Career - Ian Howard
Ian Howard, Managing Director, Dennis UK - the man behind the machine
STAL got a glimpse into the life and times of entrepreneur Ian Howard, whose combination of engineering skill, business acumen and sheer determination to succeed has created a name that is synonymous with groundscare - Dennis.
What were your early interests and career aspirations?
I had always had an interest in geology, and collecting minerals and stones, which I did a lot as a kid. I also had a real lust for going underground, so aged around 14 I got involved with potholing, caving and mine exploration. Being born and bred in Derbyshire, the locality was very conducive to my interests.
What were you good at at school?
I wasn’t ever much good academically, but the sciences and maths were my stronger subjects.
What did you study at University?
I did a BSc in Mining Engineering at Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall. Engineering runs in the family - both my father and grandfather were engineers. My grandfather worked for William Morris [Morris cars] before starting our engineering business making components for a wide range of customers. Later my father joined when he left school and the business expanded to make products for lots of well known companies including the steel industry, Rolls-Royce, the Railways and such like.
I was always positively dissuaded from joining the family business I think because my father always felt he had missed out getting involved straight from school. I had always wanted to experience the big wide world so it was never my expectation or desire to go down that route.
What did you do after graduating?
After graduation in 1981 I travelled for a while then took a job as a graduate mining engineer at a large Anglo American gold mine near Johannesburg, South Africa. It was massive - the deepest mine in the world at 12,000 feet deep and around 500 hectares in size with 20,000 employees . I literally worked from the bottom up starting with the shovel in 50 degrees C heat. A great experience and a true apprenticeship, and I was out there for three years in total and underground for much of the time.
How did you become involved with Dennis?
My father purchased Dennis mowers in 1981 as a bankrupt company having had his eye on it for a long time. I briefly helped out before I went to South Africa but then, three years later, I got a call from my father saying he felt the business had potential and if I came back to run it then it was mine. If not, he’d probably sell it. The choice was mine. It wasn’t my original plan but I decided to take the opportunity.
I started with the company in 1985 at the age of 25. I had to get to grips with the business side of things as I knew nothing about accounts, marketing, sales and certainly didn’t know anything about mowers! So, I spent a lot of time at night school getting myself up to speed and also did a few IOG courses to get to grips with the groundscare side of things.
How has the industry changed over the years?
It’s definitely changed since I’ve been involved. Things have evolved tremendously and with CCT, the market has been tipped on its head. Things have to pay and purchasers are choosier about what they want. There has also been a lot of new blood coming in to the profession, bringing with them innovative ideas and new thinking. In Britain I believe we lead the world in terms of ability to look at things and develop new ways of doing it.
What are it’s good point and bad points?
There a lot of camarardie which is great but there is also some back biting which I find unprofessional.
If you could be in any other industry, what would it be?
I adore travelling to exciting places so I’d definitely be a travel guide.
What have been your best and worst (business) decisions? The best has to be buying JP Mowers in 1991 for £5,000 which has generated over £10 million in sales to date. The worst was getting involved with importing. It made no money, was full of hastle and wasted so much valuable time.
What are your other passions in life?
Five years ago my wife and I purchased a farm where we now rear sheep and about 400 goats for meat. This project has presented many challenges in itself, not least getting to grips with farming. We employ a full-time stocksman and Julia is there full time helping out. I love getting involved with the day to day stuff when time allows and we both have a lot to do with the planning side of things.
What are your best and worst traits?
I’m very driven which you need to be to succeed but I sometimes don’t consider the collateral damage of this trait and the impact on those around me.
What characteristics do you like most and least in a person?
I most like honesty and least like snobbery.
What does the future hold for you and Dennis?
It will continue to grow and will continue to be proudly British.