What I've Learnt: Nick Howe, Founder & CEO, Uniform Group
Nick has recently taken over as CEO of Uniform Group, the newly formed umbrella encompassing brand consultancy Continuous and creative agency Somewhere.
Design studio Uniform revealed its new structure in May, launching the overarching group and opening Continuous and Somewhere, and making Howe - who co-founded the original studio - CEO of the organisation as a whole.
He set up the design studio straight out of university in 1998, and since then has seen it grow sustainably and with purpose - winning a wide range of respected industry awards in the meantime. Now, the company has entered a new phase and set its sights on further expansion.
We found out the lessons Nick has learnt.
Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?
Not daily, but running two to three times per week. It’s kept me sane throughout the pandemic, helps me decompress, and gives me the space to think more clearly.
What's been your luckiest break?
I don’t think we’ve had any particular lucky breaks. If you pushed me, perhaps the naivety and youthful confidence to set the business up two weeks after finishing uni. And very early on developing our relationship with Urban Splash as a client - one that is now over 20 years old and still going strong.
What's your best failure?
The one and only time we failed to deliver a project on time. In our first year or so of business, we had outsourced production of a physical ‘kiosk’ and didnt have a tight enough grip on delivery with the partner. There was too much trust involved and not enough due diligence. It was embarrassing for us and for the client.
Needless to say, a great lesson learned, and something we’ve never repeated since!
What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?
Time - investing in R&D and innovation 10 years ago, at a time when other agencies were just talking about it. It really helped us stand out in the market at that time.
Financial - acquiring our building around three years ago and reimagining it as Bold Street Studios, which we currently share with Fourth Wall Productions. As a knowledge business, having something like this on the balance sheet puts us in a much stronger position financially and provides a level of passive income as an additional revenue stream.
Which book would you recommend others to read and why?
Anything that inspires you. There’s a lot of business bullshit out there, but if you pick up just one or two ideas from a book then it’s worth the investment.
I’ve just been reading 'Who' by Geoff Smart and Randy Street - some great stuff on aligning the right people with the right job. And I loved 'Blah! Blah! Blah!' by Dave Buonaguidi - some great stories and no-nonsense advice from his time in the agency world.
What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Be fearless. JFDI.
Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?
The people around me. I’ve always been inspired by the team; seeing them grow, develop and do stuff they once thought impossible.
Tell us something about you that would surprise people.
I’ve got 12 pins and a plate in my arm, and have broken two of the biggest bones in my body. I can be a bit accident-prone!
How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?
We’ve always had a progressive attitude to our working culture, but I think the big shift we’ll see as a result of COVID is the broader acceptance between individuals, employers and even clients, that we can individually work in the way that best suits us, without compromising the needs of the business or the quality of what we do.
Equally, I think people have also seen the power of being physically together and are craving the right balance of collaboration time and individual productivity.
What does success look like to you?
Continuing to build a sustainable, responsible and profitable family of businesses. And hopefully leaving a lasting business legacy when I eventually retire!