Ian Gowlett - alumnus profile
After graduating in 1996, Ian landed the only advertised place as a graduate trainee accountant with Thorn Emi, owners of HMV and EMI music. After three years he moved to Walkers Crisps (part of PepsiCo) to become the Logistics Finance Manager, a move which he claims gave "an incredible boost" to his career: "It was an environment which rewarded hard work, quick thinking and analytical horsepower, and for the next six years I was very happy there." At the age of 33, Ian had climbed to the position of Pepsi Sales Finance manager, looking after £200m of resources. At this point, however, he felt the need for change: "Pepsi was an incredible company… I simply thought that although I could have easily stayed forever, I needed to know if there was life outside". In 2005, he left to join Twinings as Group Financial Planning & Analysis Manager.
Time for tea
Ian found life in his new job very different: "Adjusting to Twinings culture from Pepsi was among the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. Pepsi is incredibly fast moving, highly charged and everyone is trying to get ahead of everyone else. Twinings didn’t feel like that… you get the chance to make decisions and learn through experience, even when you make mistakes". In 2008, he moved to Finance Director for the Twinings supply chain, a role that meant heavy involvement with restructuring the tea supply footprint to put manufacturing closer to the intended product market. At this point Ian had another rethink: "As I looked forward to my next career challenge, I realised I had no firm desire to become a CFO and instead wanted a broader role as a Managing Director." Twinings were more than happy to support his ambition, and sent him to London Business School to complete their Advanced Development Programme for new managers.
Challenges and achievements
One of Ian’s proudest achievements was passing his Management Accountancy Professional Exams: "Although the strong degree was great and opened many doors, it wasn’t nearly as tough as working all day in a high-pressure, intense environment and working all evening and every weekend to polish up my knowledge of accountancy".
Yet perhaps the greatest challenge of his career so far was in October 2011, when a huge fire broke out at a neighbouring plastic chair factory next to the Twinings tea packing factory in Kolkata: "When I arrived there, the site was devastated. We had a committed workforce who were desperate to get back to work and secure their livelihoods. I was utterly torn but in the end decided to make one of those decisions that I know I’ll never regret and closed the factory until the contaminated land was cleared." After working with local authorities they finally managed to get the site cleared by the following March.
Reflecting back on his decision, Ian understands the importance of what he did: "Although product contamination was undoubtedly front of mind, the thought of Twinings’ brand image being tarnished with pictures of a bonfire next to its factory filled me with horror. The company is 308 years old and I don’t want to be known as the person who jeopardised such a wonderful institution".
UWE Bristol beginnings
Ian believes his time at UWE Bristol was fundamental to his chosen career: "I remember when I first came to the open day at UWE Bristol, the course head was very clear in his description of the aims of the course. It was to create facilitators, students who knew enough in many areas to not be hoodwinked by experts". In his third year he worked at a national environmental charity and learnt an incredible amount on how to prioritise, working with scarce resources, time management and the power of application.
On returning to his final year, he was much more organised with a work savvy approach to studies. He spent lots of time in the library and often pretended to himself that deadlines were much sooner than they were. When it came to exams, he had completed all his coursework early and was able to focus solely on revision: "The adage ‘performance is your passport’ really came to life thereafter," he notes. Whilst at UWE Bristol, he also took up rowing in order to try something different, but notes: "I really was useless though".
As a father of two girls, Ian has loved seeing his daughters develop into well-adjusted and thoughtful girls: "Moving them to India at the ages of nine and seven was an incredibly unsettling experience for them both, but three years on my wife and I both see the benefits they have had through living in this environment. Living in the UK is an incredibly privileged status and most people have no idea at all just how lucky they are." In the next few years, he hopes to use his current position to move forward, and is currently looking for his next challenge: "Onwards and upwards!"