Lessons in Leadership from Emma Bridgewater CBE

Marie-Claire Chappet
·4-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Emma Bridgewater founded her eponymous brand in 1984 and it is now one of the largest pottery manufacturers based entirely in the UK. The output has expanded in recent years to include textiles, stationery and more, and its signature style has made it one of the most recognisable homeware brands.

Emma has overseen the company for nearly 40 years and, in 2013, received a CBE for services to British industry. Here, she shares the lessons learned from a lifetime of entrepreneurship…

The three most important qualities for a good leader are…

“Having a very clear vision and being able to communicate that. Then, conversely, knowing when not to speak, but to listen. I have learned that it's absolutely crucial to business, and I will say I have learnt the power of listening from my managing director Julia Cove Smith. I think this is really a superpower. Then there’s trust, which is so crucial; when you trust your employees, you give them the scope to do their job properly. I think leading a business means understanding that it's a shared endeavour.”

My personal strength as a leader is…

“I think as the entrepreneur, the person who starts the business, you need to know when to get out of the areas where you're not adding value and focus on where you do. I know that my strength is vision - having the vision for my brand.”

Photo credit: Andrew Montgomery
Photo credit: Andrew Montgomery

The biggest priority for my business right now is…

“It has been growing production, as we are really lucky to still have high demand. We are really passionate about building up British manufacturing. Our focus is also on really supporting the team and being aware that the circumstances we are living in are so demanding and that so many people are struggling. You can get stuck in silos and forget the joy of working as a team and we really want to try and make people remember that and just genuinely check in to make sure everyone is OK.”

The economic outlook may be uncertain, but I’m mitigating risk by…

“We’re taking 50 per cent more calls from our customers right now. The rate is really high. I'm so proud of our customer service. We run it in Stoke on Trent, so you get a lovely Staffordshire voice. We are also strengthening our ecommerce which we had already been early adopters of. We have closed our two London shops, which is really sad, but I think Covid was the final straw as the high street has been changing so much. Having lost our bricks and mortar presence I really can't wait for the factory shop to open again. You miss that face-to-face interaction.”

Photo credit:                     Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

I keep my team motivated by…

“I think lifting people's eyes from the near horizon and looking ahead is very motivating. I think the knowledge that there's loads more coming down the track, that the future is busy and positive, is a great inspiration for your team. I firmly believe in being open and transparent with my team and I think that keeps people engaged, because we are living in uncertain times and its crucial your team feels that they can trust you to be honest with them.”

The hardest decision I’ve had to make as a leader was…

“Buying the factory! It was a huge risk at the time and people thought I was mad, but it is by far the best decision I ever made for the company too. Our factory is the beating heart of what we do, and it keeps me so connected to the brand in such a wonderful way.”

The worst mistake I’ve ever made as a leader (and the lessons I learnt from it)

“I think as a leader you should never look back and dwell on mistakes but always move forward. For me, if I make a mistake, I fix it, I learn and I move on. For example, if we have a design that fails, we don’t make it again. It’s all part of the process. If you’re savvy, you will take note, but I don’t think beating yourself up about it is healthy. Don’t dwell on the bad stuff too much.”

An effective leader will always…

“Tell the truth and own up to their mistakes.”

An effective leader will never…

“Lie or shirk responsibility.”

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

My role model for leadership is…

“I don’t really have one. I have huge respect for the story of the Laura Ashley brand and I, of course, learn daily from my amazing managing director and the other leaders in my team.”

The one piece of advice I’d give to a new leader is…

“Always know where you want to get to, and make sure to look after yourself along the way. It’s going to be jolly hard work! Be prepared!”

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