SKINS CEO Jaimie Fuller on mentoring

| November 16, 2011

The value of mentors has been recognised by Nokia through its In Hindsight competition which sees the winner receive coaching and advice from First 5000 member Jaimie Fuller, CEO of global sportswear clothing company SKINS.

Swiss based Fuller, who grew SKINS from a start-up to a global company, shares his ideas on mentoring and issues facing SMEs. 

Q. How important is a mentor?

Everyone needs someone to bounce stuff off. Mentors are not about telling one what to do, rather they are there to act mostly as a listening post. Sometimes this extends into a more granular two way discussion and quite often becomes a vigorous debate. Either way, having the right guy/girl can be very positive.

Q. How do you approach your role as mentor?

Carefully. It’s a fine line between imposing one’s views and encouraging the recipient to think broadly about things. It’s a very easy line to cross but if you don’t get near the line then you run the risk of being ineffective. 

Q. What is the biggest mistake a small to medium sized business can make?

I can’t answer that; there isn’t one biggie but there’s a whole raft of ’em. For me it all begins with the customer. If you don’t understand your customer and what they want then that’s probably the first mistake. I can only really talk for a business like ours which is a consumer driven product and brand and we have to juggle so many things; from IP to product innovation and rejuvenation to finance and cash-flow to logistics to shareholder and corporate governance issues to brand and marketing communications.

Q. What are the biggest issues facing small to medium sized businesses?

Probably the biggest challenges for me are being too small to enjoy some of the budget benefits of large businesses vs being too big to enjoy some of the quickness of the small entrepreneurial type organisations. As well as this, the biggest challenge that I have had to face with SKINS is honestly assessing the capabilities of the team and contrasting this with where you want the business to go. I’m a great believer in loyalty, especially to the guys that help get you where you are today however you can’t let that prevent you from getting to where you want to go tomorrow. This causes some real conflict and is certainly where a mentor can really add value with an outsider’s perspective.

Q. What is the most valuable piece of advice you give start-ups and other medium sized businesses?

Sales, sales, sales, cash, cash, cash. They don’t necessarily mean the same thing however if you approach the sales in the right frame then cash should be the result. Everything else should act as a service to or a facilitator of these. It doesn’t matter whether you are small or medium size, without these you’re f*****. One extra little piece of advice for start-ups in particular, don’t undercapitalise. The business world is littered with great businesses that died because they ran out of money.  

Q.  Have you personally had a mentor? If so, how has it helped?

Until I moved to Europe four years ago I had most of my business discussions with my father. He has mentored me for well over 20 years. Now I am in Switerland, access to my father is understandably limited to my 5 or 6 visits a year to Australia and unfortunately they are always too short. I did however bring in a gentleman, Dean Hawkins, into the business four years ago in the role of Chairman. Dean had spent many years in investment banking in Europe and followed up as CFO of adidas in the late nineties. He has been a huge help in a quasi-mentoring capacity around business success. Guys like him are hard to find.

You can view videos and vote for your favourite Nokia In Hindsight business idea, FindMeQuick, My Genius Tutor, Open Shed, Sylvia Lee or Uncommon Ground on Nokia Australia’s facebook page until 20 November.