Meet the Boss: Rick Sheepshanks finds the sauce of success

A Q&A profile of Rick Sheepshanks, managing director of Stokes Sauces, based at Rendlesham, near Woodbridge.

: : Name: Rick Sheepshanks

: : Age: 56

: : Job description: Managing Director

: : Who do you work for? Stokes Sauces

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: : Where are you based? Rendlesham, near Woodbridge

: : What gets you out of bed in the morning? Unless I am leaving very early, it is usually one of my children climbing over me to get to their mummy. Most days I feel pretty energised and enjoy the thought of a new day working on the Stokes Sauces products and witnessing new chances and new challenges.

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: : What was your first ever job? Straw carting on my father’s farm. It was dirty and very hard work, but there was always such a great crowd of people. Good old Suffolk boys – the likes of which they don’t seem to make anymore. I was privileged to work with those people and I learned a great deal about teammanship which goes into my ethos at Stokes.

: : What was the most unusual task you have been asked to carry out at work? Whilst working on a sheep farm in New Zealand, I was instructed to kill a sheep, which fed all of us and the dogs for a week. It took me by surprise but I do recognise that tasks like that introduce you to your strengths. A few seconds of courage and you find out who you are and what matters. Sometimes in life, you just have to grit your teeth and get on with it. It is a recurring theme and I have definitely had to call on that true grit to reach my goals for Stokes and accomplish things like our nationwide supply to Waitrose.

: : Do you remember your first day at work and, if so, what was it like and what did you do? My first real paid job was working in a winecellar deep under Soho in London. I spent my first day being taught how to bin fine wines. I was eventually fired! You were allowed to break the odd bottle but after being there about four months, I broke three bottles in the same day and when questioned by the foreman, I cheekily replied: “I am having a smashing time!” That was me done.

: : How did you get where you are now? We all make choices which take us in different directions and to different places but the truth is the luck of the Gods and a lot of help from a lot of people.

: : What was your best day at work and why? It was a Friday in January 1998. I interviewed this rather pretty blond haired girl, who apart from a sparkle in her eye, gave the most unusual answers to questions, made me laugh and really held her own. I remember thinking: “I need people like her on the team”. As life has transpired, I am now on her team – she is my wife.

: : What was your worst day at work and why? Leaving Suffolk Foods. Parting from what you love is always hard. For me, this was particularly hard. Fortunately, I’m on a new chapter today and am loving everything about Stokes and its journey.

: : What impresses you most on your own CV? Nothing – I am completely unemployable. That is why I had to work for a chap who would give me a job – me!

: : What impresses you most on someone else’s? Honesty, modesty, courage and sticking power.

: : What do you hate to see in a CV? “I was solely responsible for driving the company’s turnover from X hundred thousand to X Zillion Billions!”

: : Do you think you make a good employee and if so, why/why not? Probably not now, although I always thought I used to be. Nowadays I tend to fire myself most evenings, re-apply for the job at night and manage to get myself re-hired by Stokes again by the next morning.

: : Do you think you are a good employer, and if so, why/why not? You would have to ask others that question – but, as a boss I am interested in people because it is the calibre, skill and attitude of people that directly determine the success of a company like Stokes. Everyone on the team has to understand their function within the team and as people, everyone needs the space and encouragement to grow. I have a rule: everyone who works with me needs to be cleverer than I am, which is not setting the bar that high but I am proud that over half of our team have worked with me now for between 15 and nearly 30 years. Why have these people stayed by my side for so long? Probably a mix between curiosity and compassion.

: : What do you think are your best attributes at work? Keeping out of everybody’s way.

: : What are your worst failings? Getting in peoples way.

: : If you weren’t doing the above, what would you be doing? I would like to do a bank job on Barclays, so I would probably be in jail.

: : What are the attributes in work colleagues in general that you admire the most? Thoughtfulness, kindness, hard work, grit and determination, a can-do attitude and, of course, humour.

: : What are the failings in work colleagues in general that you hate the most? I don’t like the word “hate”. The only things I hated were haddock kedgeree, junket and semolina at school. I won’t tolerate bullying, people who don’t care or rudeness.

: : What’s your biggest work worry? There are always so many things to worry about! I tend not to worry too much now – I have discovered that most problems are solvable somehow and, if they are not, worrying is not going to help. You just have to work your way through it as best you can. Having a good team around you sure helps and we have worked collectively on some terrific challenges, and risen above them to create a very strong brand which I am exceptionally proud of.

: : What’s your best stress-buster? Listening to Bob Seager and the Silver Bullit Band and having a large malt whisky on ice, or a workout with my mate Michel Tester.

: : Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing? Spending time with my children and wife. Chilled family time is always such a laugh and a pleasure and a real life enhancer. Every period of time spent with them knocks life into perspective – one of the things I should and need to do more of.

: : If you had the power to do any job in the world, what would it be and why? I would settle for Prime Minister of the UK. I am not the most politically correct, so it might not be for me but – oh, the frustration at watching these guys – I so wish we could have more common sense, more people in politics who had done real jobs and were competent, a set of politicians who were more intent on doing the right thing as opposed to what they thought was going to get them re-elected and this depressing party politics. But on reflection, perhaps we get what we deserve.

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