Pukka, the organic, ethical herbal wellbeing company, is ensuring the firm’s outlook remains as healthy as its teas while delivering extraordinary growth worldwide. Tim Westwell, co-founder, tells how:
"When you’re busy managing current growth, it’s time consuming. It can be hard to keep looking ahead and to reach out. You’re in your bubble.
"Creating the space to think when you’re growing so fast is really important, and that’s where my experience of LEAD began.”
Turn the clock back to 2012 and Tim and his co-founder Sebastian Pole were certainly busy. In little more than a decade, they’d grown from a kitchen table start-up to sales of £9.8m with a brand that was already getting noticed.
Tim, whose role has always focused on the commercial side of the business while Seb is master herbsmith, knew he needed to lift his head up and view things from a distance. What he lacked was a framework in which to do that.
“Peer to peer action learning sets and coaching were really important for me.
“One of the greatest techniques I learned was looking to the future and to a desired perfect state; to set scenes (and goals) of what success looks and feels like.
“I shared this in the business and now people are creating their own ‘future perfect’ when planning. It’s a very useful tool.”
There have clearly been some pretty ambitious future perfect visions if Pukka’s continued growth is anything to go by. In the past four years, sales have increased from £9.8m to £29m. And there’s no sign of that abating.
“We’re on a mission to create a more conscious world.
“From day one, we’ve been working to connect people, plants and planet through the incredible power of organic and fairly traded herbs. We have the capability to do that because of the people in our business.
“Getting the ‘right people on the bus’, particularly on the board or senior management team, is so important. We haven’t always done that in the past, but we’ve got the right people now. We’re supporting their development too. Ed Gardiner, our Financial Director, recently graduated from LEAD and Fox joined us as Marketing Director having originally met when we were on the same cohort.
“I’ve always loved to collaborate and we’ve had Non-Executive Directors on our board from the early days. I’ve always liked to learn and seek the opinions of others.
Now, as our business grows, part of our challenge is making sure that the values remain strong and clear.
“Sebastian and I realised that we need to entrust the values to others, so that they can be magnified, and continue to be at the leading edge of keeping Pukka in the frame as ‘thought leaders’.”
Challenged and challenging
With a mission as ambitious as creating a more conscious world, there can be nothing ‘tentative’ about the way Pukka goes about its business. Strong conviction is a must. So too is the drive to challenge; each other, ideas, the norms, assumptions, boundaries perhaps.
“This is a challenging place to work,” acknowledges Tim, “but I think that’s a good thing. Work is from the heart. We need to fulfil the potential of the workforce by making it a place that stretches people. When you consider how much of our lives are spent at work, we owe it to ourselves and each other to make that count.
“It’s not about leaving the ‘real you’ at home when you go to work. We want people to get something fulfilling out of being a part of Pukka.
“That only happens if everyone’s committed to a common sense of purpose. Again, that’s why we need to build a culture that’s underscored by our values and self, that evolves over time. We need to know that our values are evident when we’re not in the room, as it were.
“We’ve done a lot of work in this area, anchoring the values in what we call ‘wisdom seeds’. Based on truth, respect, purity, effort; we build themes, examples and stories around them. It helps us to ‘live’ them within the business but also frames the way we engage with partners, suppliers, growers and pickers around the world.
“One of our partners is the Eden Project in Cornwall, and together we’re hosting a ‘natural leadership course’. In this coming year, we’re going to take all our team (currently 105), down there to immerse them in four days of natural discovery. Connecting first hand to experiences in nature, and in doing so allowing our team to explore connecting to their own true potential.
Globalism can be good
One of Tim’s aims while he was on LEAD was to grow export sales. Pukka now exports to 45 countries, accounting for more than half its revenue. It even sells tea back to China and India.
The internationalisation of Pukka is the next challenge that Tim faces, replicating the successful UK model in markets such as the US and Germany, where there’s much more potential.
The surge in popularity for health and wellbeing products crosses international boundaries and yet the markets often operate in very different ways. So, to what degree should the business be consistent, while still being relevant to the local stakeholders, such as customers, distributors or growers?
“So as Pukka expands around the world, so does the outlook for the organic farmers and growers we work with around the world. What nourishes the planet, plants and nature also nourishes ourselves. Everyone around the world is in search of a better world. Some more consciously than others but we all do somewhere deep inside ourselves, we all want a better world. It’s a wonderful privilege to be a catalyst that connects people, plants and the planet towards a healthier happier world, I feel truly blessed”.
This article first appeared in the QuoLux Leading magazine, Issue 1, April 2017