you chosen it?

Kate Lester
It’s Back To Life, Soul II Soul.

Elliot Moss
What a classic.

Kate Lester
I know it is rather.

Elliot Moss
And why is this important to you?

Kate Lester
It’s just, it was just a sound track of our youth really wasn’t it Elliot as you and I are pretty much the same age? Yeah, it was just everywhere wasn’t it and it’s, yeah it should be my ring tone.

Elliot Moss
Well here it is for you. It can be your ring tone if you like. Kate thank you very much indeed.

Kate Lester
Thanks.

Elliot Moss
That was Soul II Soul of course with Back to Life from the late ‘80s and the choice of my Business Shaper today, Kate Lester. I love the way she said she was a purveyor of her own destiny and that was the reason why she wanted to run her own business. Really clear priorities for her that have made sure she has been able to focus on the two things that really matter to her, that’s her children and that’s her thriving business and an unbelievably energetic passion for what she does. It’s what is carrying her through all these different years and all these different iterations of her business and I am sure she will make that forty million pounds target that she has set herself. Fantastic stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am for another edition of Jazz Shapers. In the meantime stay with us on Jazz FM because coming up next, it’s Mr Nigel Williams.

Kate Lester is a multi-award winning entrepreneur, and Founder and CEO of the fastest growing courier company in the UK, Diamond Logistics. She has a passion for small business, inspiring people to take the plunge into self-employment and supporting them on their journey. Kate is a passionate advocate of social and economic mobility, believing that self-employment is empowering and creative – and encourages entrepreneurialism in both small businesses and corporate companies alike.

Starting her own business in 1992 at the age of 20, Kate has worked in many sectors of the transport and logistics industry, from a Surrey-based 24-hour haulage operation, through to same-day courier, internet fulfilment and logistical software provision. In 2015, Kate won the First Women Award for Entrepreneurship, preceded by her 2013 award for Entrepreneur of the Year. Diamond Logistics has won numerous awards including Business Excellence, European Business Awards (UK Logistics Provider) and was nominated for City AM’s Explosive Growth Company of the Year. In 2016 Diamond has already won Best UK Courier Franchise and Kates just won the Ruban d’honneur in the European Business Awards, with Diamond taking National Champion.

Also a writer, Kate has two books to her name: ‘Stop Reading Self Help Books’ and ‘JFDI’. Her long awaited ‘The Manicured Fist’ – the manual for women in business – is due out in 2016.

Follow Kate on Twitter @courier_uk.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“…when they failed to turn up with yet another wage roll I just approached their largest client and said: ‘will you work with me direct?'”

“I think you can be the purveyor of your own destiny”

“It seemed ridiculous working for the man for a relatively low return when you can earn it yourself and have a better standard of living.”

“I actually conceived my daughter and the business in the same week.”

“I think, particularly for women in business, there is a real challenge finding a sufficiently supportive partner”

“Diamond is pretty vegemite in terms of its culture – you either love it or you hate it.”

“…there is a power in me which is bigger than my desire to procrastinate.”

“What we do is fun, it’s fun making things happen, it’s fun helping people build their businesses.”

“There are days when you wonder who left the gate open on the idiot farm.”

“The business plan is not complicated. Business is not complicated, Anybody who thinks it’s complicated is making a mountain out of it.”