Andy Venables is managing director at Hillsgreen, a Cheshire-based agricultural specialist agency.
With its unique mix of digital marketers and experienced farmers, the agency won Best Small Budget Campaign at the Prolific North Marketing Awards 2022.
Venables was also a director at Hills Green Farm, a 300-cow dairy farm in Cheshire supplying the Co-Op and part of the Co-Op Pioneers Group, focused on using technology to stay at the cutting-edge of agriculture.
Here, Venables shared how a recent week in his life went…
Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?
It sounds a bit cheesy but it’s all about being positive. When you wake up in the morning it’s a brand new day. When you walk into the office you’ve got to go in there with a positive mindset. At the end of the day I will always reflect on what went really well too – I must annoy my kids at the dinner table, asking them what went well today!
What’s been your luckiest break?
I would say my luckiest break was probably Covid. Being an agricultural marketing agency we find that a lot of the Agri businesses tended to invest in traditional marketing. When Covid came, they were forced to embrace digital. And as a digital first agency, it allowed us to go after the sector and really help them embrace digital during that difficult period.
What’s your best failure?
My best failure I would say is probably back in 2016. I finished my job for a digital marketing agency in Manchester and went back to the family farm. I love farming, I love agriculture but it became quite apparent that after 2 years in, it perhaps wasn’t the job for me. I suppose I learnt what I was really passionate about, what I wanted to do and eventually made that change.
What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?
The best investment I’ve made by far is in people. It was hard at first making a big decision to invest in your first employee. But back in 2019, I took the decision to invest heavily in not just people but senior and experienced people. That paid dividends last year when I had to be out the office during my cancer treatment. I knew I had a team around me that was able to continue growing the business.
Which book would you recommend others to read and why?
I’m actually a big reader or at least listening to audio books. For me I’m a fan of Simon Sinic and his power of why – I talk about it a lot! But one book that I’ve read recently is leaders eat last – I’m just a big fan of how he makes the complex quite simple.
What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
One piece of advice would be to go for it. During my career I have always been a little bit cautious and nervous if I’m doing the right thing or if it’ll work out. But if you’re passionate about something and have confidence in your abilities then just go for it!
Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?
In terms of who, probably my wife. She’s had a very big impact on me. But in terms of the what, it would be our cultivate conference that we started in January 2010. A leadership conference dedicated to the rural and Agri sectors. In particular for me it was Marcus Childs session in 2022’s conference, just after I’d found out that I had cancer. It was a really powerful and motivational session that will stay with me for a long time.
Tell us something about you that would surprise people.
During 2009 I went travelling Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Whilst in New Zealand I saw these really cool ice cream machines that mixed ice cream and frozen fruit.
I thought it was really quite novel, and actually something that the UK wasn’t doing at the time. I imported my own machines started doing some ice creams at events, and then looked into the opportunity to buy and sell those machines over here. The challenge for me was that the numbers didn’t stack up so it’s a business that didn’t go very far!
How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?
I think Covid has made people think a bit differently. I think it’s about making people think more about their health and their wellbeing, which is something that’s ultimately really important. And secondly from a work perspective is the flexible working. I think it’s so important to understand that people have got busy lives and other commitments, and how you have to have a good work life balance.
What does success look like to you?
Success to me is all about making a difference. Again, it sounds quite cheesy, but I’m really passionate about the Agri sector. The reason I set up Hillsgreen was to make a big difference to the industry. And in doing so, we’re building a great culture and a great team along with it! If we can achieve that objective in making a difference to agriculture, we’ll make a difference to both people’s lives and careers.