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Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas founded the Cake agency - recently re-branded from Digital Cake - in January 2017 and has been at the helm ever since. The ecommerce consultancy specialises in helping brands start up and scale. and now employs 18 people based in the Jewellery Quarter.

EXPLAIN A TYPICAL WEEK IN YOUR WORKING LIFE: It’s a bit of a cliché, but I really don’t have a typical week! Regardless, I wouldn’t have it any other way and therein lies the beauty of being an entrepreneur and business owner. I will always try to balance my time between working in my business and supporting the team where required, ensuring that we are delivering as expected, meeting our targets and developing new strategies to keep us and our clients moving in the right direction.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FACING YOUR INDUSTRY RIGHT NOW? Currently our clients, especially in the fashion industry, are facing plenty of issues with Brexit. The new regulations and tax implications have meant that a lot of our clients have had to change what they had previously been doing. The pandemic has also created issues with logistics when it comes to transporting goods across the border.

AND WHAT ARE THE BIG OPPORTUNITIES? As the tech and digital industry is forever changing and innovating, the new opportunities we have are endless. As an agency, we are always looking to new trends to provide our clients with the best possible service.

We’re also big on providing opportunities for school and university leavers looking to kick start their career in marketing. We’re always looking to champion young talent in Birmingham, whether that be with our links to BCU or with internships and work experience.

HOW DO YOU GET THE BEST OUT OF YOUR STAFF? My approach with the team is to always empower them. I like to make sure they have the right training, the right equipment and the right direction, and then let them get on with it. I don’t like to micro-manage: you have to have faith in your recruitment and the wider processes in the business and let the team flourish from there.

WHAT WAS YOUR LAST MEETING ABOUT, HOW LONG DID IT LAST, AND WAS IT PRODUCTIVE? It was an external meeting with one of our clients and lasted around just over an hour. It was very productive! We discussed with them the plans for expansion and how the company plans to pivot to a D-to-C model.

HOW MANY EMAILS DO YOU GET IN A DAY, AND HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE TO READ THEM? I’ve managed to filter my emails pretty well over the last few years, so I probably get 5-10 a day that require my attention. I’ll read any that require a response in the first hour of the day and I try to answer them in the final half hour of the day. As a general rule, I will never respond to emails straight away.

DO YOU ANSWER WORK CALLS OR EMAILS AT HOME? WHAT’S THE RIGHT WORK-LIFE BALANCE? In my younger years I would always answer calls or emails at home, but now I’ve created a work-life balance that works for me and means that I can make time for my family, which is very important.

HOW DO YOU HOPE YOUR COLLEAGUES WOULD DESCRIBE YOU? Resolute. It’s something that I chose to be part of our values, as I think it’s important that as a team, we’re purposeful and always determined to do our best and always striving for more.

HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR? My entire time at Cake is a highlight. I’ve loved every minute of it so far, from setting up the agency to now having a team of almost 20. I have learnt so much over the last 4 years - and even during my time at Cloggs - but I’m so proud of what we’ve built here.

ANY PARTICULAR FAUX PAS OR EMBARRASSING MOMENTS IN YOUR CAREER YOU WOULD PREFER TO FORGET? Not quite a faux pas, but more of a regret… I should have invested in cryptocurrency sooner!

PET HATES? A pet hate of mine in business is not being on time. In retail there is no time to be late, so this is something I’ve always kept with me throughout my career.

IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF SOME WISE ADVICE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? To never underestimate the power of networking - towards the beginning of my career, I never really took the time to network as it wasn’t really as accessible as it is now. It wasn’t until the second half of my career that I began networking more, and really saw the value in having good connections with people across the city and in your industry.

HOW DO YOU RELAX AWAY FROM WORK? I’m a massive fitness fanatic, so I often turn to exercise to de-stress. I’m also a big fan of Peloton, they’ve definitely revolutionised the at-home workout.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS SPECIAL ABOUT THE BIRMINGHAM BUSINESS COMMUNITY? They care. Business people in Birmingham tend to have roots here from the early years, which makes them really invested in the success of the region and the legacy that they want to leave behind. In my brief time working in London, this was not the case and the business community there could often feel quite soulless.

TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOU THAT MOST PEOPLE PROBABLY WOULDN’T KNOW. I’m a black belt in Karate and Aikido!

YOU CAN TAKE ONE BOOK, ONE FILM AND ONE CD ONTO A DESERT ISLAND – WHAT WOULD THEY BE? Book - Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari; film - The Gentlemen; CD - Urban Hymns by The Verve.

YOUR FIVE DREAM DINNER PARTY GUESTS, DEAD OR ALIVE? Noel Gallagher - the 90s was a very formative time for me – a time when there was no internet or mobile phones and music meant so much. But mainly because I’d want to convince him to get Oasis back together! Lewis Hamilton - he’s a sporting icon! Cheryl Sandberg - she’s done some amazing things for Google and Facebook; Jordan B Peterson - I know he can be a bit of a controversial character but I love hearing people talk about human behaviour and think he would be really interesting; and Russell Thomas (my Dad) – he died in 2002 when I was 23, before any of my life in business had begun. He was a stalwart of Birmingham business and fashion in the 80s & 90s being the owner of the legendary Oasis Fashion Store. I would love to be able to pick his brain on both fronts now.

WHAT WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO EAT FOR YOUR LAST SUPPER? I’ve been vegan for 2 years now, but by the time it got to my last dinner I’d probably be happy to dive straight back into a ham and mushroom pizza, preferably from Pasta di Piazza in the JQ!

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