A feature in which business people discuss their motivation, ambition, experience – and themselves…
This month it’s Jacqui Wilkins, managing director of creative marketing agency Visual Identity and past president of Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce.Business, Art Deco and the jive – but don’t mention the birds!
What was your first job?
My first Saturday job was helping my dad on his bread round business, getting up very early to deliver bread to the villages in and around Buckingham.
From the age of 13, I worked in a shoe shop business, hairdressers, and a camping store. There were summer jobs, in the wages department of Scot Meats in Bletchley and serving at the Woburn Game Fair.
I learned early on that if I wanted nice things in life, I had to work hard for them. I am still always prepared to roll my sleeves up and get stuck in – I’m not precious.
Why did you choose your particular career?
My art teacher gave me purpose by recognising my creative talent and suggesting Art School as a career option. I applied to Chelsea School of Art because my teacher had trained there and my enrolment offered a career path that has turned into a lifelong passion.
Chelsea developed my ability in unique thought and ideas, the single most significant factor I attribute to my 39 years of continuous employment in the creative and marketing industry.
What’s the best job you’ve had and why?
Working with my team through the pandemic. Our clients needed campaigns that were responsive and sensitively handled. Working at a distance, our successful NHS Nightingale recruitment campaigns were only possible due to the culture and ‘can do’ attitude of everyone involved.
Working from home, we relied on each other, and we developed new ways to keep team spirit high and focused. My team responded admirably, demonstrating real care and diligence towards our clients. I am very proud of them.
…and the worst?
Hairdresser and working with food… Just not for me, which is hilarious when you can see that my biggest investment in myself is my hair. I am a ‘colour-holic‘. And I have absolutely no compulsion in spending big on eating out.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in business?
“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” is something that resonates with me. I thrive on my work; my business is threaded into every part of my life, and I have the same enthusiasm for my work as I did the day I left university in 1983.
What has been the highlight of your career?
The role as President of the Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce. It was a completely unexpected appointment and a real honour. My family moved to Bletchley in the early 1960s and I am a real MK advocate, so the role fitted well with my background.
The role played to my strengths I am a strong people person. I enjoyed building trust with the Chamber’s audiences and meeting key influencers ultimately bringing Milton Keynes as a business community closer together.
…and the low point?
The recession of 2008. As a business, we were victims of being one client and one industry heavy. Since then, we have learned the lesson, we have diversified our client base and are much stronger as a result – a key factor that helped Visual Identity through the pandemic.
I recognise that my past performance is the best reference for the future. We all make mistakes – this builds character – but it’s important to always look back on mistakes and learn from them.
Who in business do you respect the most?
After the Milton Keynes Business Achievement Awards this year, Wayne Hemingway (pictured). He built the Red Or Dead fashion brand into a global business. From the moment he started his presentation, I was completely engaged. I love his business ethos.
What’s more, like me, he is also one half of a successful husband-and-wife team. I liked his mission “to breathe new life into old ideas”. I became a complete fan, instantly. Prior to this, it was Deborah Meaden.
What annoys you the most in business?
Businesses that knock competitors. It is done only to diminish a competitor’s appeal to a prospective customer. Those that do it don’t realise that it makes them look like followers, not leaders.
Mentioning a competitor to criticise them only serves to bring them to the client’s attention a good reason why I never do it.
What’s your career ambition?
To pass on knowledge. I love working with staff and seeing them grow. I have often thought that doing some kind of lecturing would be great to do beyond VI.
…and your life ambition?
To travel the world. I try to visit a different place for every holiday – with so many great places to visit, why waste time going somewhere you have been already?
If you’re self-employed, holidays are borrowed time therefore it stands to reason that my retirement will make up for this.
What’s the best moment of your life?
Most recently, winning in successive years at the British Chamber Business Awards with Barker Shoes. It was incredible. Barker Shoes remain one of my most enjoyed accounts and the work we did, and our successes are a demonstration of what strong partnerships between client and suppliers can achieve.
…and the worst?
In relation to the British Chambers awards, not buying a new dress for the second ceremony. Having won the first year, I didn’t believe lightning would strike twice.
How do you relax?
Gardening and walking. Being outside improves my mood and reduces my stress. MK is very lucky to have the benefit of large areas of beautiful and inspirational connected landscapes. The Parks Trust manage and protect the walks, parks and lakes – no wonder MK is a great place to live, work and play.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Singing my heart out in the car. When I’m driving alone, I love nothing better than putting on my favourite tunes and singing along at the top of my voice.
What’s your worst fault?
No surprise to those who know me well, but it is my impatience. I have learned that not everything can happen quickly and I’m much better than when I was younger but it’s still a challenge.
What’s your most treasured possession?
I am an antiques‘ collector, so it has to be my collections or one of my most prized possessions. I have a passion for ceramics and love Art Deco but also all things 1950s and vintage.
I’m a big fan of the post-war designs, of designers like Colin Melbourne. Some of his most famous work is when he was designing ceramics for the Beswick factory. I love pieces that use asymmetric forms.
Design in these periods pushed the boundaries. They represent the best in creativity and what can be done when imagination, boldness, creativity, and strong work ethic come together to make a powerful impact on the world.
What are you afraid of?
Birds flying around my head. I blame Alfred Hitchcock – I watched ‘The Birds’ film far too young.
Tell us something you regret.
I was told by my university tutor that my work was very strong and that I should apply to the Royal College of Art to do a Royal Academy degree. But I couldn’t afford to fund myself and, because of this, I didn’t even try. Interestingly, I wouldn’t even hesitate now, I’d apply and worry about how to fund it afterwards!
Tell us a secret about yourself.
I have just started learning to dance the jive. I have always liked dancing and singing. It’s not Strictly Come Dancing but I love it. It’s fun and good exercise.
Places that I am yet to visit:
• The Grand Canyon and US West Coast
• Santorini, Greece
• Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
FOOD – French food because the dishes sound as beautiful as they taste.
MUSIC / SONG – David Bowie. Ziggy Stardust. Because Bowie was a musical genius. I have a big love of all music, concerts, and gigs.
BOOK – Nineteen Eight Four. George Orwell. Because of his awareness of social injustice and outspoken support of democracy.
FILM – Erin Brockovich, who helped win the largest settlement ever paid for a direct-action lawsuit. I loved Julia Roberts’ character’s passion and determination to get a result for what was right.
TV PROGRAMME – Antiques Roadshow. I am obsessed with collecting antiques.
RESTAURANT – Locally Paris House in Woburn. Amazing food, wonderful setting.
DESTINATION – I have travelled the world, but Istanbul was the most wonderfully exotic and dynamic city. It’s a must-visit!