"I was 30 years of age, and me and my wife had never taken a gap year," he says. "It was while driving along the Mediterranean basin that we saw that no matter what the language, culture or politics of the country olives were everywhere, and in all different types and varieties. So simply for the fun of it, we began collecting recipes." It wasn't until returning home to Southampton, bored and broke, that they ever thought they could make a business out of olives. Simply to remind them of their Mediterranean journey, they began eating some from their trip that they had lying in some "manky buckets", improving them with the recipes they had gathered.
"Our friends thought, these are quite exceptional, you must sell them!' Are you barking mad!' I said." But sell them they did, coming back from a fair in Bath with a very light van. "We had had a pocketful of cash and thought, let's do that again'." Since then, Olives et al has grown from being run by Henschel and his wife from a bedroom to a 30-man firm with a turnover of £3m, producing marinated olives, tapenades and oils. Its success suggests a definite business plan, but Henschel says there never has been a specific one, "just a belief and a passion in what we did. You have to be different, you cannot follow the masses. In that regard, we fortuitously found a gap in the market."
Is he suggesting that luck plays an important part in business? "Absolutely. You can create your own luck though," he states enthusiastically. "If you believe that what you're doing is right, and you do it from your heart, you will be more lucky. If you choose to surround yourself with positive people rather than the kind of person who always says the grass is greener on the other side', you will be more lucky."
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And while acknowledging that one of the greatest challenges he faces is keeping things "fresh and new", he admits that the biggest mistake he has made has been in mismanaging talent. "The people part of the business has to be right, otherwise the business will fail. What I've learnt is that although you might not always like everybody you work with, it is important that you can trust one another."
That sounds like army speak, and he admits applying much of what he learnt in the army to his business life. "The army taught me self-reliance, but also the importance of team work." And like many other entrepreneurs, he refers to the large step between setting up a business and actually managing one, although it doesn't seem to have worried him. "The army taught me leadership is more important than management. People need to be led. Management is simply surviving; anyone can be a manager. Leading is a different skill."
Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.
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