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Interview with Howard J Cooke

We interviewed Managing Director, Howard J Cooke, to see whether we might uncover the secret behind his success in both life and business.

How does a normal day start for you?

What time do you get out of bed in the morning?

Luckily I’m a morning person and usually find myself jumping out of bed at 5am. I’ve got a smallholding and my first waking half an hour is spent feeding and caring for my livestock. I’ve got quite a diverse collection of Highland cattle, Jacob sheep, Rheas, Alpacas, donkeys and poultry. I am in my own element outside with my animals and being with them provides me with clear thinking time. Once the animals are fed and content for the day it’s off to the gym for an intense 30 minute session where I find my thoughts really start to take shape ahead of the working day.

What drives you to get up when that alarm goes off?
Do you have days when you just want to stay in bed?

Rarely. I’m always conscious that both my livestock and business need me and when you have people and animals depending on you, there is no bigger incentive to drive you forward to get on and get things done. If I do have the occasional lie-in, it will be my wife’s influence!

When you’re driving to work in the morning, what’s playing in your car?

I like to listen to BBC Radio 5 Live in the mornings to make sure I’m up to speed on the news before I reach the office. I like to know that I’m as ahead of the curve as I can be at all times and there is just enough time between home and the office to catch the headlines.

Do you listen to much music?
If so, what’s your favourite song or piece of music?

Yes, I enjoy music and have been known to play the piano, albeit not very well. It can be quite cathartic letting loose on a rendition of Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” from time to time.

At work

You’ve just pulled up outside the office, what time is it once you’re sat behind your desk?

I’m usually in early – between 7:30-8am. I like to use the quieter time in the office before the team arrive to go through my emails, make sure I’m prepared for the day’s calls and meetings and am on top of things for Becky, my PA.

Now you’re sat behind your desk, what are your first thoughts for the day?

Running an operational business in which teams are working on significant maintenance projects around the clock, when I come in I like to make sure that everything has gone to plan overnight and that the night shift operatives have all come in safely.

Asphalt Reinforcement Services employs many people, how do you attract and keep the right kind of people that help drive the company forward?

We are fortunate enough to enjoy great staff loyalty and always have done. We have retained loyal staff who started out with the company back in 2002 and have stayed with us ever since. The team around me are crucial to running a successful business and when they enjoy coming to work and feel valued then they are synonymous with the success of the company. We incentivise staff by rewarding hard work and make sure that we find time to spend time together socially. It’s always amazing what you find out about people when you take them out of an office environment.

How do you measure the level of someone’s success?

For me, it is all about three fundamentals – passion, attitude and happiness. They usually come hand in hand and sustaining them over time is the trick. Happiness can often come from a mindset of taking the time to acknowledge and appreciate your achievements and those of the people around you.

What’s more important to you, being right or getting it right?

Getting it right, definitely. I have a very outcome-based approach to business and work and as long as we are satisfying our customers and delivering high-quality products and services then I am confident that we are doing our job well. I like to continuously learn and improve and that definitely chimes with wanting to get it right rather than be right.

Do you feel like you have learnt all you need to know in life, or are you still trying to grow both intellectually and personally?

Tough question! I am still maturing, I don’t consider myself a slow learner, but I am still growing intellectually and personally, just ask my wife! There is so much to learn and absorb and work on and so many great books and podcasts out there to support personal and professional improvement that I suspect I will always be striving to know more, do more, be more.

What was the biggest personal sacrifice you have had to make to get Asphalt Reinforcement Services to where it is today?

Do you know, I really don’t consider I have had to make any personal sacrifices. I’m lucky to be able to say that I am living my dream and have enjoyed the challenges of the journey so far.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

As an insulin controlled diabetic running a half marathon in less than 2 hours without a hypo! I knew I was taking a huge risk at the time, but I believed I could do it and I wanted to prove to myself that being a diabetic wasn’t something that needed to hold me back. And I did it so fortunately the risk paid off.

What plans do you have for the long term success of Asphalt Reinforcement Services?

The industry is constantly evolving and changing to keep pace with technology and I am keen to continually develop an overall understanding of our customers’ requirements to ensure that we satisfy their demand to the highest possible standards at all times.

Which famous person has inspired you and why?

Sir Winston Churchill without a doubt. For me, he was a true leader, able to inspire and with a great sense of humour at the same time.

What changes in technology do you think have had the biggest impact on the industry?

When I first started work we used a telex machine, land lines and had face to face meetings to communicate with each other. Now mobile phones have become our computers that put us in touch with everything for which we need an answer. 93% of our potential customers will search google as their first port of call and that’s massive. A huge shift in the way we do business and the way our customers do business since I started out and it’s been a rapid learning curve keeping pace and it has been vital for the business to be agile and responsive in order to grow. Having an informative, user-friendly easily-navigable website is key to the future of our business and adapting to the way our customer demographic engage with us. Having said that, technology can sometimes be to blame for things not getting done and there is often no substitute for a personal connection.

What’s your favourite book and why?

Larry Winget – Shut Up, Stop Whining And Get A Life. The title is so good he didn’t need to even write the book, but he did it and it takes a look at how we have all over- complicated business life and how simple it should and could be if we only took the time to step back and unravel ourselves from our own complexity.

In a similar vein, what is your favourite film and why?

I’m an avid fan of Ian Fleming’s James Bond and always have been. The films are full of all the things that appeal to me -boys toys, fast cars, gadgets, stunning women, a great script and fantastically exotic locations as the backdrop.

How do you stay positive and have a fresh approach to an industry that could be seen as old and stale?

My ethos is very much that we are in business for fun as well as making money. We want to enjoy time with staff, customers and suppliers and reinvest for the future with state of the art equipment. We are like a meandering river and flow in the direction that our customers want to take us, responsive to their needs with a powerful sense of purpose

If you knew it would be your last day on Earth, how would you spend it?

That’s easy – at home with my wife and family.