You are never in a convenient place when you find out you have come top of the pile of Kent’s 40 most influential business people.
“I was slightly bemused because I was on holiday skiing with my family for half-term and I got a text from a friend which was slightly tongue-in-cheek,” said Jonathan Neame inside his office at Shepherd Neame’s brewery in Faversham.
“I couldn’t make head or tail of it until I found out what it was all about.”
Shepherd Neame chief executive Jonathan Neame
Given the high-profile brand of his beer and pub company – and his strong family name – it was little surprise the panel of independent judges put Mr Neame in first place on the Power List published by Kent Business.
He is the fifth generation of his family to run the firm – founded in 1698 – and there are few pub goers who have not sat in one of his company’s boozers, although these days they also serve coffee and appeal to families as well as ale aficionados. His influence is not limited to Kent, frequently lobbying government to cut taxes on the price of a pint as chairman of the British Beer and Pub Association.
Having diversified into the hotel market, buying and renovating half a dozen in the county, Mr Neame is set to extend his sphere of influence as chairman of tourism agency Visit Kent from December.
“Influence comes from the position you are in and the company or organisation that is behind you,” said Mr Neame, 50, who became chief executive of Shepherd Neame in 2003.
“But irrespective of that, anyone can earn respect by doing the same things consistently and coherently for a long period of time.
“One virtue of Shepherd Neame is we take a long-term view about things. I don’t think influence can be bought or gained overnight.
“Influence and respect has to be earned over a long period of time.”
Mr Neame joined Shepherd Neame in 1991 having trained as a barrister and worked as a management consultant with the COBA Group from 1987 to 1991.
He has held many roles within the company, including company secretary, tied trade director and managing director.
Despite his naturally friendly nature, Mr Neame comes across as a serious man, with a clear understanding of what he should and should not say.
The Power List caused quite a stir on social media
He laughed loudly – and nervously – when asked how the company has kept its place as one of Kent’s best-known brands (“with extreme difficulty”) and what his secret to being influential has been.
He said: “Like every industry, it is an incredibly competitive sector. We are fortunate that we have got an established brand and have been around a long time.
“It is never just one person’s effort. It is always a team effort.
“What never ceases to amaze me is how rapidly the industry changes and how we have to change to respond to that.”
“Influence and respect has to be earned over a long period of time…” – Jonathan Neame
One of nine family members who work in the business, he becomes more stern after being asked how important his name has been to his success.
He said: “That is a difficult one for me to comment on. I don’t know.
“If you are fortunate enough to be brought up in a family business and work in it, you probably have got that round-the-clock passion and commitment to it.
“The one thing Shepherd Neame has is huge passion in the business.
“Whether that comes from the fact it is a family business or long-established, I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t come entirely from me, although I am passionate about it, as was my father before me.”
Then Mr Neame is off to another meeting and his convivial style returns before he shoots off.
“You are asking some challenging questions for a Monday morning. I would have got up earlier if I’d known.”
Some responses to the Power List
“Of all the people that could have been on the list, Paul Markland, Paul Andrews and Mark Dance seemed to be missing.
Paul Markland grew the Orbital Marketing Services group to a large employer in Kent and beyond throughout his career. He managed to successfully sell the group to Menzies distribution at the end of 2012 and kept it running smoothly until he stepped down in December, and is now working on a few angel investments as I understand it.
Paul Andrews is just everywhere that SMEs seem to be, especially the more digitally-inclined ones. He is normally lurking in the background trying not to take the limelight but support the young and bright of my digital peers at things like Digital in Kent and Get Social Kent.
Mark Dance seems to be at every major business event I have attended in the last 18 months and spends a lot of time talking with the businesses. As cabinet member for economic development, surely he has a lot of influence on where the economy of the county is aiming.
I agree with the broad strokes of the rest, and understand its very hard compiling such a list.”
Sean Reilly, digital marketing specialist, CanMarket, Chartham
“It strikes me that your list is a good start but:
- No Hugo Fenwick – of Fenwicks Department store and currently High Sheriff
- I see very few people who have made the top 50 wealthiest people in Kent on the list and developed very significant Kent businesses
- With the exception of Clive Emson there seem to be no professional service firm owners or partners included at all and some are very influential. Professional services is now the largest sector of the UK economy.
- There are very few Megagrowth or KEIBA winners included – should KM co-ordinate with other awards?”
Clive Stevens, executive chairman, Kreston Reeves, Chatham
“I found it amusing that I was missing from the Power List.
If I drop rent prices in Ashford or Maidstone, it drops the whole rent level across Kent. If you are selling cauliflowers for 50p and the man in the shop next door starts selling them for 45p, then the person with the most stock leads the field and others follow.
I influence the lives of everyone in Kent in that respect, which is not something I’m proud of or shout about. It’s a terrible responsibility.
The Neame family (Jonathan Neame No.1) exerts no influence on me as I don’t drink beer.
The builder Pat Burke is 20 times bigger than Pat Gallagher (No.39), who used to work for him, but he’s a very quiet man.
That said Pat Gallagher deserved to be higher and Sir Roger De Haan (No.5), who is creating employment for lots of people in Folkestone, should also have been higher.
Someone was not thinking too clearly when they drew this up.”
Fergus Wilson, property owner and landlord, Boughton Monchelsea