This month marks the 10-year anniversary of our UK office. In celebration of this milestone, we sat down with Managing Director Jeremy Michael—the leading force of SMG’s UK branch since its launch in 2010—to get the scoop on how the company has evolved over the past decade and the secret to building a successful client relationship.
What was your first day on the job like?
It was actually a little bizarre. On day one, I was the only UK employee and due to the six-hour time difference with Kansas City [SMG’s headquarters], my boss was still asleep. At that point, we didn’t have a designated UK office. My daughter was aged just one at the time (and noisy!), so I needed to find somewhere away from home to start work. As a result, I cycled over to St. Albans’ library and made use of their free Wi-Fi to get everything up and running.
What was the first item on your to-do list/top priority as the first employee of SMG’s UK team?
Despite having visited the corporate office as part of my interview, I still felt I had a lot to learn about the company overall. What was the culture like? How did we market our product to clients? What, exactly, were the deliverables? As a result, I spent most afternoons on calls with various teams in Kansas City, simply absorbing as much as I could. I have to say, the level of support I received was highly impressive (and hasn’t wavered in the past 10 years).
Over the past decade, you've built an incredible team to support our UK clients. What's the key to putting together a successful group of people and what do you look for during the interview process?
I have always felt we are very much on a journey—and every new hire needs to appreciate that when they join the SMG team, they become part of that journey. It’s more than a job. Joining SMG requires a certain degree of emotional engagement, which for most people becomes quite addictive.
During interviews, no matter what level, I always ask myself two questions:
How has SMG evolved over the past decade?
SMG has totally changed from a start-up to a full-fledged business—and while we continue to grow, the way we think about our operation and structure continues to evolve. This includes our technology, which improves year over year and provides our clients with the most efficient and up-to-date XM offerings. In conjunction, the brands we work with are also raising the profile of customer and employee experiences within their organisations. I find it genuinely exciting to see so many senior clients now using our insights on a daily basis.
What is your proudest professional moment?
In 2013, I was joined on stage at Retail Week Live by Paul Loft, the managing director of Homebase, and Ryan Cheyne, the people director of Pets at Home. To hear these two incredible retailers share their stories of working with SMG was simply wonderful.
As a side note, on the back end of this presentation, we had our first introductions to a number of future clients including Boots, Betty’s, and Bluewater—so there were also some clear tangible results!
What is your leadership mantra?
If our clients genuinely see the value of our partnership, SMG will continue to be successful.
How do you implement that message into your relationships with employees?
We have to constantly make sure our clients continue to see the value of their programme. This goes beyond our day-to-day contacts—it includes the senior team who sign off the budgets. As a result, we have to be dogged in our approach and ensure we always take the executive teams into consideration during any client planning and review session. As I often say, “Don’t forget the boardroom table—this is where the key decisions are made.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received along your professional journey?
Before I travelled to Kansas City for my final series of interviews, I called Stuart Scher, who was my first boss on leaving university (he established his own successful training and mystery shopping company that was sold to TNS in 2001). I asked him if he had any advice for how I approach the trip.
Quite simply, he said “Prepare, prepare, prepare. If they ask about competitors, have everything prepared. If they ask about projections, have everything prepared. Whatever they ask, you have to have prepared more than the other candidate.” I then cancelled all my weekend plans and spent hours working through everything I could imagine being asked.
This is advice that I still use today before any client interaction.
For more with Jeremy, check out the video.