James Angus Pow – Angus James Associates

In this True Stories blog we speak to experienced Global Retail Brand Expert – James Angus Pow. His extensive experience as a CEO, Chairman and Scotsman for various global retail brands make for an insightful and very interesting read that leaves you wanting to know more.

Can you please introduce yourself and your business?

My name is James Angus Pow and my business is Angus James Associates Limited which I have been running along with my other interim and advisory roles since June 2006. The business specialises in providing strategic consultancy services internationally for the retail sector of predominantly branded businesses. 

Prior to this I have acted as Chairman or CEO in branded retail businesses for the last thirty years working with Shareholders, Banks and Private Equity Providers turning around failing businesses.

Currently this has meant that I have been involved either directly or indirectly in most of all the major restructuring work that has taken place internationally and nationally due to the disruptive changes of online business on the overall retail sector at a time of exponential consumer change.

Additionally I am retained as a Retail Expert by Samsung CT Fashion Division Europe and Alvarez and Marsal, leading International Business Consultants.

I interface with the Scottish Government along with the Scottish Executive and their enterprise initiatives in my role as Globalscot, along with mentoring start-ups and assisting businesses achieve higher rates of growth than their capital base would otherwise permit.

Was there a ‘lightbulb’ moment or event that influenced what you chose to pursue as a career?

Not really – more a focused decision-making requirement ahead of its time, or as my psychometrics have led me to understand "a need to just keep going through hedges when no one was there to pat me on the back".

I lost my mother when I was twelve and this made me grow up beyond my immediate peers at the time in a profound way, looking after my father and my younger sister who was six.

I was torn between the arts and sciences as a teenager at a time when one's curriculum was not as flexible as mine had to be!

So I did both Art and Accountancy through night school classes after getting 13 O-Levels and really wanting to leave school then to get a job but my father insisted I stay on and do my higher and A levels, which I did taking six.

So that done it was then a classic choice! Physics or Chemistry at University or Art or Architecture but with a real passion to be a fighter pilot!

Compromise was required so I went and took an interview with a careers adviser. The outcome was electing to do a Design and Business Degree at Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh combining Fashion and Textiles and affiliated Honours.

It wasn't all plain sailing though post that monumental decision. I thought I'd made a mistake after my first year and almost left to pursue architecture although that meant a further two years on my existing course. I knuckled down and stuck it out and in my third year was flown to Lowell in North Carolina for a week of interviews which resulted in being offered the Head of Design role for a new Division of Lowell Fabrics of Massachusetts, an internationally renowned furnishing business.

Unfortunately the university would not entertain me being granted a diploma for my three years work already completed so I resigned myself to stay and completed my degree.

Was their a key tipping point in your success?

Yes, I'm sure looking back it was the grey hair I prayed for to be seen as serious amongst my business associates! That came at 33 - way later than I wanted it!

On reflection I guess it was the one and only time my career path was blocked. I had moved up from assistant Menswear Designer at Pringle of Scotland a then £50M T/O business, to Design Manager after two years at the business. I approached my divisional immediate report the Marketing Director and then the MD himself to request first moving over into sales then marketing to advance my career. I had set my target to achieve an MD role by age 30 and I was 24 at the time!

I had recognised that most MDs at the time came from an accountancy background and  believed that with a broader commercial base particularly in design, sales and marketing - I could bring more to the role.

I was told they'd consider my request but for the time being I was a perfect fit in a round hole! Stuck!

I left three months later taking up a headhunter position as Design & Sales Manager for an internationally recognised business, becoming a retained consultant for a further three years at Pringle of Scotland.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career to date?

There have been two. Sir Alan Smith - entrepreneur, soap salesman, founder of Dawson International (£450M T/O) and latterly life President of the company and Charles Stewart, Group MD of Holland & Sherry Group and Lincroft Kilgour of Saville Row, London.

The former inspired me to always listen, consider and then act on my gut. Never to respect the norm but to develop and break the rules delivering the new.

I built my first £5.9M eleven acre factory on that advice bringing the first Japanese automatic knitting machines to the UK and developing a cotton knitwear business for the first time in Scotland correcting the Autumn only Cashmere and wool business of the past and offering 12 months production and sales.

Charles hired me as Special Projects Director Designate at a time the piece-goods suiting sales in the Far East was suffering decline. My remit was "do what you need to do to develop and bring complementary business and turnover to the Group - fast"

I was there for eleven months at a time that I had two young children and another on the way. I spent nearly nine months ex UK with salary increment ends every three months!

Cashmere sweaters direct from China was started as a business. Bespoke handmade Blazers and custom-made shirts for the USA was set up as a standalone business.

The cartel that was the London Badge & Button Company was targeted and in collaboration with The Birmingham Mint I started the successful Holland & Sherry Range of exclusive Blazer buttons designed on a three prong under mount so the button would never flop to the side. All of this whilst successfully expanding the half piece and full piece suiting business in the Far East.

Once struggling to get into China because my passport had a Taiwan entry on it I telexed Charles to advise of my issue.

He telexed back immediately in the middle of the night saying only "when the going gets tough, the tough get going!"

Two days later, one additional NEW passport and one very night time flight I was in Canton and sharing a room with a Swedish guy whom I didn't know from Adam as rooms were scarce, unlocked and had no running water!

Always but always practise “two ears and one mouth at all times”.
— James Angus Pow

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever received?

Always but always practise "two ears and one mouth at all times".

And always trust your gut as your head will only complicate matters!

What business tool can you not live without?

My synchronised Apple machines and my invaluable bringforward calendar, which allows me to place everything in time where it must be dealt with allowing me to prioritise that which must be dealt with daily by day by month, annually.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Honestly, having been fortunate enough to have three - now two wonderful children.

What do you think will potentially disrupt your industry in the near future?

Human's failure to recognise the need to step aside and allow youth to move up more quickly than their own personal experience, history and greed affords them to do - primarily for selfish reasons and an honesty in admitting that they can't solve the change needed.

Each successive Industrial Revolution brings a new exponential speed curve with it. Today we are witnessing the International Governments failure to engage with their own respective populations on how they are struggling to accept the new reality, what it will mean and how late they are in accepting what that will mean,

We will witness further massive global displacement of populations as we have from North Africa into Europe, driven by a human need to survive and provide. The former by climate change and the latter by robotics and data driven elemental changes on business as it was and how society must change. But we have never before witnessed anything at this speed of change so we are in uncharted territory.

And sadly Governments are in self help mode. All of the above will have a major impact not only on my sector but all sectors.

For retail, it must understand that only newness, experience and immediacy will be the new norm.

What is that one book you tell everyone to read?

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harare.

What young business would you tip for a big future?

There are really so many out there it would I believe be unfair to state only one. But each one has in common one influential piece of DNA - they are all massive disrupters in every part of their philosophies!

Who would you most like to see answer these questions next?

Every political leader and those aspiring to be the next.