CV: David Robinson, MD, Richer Sounds: A career made Richer by redundancy

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The Independent Culture
David Robinson, 32, is MD and deputy chairman of hi-fi specialist Richer Sounds. He took a job in the company's second store as a 16-year- old to bide his time before becoming a draughtsman. But after forging a partnership with a maverick businessman, Julian Richer, that plan had to go back to the drawing board.

I LEFT school at 16 and was training to be a draughtsman in my hometown of Stockport.

I was on an HNC course, which was the equivalent to a degree but in technical engineering. It was a bit like an apprenticeship. But the company I was working for went into receivership and I saw a job advertised in Stockport as a salesman in this interesting-looking new hi-fi shop.

It was only the second of the Richer Sounds stores, after Julian had opened the first one in London's Elephant and Castle. I only took it thinking I would work there for a year or so. But I did have some interest in sales, I had always been interested in music and here I am 12 years later, still waiting to finish my draughtsman course.

I met Julian when he was 24 - I was around 16 or 17 - and from day one, his enthusiasm and drive for the business was incredible and you really get swept along by that. He seemed to see something in me that he could mould and we got along very well.

I enjoyed being on the frontline with customers and I did enjoy selling. It was a skill I did not think I had as much as I actually did. The buzz of being with customers was certainly better than looking at a drawing board all day.

Julian made me assistant manager within the first two or three months. And after about 18 months, the manager went off to open a store in Birmingham, so I became the manager at 18.

I had always been a leader at school but it was great to be able to find new things out about myself and learn how to run a team. I was very fortunate because, as we started to expand, Julian was keen to let me go off and help him open other stores. So, by the time we were opening our fifth store, I was travelling around the country and living out of a suitcase.

I was involved in locating the sites and getting the stores off the ground. We had a period of rapid expansion which was exciting, but as Julian says in his book, we probably did a bit too quickly. By 19 or 20, I had moved into a more general role and became operational manager. I was in charge of looking after the day-to-day running of the stores across the whole of the company. I did that for around four years and very fortunately, when I was 25, Julian made me MD.

I was in the thick of things and really enjoying myself at that time. It's one of Julian's strengths that he's very good at giving people autonomy and I revelled in that. If Julian is the maverick entrepreneur, then I'm the professional manager dealing with the detail and the follow-throughs.

We were both very young when the company was expanding, but it was never a problem dealing with older business people. By that time, we had several stores open and people started to treat us with respect and not look at us so much as if we were this crazy new company. We were always very quick and very pro-active in what we wanted to do and that gives you a certain amount of credibility, too.

Now that I am MD, everything has changed, but I'm still involved in store openings. And I always remind myself that as you grow and develop you have got to keep contact with people and I still have communications with the staff working at the coalface every day.

I've been very fortunate in that since the age of around 19 I've been a leading figure in the company. But at Richer Sounds, age and professional qualifications are only as important as enthusiasm and getting involved in the company's culture.

We are very quick to promote people who have skills in a certain field, and that's not always selling. I believe that if we are committed to our own people, then that spills over into how they treat the customers. That's why I'm constantly involved in reviewing the benefits and the perks in the company.

One of the things to give me most satisfaction is developing our holiday homes around the UK and Europe. They are brilliant - any of our staff can book a week and stay at them for free and we have two beach houses and an amazing flat in Paris to that.

Really, it's all about fun because if you enjoy your job, you do it better. It's about our staff and being involved in a culture. And again, it's that autonomy and recognition of things that you do which has kept me interested and stopped me going back to sit in front of that drawing board.

Interview by Mark Oliver

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