My Biggest Mistake Jan Reynolds: I was slow to take charge

Jan Reynolds is the managing director of Bristol match manufacturer Octavius Hunt. The company has 45 staff and an annual turnover of pounds 2m. The MoD and the Australian army are clients

MY BIGGEST mistake was that I spent so many years not recognising my talents. Formost of my early working life I had assumed my vocation was to be a good secretary, and I felt frustrated when I was not taken seriously.

In my last company, a plastics manufacturer, it dawned on me that I was quite a vocal person. I was taking on more and more responsibility, looking after a pounds 1m sales account and running the company's advertising and marketing activities

As well as that I was handling my responsibilities as PA to the managing director. One evening at 7 I looked out at the car park and noticed that my car was the only non-company car still there.

The next morning I issued an ultimatum to my boss. Either he gave me the job title I deserved and rewards to go with the position, or I moved on. I was subsequently appointed commercial manager, then commercial director. I had a good mentor at the company, who told me: "Don't hide your light under a bushel." I left after 10 years because I needed a new challenge.

I came to Octavius Hunt in 1989 without a job description. I had an empty desk and my work evolved. There were no formal systems or procedures. Chemring bought the company in 1991, but it operated autonomously. They allowed their companies to breathe.

I was given good advice by the president of an American account I used to look after: "The art of a good manager is to not be missed when you are not there." That taught me about delegation.

My promotions were gradual and not something I particularly sought. My predecessor was an engineer, so the company was production-led. Since I've taken over, it's been sales-led, which is how it should be.

I've had to become more of a lateral thinker and be more enterprising. I used to be a bit of a plodder but now I have to look beyond the immediate future because the company has to grow.

It's always been successful and profitable and the maxim, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies. But we want to expand our research and development department. We already manufacture smoke pesticides and now we want to develop scented smokes and security smokes. When the position of managing director was first offered to me, I took some time to think it over. I had always seen myself as a number two. I thought, `I've never failed at anything and I don't intend to start now'. It was a huge responsibility but I've never looked back.

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