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Fireside Chat with James Jones.
Intro: My name is James Jones, Managing Director at Vimpex Ltd, one of the only independent manufacturers of fire alarm sounders and fire system accessories left in Europe. We recently designed our own fire alarm bell - the only non- Chinese fire bell in the world. We’re a very proud, independent manufacturer.
I also sit on the board of the FIA which I thoroughly enjoy and I hope I bring value. I bring a fairly unique perspective, running a business that encompasses the full spectrum of the fire industry. That’s down to the fact that not only do we distribute and sell specialist rescue equipment to the UK fire service, but we’re also an independent manufacturer of fire alarm system accessories and devices.
I also sit on the FIRESA and Export Councils within the FIA Export continues to be an incredibly important part of not just our business but businesses in general, we keep as close as we possibly can to EU export opportunities – a region which remains the most important of export markets for UK Fire plc.
How have you been affected by COVID-19?
Not nearly as much as others. Personally, I had it at the end of 2021 and it was like a mild flu, I know that a lot of people have had it worse. The whole family was shut down for ten days.
Business-wise, very little was affected, in fact it’s not really affected growth at all, we made a lot of progress this year on product development, improving our production systems, and we’ve invested heavily in expanding our factory and offices. We’ve had great growth of about 20% this last year. So, not much has been altered on a business level. It’s not gone without difficulty, we’ve had to hunker down and encourage the staff, but we’ve been ok.
Uniquely, it is the children’s education and the future of young people that really worries me, I’m strongly against things like shutting schools down along with most of the economy. We should definitely control the virus and protect the workers, the NHS in particular. In my mind, that should be done in controlling the virus amongst the elderly and the vulnerable to avoid affecting the younger generation so much.
Do you have any pets?
I do, despite being a cat person, I’ve got a reportedly gorgeous cockapoo named Myrtle , she’s a lovely dog but she’s getting on now, she still causes havoc though.
What’s your favourite movie of all time?
This goes back some time and it’s my favourite for a few reasons, my wife and myself went to see this on one of our first dates and it’s ‘Alive.’ It’s a story about the survival of a rugby team that were involved in a plane crash in the Andes, it’s all based on their survival. It has got everything for me, it has mountaineering, fortitudes, stamina, struggles, teamwork and finally survival. It’s great.
Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?
Sociable, independent, a nightmare.
What is your biggest pet peeve/hate?
Mess and those that don’t notice it, this is probably why I’m a cat lover and not a dog lover! Mess bothers me both at home and in the business. Surely that scrap of paper is noticeable or that product not being in quite the right place on the production line, so just bloody well notice your mess and that of other people as well!
If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?
It would be the Industrial Revolution. What a time to be a businessperson or an entrepreneur, when entrepreneurism was almost next to Godliness. Those great jobs and products were really valued by government and society, as a whole. So, I’d definitely go back to being an industrialist in the Industrial Revolution, minus things like slavery, exploitation and child labour of course. The opportunities that must have been there for entrepreneurs and businesspeople during that period would, I imagine have been phenomenal.
What is your favourite quote and why?
‘I’m the master of my fate, the captain of my soul’. That’s the two closing lines of a poem by William Ernest Henley and it’s a poem called ‘Invictus.’ We cannot control everything in life so let’s look at the things that we can control to do our very best personally, to live the life we wish to. It sounds a bit deep but we’re all good at complaining and moaning about what we haven’t got, but if you’re the master of your fate and the captain of your soul and you try and remember that then we’ll all be ok.
If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?
I’ve got a bit of a wanderlust; frankly I wish I’d worked harder at school so I could be a doctor. I would probably be a doctor in some far-flung jungle, in the desert or on a mountain somewhere.
What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?
Queen, Queen and more Queen, I absolutely love Queen and loads of modern country music. I’m a bit of a modern Countryphile. I’m a big fan of Tim McGraw and I’ve been lucky enough to have seen him live. I’m a bit of a romantic and I prefer to listen to the lyrics rather than the tune. Country’s always about the lyrics, some of them are very cheesy, but I absolutely love it. So much so that I could easily be a red neck in another life!.
If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?
Lord Horatio Nelson, having read quite a lot about him and his battles, he’d be first on my list. He had some innovative strategic methodologies and some quite interesting management tricks. For example, he was very lenient with allowing women on ships as a morale booster for men, it wasn’t uncommon to take your wife to war with you. He’s quite an interesting guy.
Freddie Mercury would be on the list - I grew up with his music and with Greatest Hits 1. He comes across as pretty damaged, but he seemed a generally lovely bloke. I think he’d be great to have at dinner.
Thirdly I’d invite Ray Crock, a lot of people don’t know this, but he’s the founder of McDonald’s. He’s incredibly driven and a massively successful businessman. It all came relatively late to him.
What two things would you take to a Desert Island?
A hammock because lying on a beach with all those little bugs would be unpleasant, and a good cookbook. I love cooking and with a really good cookbook I’m sure I could cook up a tasty meal, even if I’ve only got a couple of coconuts and a lizard.
Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?
The book ‘Alive’ I loved it.
If you could be an animal, what would it be and why?
A flying fish, you would have the best of both worlds.
What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
My first ever ski holiday with the school because I absolutely love skiing. I spent a ski season as an 18-year-old in the Alps so it’s completely in my blood. I also did some mountaineering when I was younger. So, that first ski holiday was definitely the best gift. It’s a pastime that continues to be my lifetime enjoyment, which I now pass on to my children.
What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?
My denim shirt, probably because I’m a Countryphile and think I could be a red neck!
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Time travel. So that I could go back and undo Brexit.
Where’s the most interesting place you’ve been with the fire industry?
