Matt Willson

matt wilson

It was really fascinating chatting with Matt Willson from branding and web agency Aubergine. Matt was Mark’s very first mentoring client back in 2014 and soon after helped him merge his business Willson Web Design with Bekki and Mark Tomkins from Aubergine. Since then, they have all become more specialised in their roles, playing to their strengths. Matt took over the finances, which he does so astutely and leads the development team, ensuring clients are understood, team members are satisfied at work and a culture of continuous improvement ensues.  Since the pandemic Matt has implemented a hybrid working model and has an enviable staff retention, growth and profit margin record. 


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

I’ve read all of the Dickens books.. He understood people in all their absurdity and he was able to convey that through the written word. He wrote about the good, the bad and the ridiculous and his writing illustrates parallels with modern life. Let’s face it – all people are ridiculous, to varying extents! Why are people doing the things they do? I was watching the Bleak House TV adaptation and that inspired me to pick up his books in my late 20’s early 30’s. If anyone is interested in starting to read Dickens I’d recommend The Pickwick Papers as a good start.


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

I believe mistakes are opportunities to show your character and build stronger relationships. When you screw up you’re faced with a choice. Do you make excuses and run away, or fix the problem? It’s amazing how powerful saying sorry can be, especially if a client is really upset or disappointed.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

Don’t be a dick.


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

Convincing Mrs Willson to marry me. We’ve been together for over 20 years.


What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love? 

Not sure if it’s unusual or absurd but I do love country music, mainly the modern stuff. It reminds me of holidays in the US.


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life? 

Looking forward. I’ve never had a career plan but I’m thinking more about the future. Few people are actually going to achieve anything significant on a global scale, so our responsibility is to pass on a legacy to our kids. The butterfly effect on people. That’s our legacy. 


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?”

Life is all about people. In spite of growing automation in all workplaces, people make the decisions, not machines. Who gets promoted? Who gets a pay rise? So it’s about understanding people. You can’t learn charisma, but you can learn people’s behaviour and interactions. Entering the workplace, I think it’s important to know your boss, what is important to them, and to adapt yourself accordingly.


What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

For search optimisation, most recommendations I hear are about 10 years out of date. People are still selling the contents of some spam email they read in 2012 as supposed pearls of wisdom. Search optimisation is a long-term return and must be related to commercial returns. You can’t put search rankings in the bank – you need to demonstrate a real commercial benefit to the work you’re doing.


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

Like most project businesses, delivering work on time is difficult and often frustrating. When people don’t focus on delivering on time they outright lie about timescales. And then of course, they win the job – on false premises.  There is a huge amount of value in doing it right for clients and agencies. At Aubergine. we know the causes of delays because we’ve been honest with ourselves, and we work hard to minimise them.


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

Saying no to people who want my time, but I don’t see the value in it. I have a finite amount of time and this helps a lot. 


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

Stop. Write down actions. Focus on priorities and what really matters. I can only work when I’m doing quality work. Some people just want to be busy but that isn’t me.


What does leadership mean to you? 

Someone who can be relied upon to do the right thing. The difficult thing. The fair thing.


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

I remember watching Roy Keane versus Juventus in the Champions League 25 years ago. He was booked after 25 minutes in the semifinal which meant that he wasn’t going to make the final. His attitude was “I’ve let the team down but I’m still going to get you to the final” . He played a great game and took responsibility.


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

What is important to me? How do I explain that to myself? What is the story I’m telling myself?


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

What are you doing for the people you lead? How are you developing them?


What one thing could you do that you aren’t doing now, that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?  What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?

Making time for physical exercise. 


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

I’ve worked with Mark Nesbitt of NewLeaf for 10 years. He’s helped me understand prioritisation and how a good leader conducts themselves.

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Topic: 50 in 50