Adam Sherman, group managing director of Air Business, answers our questions about his life in publishing.
Q: How did you get where you are today?
A: By chance really. At 21, with my parents recently having passed away, I found myself homeless and managed eventually to get a small trust flat to live in. The only thing in the empty flat was an old copy of the yellow pages. Through desperation and out of work, I put a pin in the book with a view to applying for a job wherever it landed, and it landed on DHL. I called in at the local office and sat for about four hours waiting for the manager to return, who eventually (I think just to get rid of me) gave me a job as a courier. I went on from that job to selling, then into general management and ending up at the WHQ of DHL in Belgium. Having nowhere to live certainly focuses the mind! I have always been a hard worker and have always loved serving customers since I like good service myself. I think I would have made a good butler! I have always been in distribution in some shape or form and thoroughly enjoy what I do. I have been at Air Business for almost fourteen years now. I only ever intended to stay for three, so that shows you how much I love the company, people and my customers. We’ve grown almost 700% so it’s been great fun and very stimulating.
Q: What is your typical working day?
A: I wake at 05.45 and get myself and my son ready for school and work as he has an early train to catch. During the day, I am either out and about at one of our sites, with our customers, or in my office at St Albans. I live in Windsor so I have a bit of a journey each day. The business has lots going on at the moment so there’s no shortage of things to do. When I’m at each of our sites, I walk the floor to see the business in operation, talk to staff and generally get an update on the day - there’s always something exciting happening. We are owned by An Post (The Irish Post Office) and our chairman, Brian McCormick, is often over and participating in the strategic direction of the business which has to be right to cope with the fast, dynamic and changing nature of the market. If I’m not travelling, I like to get home and see the kids and help (my wife would say hinder) to get them to bed!
Q: What is the secret to a happy working life?
A: I know it’s a cliché but you have to enjoy what you’re doing and try and surround yourself with people you get on with and trust. It’s good to be able to have a laugh as well.
Q: How do you see the sector evolving?
A: There is no doubt that volumes and pagination are declining in print which is a big factor for us. We bought Quadrant Subscriptions Services, now known as Air Business Subscriptions, a few years ago from RBI to move into another part of the chain which relied more on data and technology – we find this a perfect addition to our suite of distribution services. We are handling a lot more products now, from both publishers selling through their websites or from e-retailers such as online clothing and electronics companies. So, while it’s getting tough, we are still focused on doing everything to the best of our abilities and being there for our customers whatever their requirements. The impact of Brexit on distribution has yet to be defined but there is no doubt that there will be both challenges and opportunities resulting from this.
Q: Who has particularly influenced you?
A: That’s a tough one. Being Jewish, I am inspired by fellow Jews who have, through total adversity, risen to great heights in their respective fields. I am a massive Steven Berkoff and Michael Nyman fan. That fight and spirit, which I think is inherent, is what got me through the personal challenges that I mentioned earlier on – it could easily have gone badly for me. From a business perspective there are too many to list. I have always been blessed with great bosses. Simon Cooper, ex-CEO of Ritz Carlton Hotels, really set the bar for me in terms of the way I run Air Business. I had the pleasure to talk to Simon some years ago and his relentless focus on customers and quality was truly inspirational. I try and emulate that as much as I can at Air Business (minus the swimming pools and cocktails!).
Q: What advice would you give someone starting out?
A: If you take my job as a generic MD, there is no substitute for working really hard, being reliable, trustworthy and getting on with people. Working up from the ground floor and giving every task the same commitment, however menial it may seem, is always going to get you noticed. For distribution, entering as a customer service agent and then sales manager is a good route. There’s nothing wrong with working in the thick of it at the coal face in operations and working up from there either.
Q: How do you relax outside work?
A: Most of my free time is spent with my wife and kids. We were late starters to parenting so we have two relatively young children. Apart from the usual activities like football, dance etc. we enjoy TV and films. We are members of the National Trust and spend time visiting the various properties which we all enjoy. Not exactly sex, drugs and rock & roll, is it?!!
Q: In an alternate life, what would you have done?
A: Now that’s a question! I’d probably have been on the other side of the fence - media of some sort. Something creative in fashion perhaps. I was a competing tennis player until I was twenty and, for a while, thought I might make a living from it although suddenly realised that I wasn’t quite good enough. Maybe I should have practiced more….