Kathryn Shuttleworth

kathryn shuttleworth

It was great to talk to Kathryn, she is an avid reader of business books and it’s clear that she is constantly striving to get better in her role as MD of David Luke, a company that makes school uniforms from recycled plastic. A humble person, who is able to laugh at herself, she also understands the importance of values underpinning what a business does and that is evident in how they treat their staff and their attitude toward sustainability. 


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?

The book I’ve given to others the most is Gino Wickman’s, Traction. It doesn’t seem like a gift though, as it has been given to all of our senior management team, so they understand how we work.  It has hugely influenced me and how I run my business. It’s full of practical tools, which is very different from a lot of books written for business.

I really enjoy reading fiction for escapism, much more so than watching TV or films. My favourite of all time is Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?)

A while ago I decided to do a few sewing courses. Like reading, I have found it to be pleasurable escapism,  but more importantly learning to sew has helped me increase understanding of the manufacturing of clothes, which means I can communicate better with our suppliers and also know what quality looks like.

I’m in danger of sounding like an advert for them, but I also really like Who Gives A Crap toilet roll. I love their branding, their product and they’re doing really good things as a company. Their products are made from sustainable materials and 50% of their profits are donated to clean water and sanitation non-profits.


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

There are so many. The biggest, which I wasn’t responsible for, but I took very personally was when I first took over as MD we lost a major contract that we’d had for 28 years. We needed to pivot and be resilient to survive and this experience has helped me with adversity since.

I think as an organisation we’re good about mistakes and failures culturally. It’s something that’s important to us. You have to foster a culture where people can try and fail. 

I must admit, although I can rationalise others’ failures quickly, my own takes a bit longer. Things like saying the wrong thing to a colleague or a client can stay with me a while. Once I go through that process of grieving the thing that I’ve got wrong, I do move quickly to a focus on solutions.


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?)

The opposite of the now conventional wisdom, “Move fast and break things.”  – Tread lightly and fix things. We should think about the consequences of what we’re doing and their effects on others and the planet.


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

In the company I would say it is constantly investing in innovation, in order to stay ahead.


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

Up cycling stuff. My husband might be throwing away an old shirt and I’ll say, “Don’t, I’ll turn that into an interesting top for myself”. Unfortunately I’m not great at it and they often end up put away in boxes anyway.


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

Not identifying my self-worth with my job. I’ve had a tendency to do that in the past, but I’m getting better at not doing that. I allow other people to take on more responsibility. 


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

I found this one hard. Giving out advice doesn’t feel natural to me as I don’t feel qualified and I don’t want to be patronising. If pushed, I would say that there is a lot to learn, be patient, accept that sometimes you have to do mundane things in a job and it won’t always be perfect, but if you work hard good things will come in time.


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

The incentives don’t align with sustainability. Instead people focus on protecting their margins which is understandable, but some things are more important than money. Because we have such a focus on this, it can mean we’re less competitive with price. But ultimately it’s the right thing to do.


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?

I’m not good at saying no.. I would always think I needed to take the lead on meetings and events. Now, I delegate to more qualified, skilled people.


What does a balanced life look like to you? Has a work or a project you have been focused on caused you to neglect other areas of your life?

Finding balance outside the stresses and busyness of work, so contentment in simple things at home, happy and dull : ). Not having too much to do. Simple things like going out for dinner or having a night in watching a film together as a family, 


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

Going for a run totally clears my head, the endorphins really work

The other is writing things down that are worrying me. That helps in itself, but also when I look back at some of the things I’d written in the past, I think, “Why did that worry me?” It helps me put my current concerns into perspective. 


What does leadership mean to you?

Vulnerability. Being honest that we don’t really know what we’re doing and everyone is just making it up as they go along, yet also being confident and creating confidence in others by creating a plan to follow. 

It’s also about being adaptable, bringing people along, trying to judge how people are feeling.


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

Loads of sports coaches in the past have galvanised me. I think sport is great because you have to go through tough times with other people and then having to come back and work together again. It’s good practice for life in a safe environment.

I had one particular coach, from the age of 14 to 26. He was an ex army guy. He taught my netball team and he was very tough but also very caring. I ended up playing for England up to the age of 21.

Single mums who have worked with us inspire me. I don’t know how they do it. Parenting is hard enough with a partner. 


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

Principles and values are important guides for life.


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?

How do you prioritise the needs of others over your own?


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?

On a personal note, it would be volunteering and doing charity work. I think that’s something I will look to do as I get towards and then into retirement. 

Professionally; becoming less reactive and more proactive with the challenges we face.


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

I have a coach, perhaps it’s more like having a therapist! 

I’ve read a multitude of business books but not had a massive amount of coaching and mentoring. I do think that they help give perspective and it’s important for leaders to improve but also others in the organisation to improve with them. It seems selfish to be the only one in an organisation receiving help in that way. We have a very collaborative leadership style now and we’re managing 66 people.

Topic: 50 in 50