Libya, we did a mini trade mission out there a few years ago, just before Gaddafi fell, it was a fascinating place. It almost felt war-torn then, whilst they were living in relative peace. Businesswise it didn’t come to much because there was a revolution a few months after we visited there. There are some incredible ruins, a place called Leptis Magna, it’s a big Colosseum and it’s almost unruined. That was an incredible sight. To be given that opportunity to visit Libya on business and to have seen that was very special.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
This is one my mother gave me. It’s ‘Be yourself’. It’s easy when you are busy doing business to not be yourself, you think you’re meant to be someone else and other people think that you should be, but the moment that I decided that I was going to be myself, I was far happier, content and effective, probably rather less popular!
What time did you get to work this morning?
I don’t get in too early, 8.15 am. I’m really lucky to only live 7 miles away from the office.
What does your usual day look like?
The first thing I always do is tour the office, factory, and warehouse to say hi to everyone and see how everything is going. I probably have a little bit of a moan about things being out of place and scraps of paper being on the floor. Then, normally a series of meetings, I think I am getting better at leaving people alone to manage their areas of the business. There might more often be a visit to a supplier nowadays rather than a customer and generally a lot of communication. I’m really into talking to staff most of the day and being fully engaged continuously with what’s been going on. Most of the day I’ll be involved in informal meetings, catching up with staff and seeing where we are on certain projects.
How does your work and family life come together?
Inevitably, inexplicably, and completely. Of course, I’m completely invested in the business given we’re a privately owned business and I’m part of the ownership, I’ve got no choice, but I absolutely thrive and love it. I talk about work a lot at home, but that’s fine. What I’m finding as the children get older, particularly my son, they seem to be really inspired by the industrialist side of making things, about tangible product creation. We have a factory, we’re busy working on electronics and assembling finished products. So, work and home life converge.
What makes you excited about the future of this industry?
Selfishly, from a Vimpex perspective, our plans for strong growth and delivering that growth as an independent with many new products in development, is very exciting. As for the sector, what excites me is that it’s an important part of building and life safety. It must remain true to its principles, integrity, honesty and quality, if that’s the case then it’s going to remain an attractive business to be in. There are quite a lot of exciting developments with respect to technology, the Internet of Things, connective workplaces etc. which is very exciting. As a small business will we develop those things ourselves? Perhaps not, but what is exciting is we’ve got a platform of designs that could accept those technologies to be built into our products. I’m still very excited about this industry, it’s quite conservative in the fact that it’s steady with long product lifecycles but that’s not a bad thing because there’s permanence and a level of predictability.
What does the fire industry need?
It needs young dynamic people to choose a career in fire, whether that’s on a commercial side, on the tools or in engineering. Frankly it needs the government’s support of business in general and a very rapid replacement for the outgoing EU business grants and financial support.
What do you like about the fire industry?
The loyalty, honesty, and long termism of the sector. It’s one of those sectors that if you’re in, whether that’s working as an administrative or in a commercial role, it’s a long-term career. Once you’re in and you’ve decided that a career in the fire industry is for you, I generally think it’s a very satisfying one. People joke about there being lots of middle-aged men in the fire industry but that’s because we must remember, it’s a fairly young industry. Automatic fire detection systems were only invented fifty years ago. It’s no wonder there are loads of older guys around. That is starting to change, and we do need to attract youth and diversity into this industry.
What matters most to you?
Integrity and openness in commercial terms and individually. Communication and being open, if you have a problem, let’s hear it - but with integrity, honesty and authenticity.
What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?
Without any shadow of a doubt, learn to be brilliant at Excel. I’m not brilliant at it at all, I really wish I was. In a world of big data, you need to be brilliant at Excel.
What motivates you?
Continually driving a business that goes from concept to sale through production, a business that has created and manufactured a product that contributes to public safety. When we’re lucky, we see our products on the wall, integrated into a fire alarm system. What it boils down to is creating tangible value, creating a physical product with real value. Behind all of that, it employs engineers, technicians, salespeople, and it’s created a business, we’re contributing to the economy in general. Not everyone will stay with us, but hopefully, we’ll give them some skills and experience that they’ll take to other manufacturers. It’s something of tangible value.
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
Running a much bigger Vimpex. We’re going to grow significantly over the years and we’re well-positioned to do that, both organically and perhaps there will be a few acquisitions on the way. I’ve still got an incredible amount of energy for Vimpex and the industry in general.
Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?
I sit on the board therefore it must be important to me. I do this because it’s a very strong and influential organisation. It’s Leading Excellence in Fire, which is our mantra, it’s a really good description of what we’re trying to do as a trade association and as influencers in the sector.
What I really like about the FIA is its drive to professionalism, whether that’s policing third-party testing of products or heavily supporting manufacturers with issues like UKCA or distinction between notified versus approved bodies. Additionally, pushing professionalism through high-quality training is of huge importance, which is one of my responsibilities on the board.. Expanding on that high-quality training can be used to, perhaps, influence other developing markets. Can we export our training at the FIA to influence choices and methodology of the way that fire systems are put together in other countries that might need help? Let’s beat UL and NFPA, let’s help the FIA do its bit for its members by exporting its training.
In summary, the FIA’s most important role is really pushing true professionalism in the sector in the UK and perhaps beyond
What do you want to say to the readers?
Stick at it, life’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s tough out there at the moment, I’m not pretending it’s easy. Brexit, covid, products and component shortages, they’re all massive headwinds, we’re not getting a lot of help from the government though. As an industry, we’ve got to keep our heads down and crack on. With a bit of fortitude and hard work - pushing on, I think we’ll get through this.