What I've Learnt: Lee Thawley, Co-Founder and Left Boot, MuddyWellies

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by Charlie Spargo

Less than six months ago, Lee Thawley and Vicky Pritchard co-founded MuddyWellies, the brand and culture agency.

Their intention when founding the agency was to “create destination brands for customers and employees alike”, based on Thawley and Pritchard's "slightly obsessive" belief that great businesses of any size share one thing: that they're built with brand and people at the heart of everything.

Before launching MuddyWellies, Lee was a freelance brand strategist, and also spent some years at Sorted Group. Over the course of her career she's worked with Tall, 10 Associates, and itsmarketing. Thawley and Pritchard's paths crossed regularly before setting up their own venture - both at AO in 2012 and at Sorted.

Lee sat down to share some of the vital lessons she's learnt.

 

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

Isn’t it strange how habits form so quickly? It all started with the offer of a cup of peppermint tea one morning at the office, and since that day it’s become the standard start to my day. A chat, gossip or catch-up when the kettle is boiling, a ‘brew’ of the peppermint tea whilst we fill our water bottles for the morning, and then we are off. I’m a keep-the-bag-in person, Vicky isn’t.

What does feel a little strange is that we even do this when we are working remotely - just via FaceTime!

What's been your luckiest break?

Actually getting into the industry! I had come to Manchester having graduated from Hull, and I worked the summer at Scarborough Youth Hostel. I was staying with my best friend and her boyfriend and filling the day with tea, Hobnobs and job applications.

She worked for MKP, a direct marketing agency in Manchester (possibly showing my age now), and she phoned one day to say there was an Account Executive job going, and to send a CV in. I had to actually ask her what the company did as I submitted my application!

I got through to the interview stage which took part in the pub on a Friday after work - the whole agency was there. I got the job and the rest is history. Lucky, because I still love everything about the industry and the journey I’ve been on.

What's your best failure?

I was once off to a pitch in Peterborough, stopped for a chicken and bacon sandwich at the garage, and when I arrived and set up ready to pitch the big idea, I felt ill - and I mean really ill. I rushed to the loo and never came out. I think the sandwich was off!

The client had to knock on the door to check on me and we agreed that it wasn’t going to happen! I even had to book a hotel room as I couldn't drive home. Luckily the client did see us again and we won - the best failure for sure, but it came up in conversation all the time!

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

Volunteering as Cub Scout Leader - Akela. It was such hard work - planning the activities, the training to be able to do the role and actually 'controlling’ 25 cubs every Monday night for two hours. The reward, however, was just off the scale.

Living in a ‘privileged’ area means that some of the children have never been camping, cooked on a fire of sticks, gone without a shower for a few days, and would rush for a wetwipe every time their hands were dirty - we soon sorted that out though and they loved it. Seriously character- and confidence-building.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

'Play Bigger - How Pirates, Dreamers and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets'. This book was suggested to me at the start of lockdown; it’s a must-read for so many people at so many different stages of a business life cycle because it really helps you define who you are, or focus on what you want to be, and how to take your business to the next level. 

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Don’t panic, and definitely don't worry about what everyone is doing and saying. Read lots, write down what success looks like for you, and trust your gut feel. That’s definitely more than one!

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

I am going to say David Parslow, who is now at TalkTalk - he was my first boss and taught me well. I reckon I still follow a lot of his principles now in terms of briefs, attention to detail, and hard work. I literally haven’t seen him since then, but I've never forgotten how he kickstarted my career.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I love marmite and banana on toast. Don’t knock it until you try it! I try to compare it to the taste of salted caramel… with the whole salty and sweet thing. 

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

Well it forced Vicky and me to start MuddyWellies, and follow our dream and belief, but in a wider business context I hope it will improve overall work/life balance for everyone. I think it will force businesses to review their ways of working, so flexibility becomes the norm.

I guess the change all comes down to ‘trust’. At the moment we're in ‘forced trust’ as we're not in the office because it isn't encouraged, but as we start to move back into the office, will that flexibility and trust stay? I really hope so.

What does success look like to you?

The growth of MuddyWellies as an agency, and the development of a team that are as obsessed about our belief as we are, so that they can carry it on when we're too old and wrinkly to be in front of clients. Plus, getting to a stage where I can see my two boys doing well, and start to spend time with Justin, my partner - enjoying things we loved doing, but maybe haven’t done as much because our family came along and priorities changed.