Chief executive, Amaze – the marketing and technology agency
Eight months into the top job at Amaze and with 14 years of service behind her Natalie Gross has seen, steered and, more importantly, predicted the huge changes in how brands communicate digitally with their customers.
Amaze was set up in 1995 at Liverpool John Moores university to explore the impact of digital on learning and communication, going on to produce educational material on CD-Rom. Spun off two years later into a commercial entity, it developed its first commercial website in 2000 for a chlorine manufacturer and now boasts Unilever, Toyota, Dyson and Coca-Cola among its clients.
"We support our clients through all their digital work – providing strategy, delivery, design, implementation and management," says 40-year-old Gross. "We've learnt technically, creatively and governance-wise how to develop strong pan- European and global digital solutions, and help brands manage and maintain them."
Digital communication now encompasses mobile, tablet and social channels. "It's now where we predicted over a decade ago," says Gross, adding that her 200 staff look 15 years into the future to stay ahead.
"Our purpose is inspiring original thinking through a deeper understanding of technology and human behaviour." For example, the company's Amaze Generation programme follows a group of 11- to 15-year-olds for five years to understand the way they behave.
As chief executive, Gross restructured Amaze around six team leaders, each in charge of up to 30 staff, a £2m revenue client portfolio and responsibility for profit and loss. "My management philosophy is to empower people to manage client portfolios, so there is a feeling of autonomy, client ownership and responsibility. A centralised management model doesn't encourage responsibility, innovation, ownership and camaraderie – and, critically, it doesn't enable me to scale the business," she says.
With a £12.5m turnover, Gross is aiming for 10 per cent top-line growth but is focused on the bottom line for the next 12 to 24 months and growing the company. "The sector is strong and we're operating in a bit of a bubble. If I could take on enough of the opportunities out there we would grow faster."
The problem, she says, is the country isn't producing a large enough skillset. "I don't think disgrace is too harsh a word. Imagine if 15 years ago the government had taken the education curriculum by the scruff of the neck, shook things up, incentivised science and technology, and made it sexy."
Gross is surprised at the slowness of companies to integrate digital into a marcom strategy but says: "With DCMOs (digital chief marketing officers) and CIOs taking more prominence we should see change speeding up."
And as Gross moves the conversation on to augmented reality, 3D printing and mobile phones that will alert waiters when your glass is empty, she gives the impression it's only the businesses embracing digital strategies that will find their glasses half-full.
Who My family – each of them inspires me in their own unique way. Also the late Roy Stringer, founder of Amaze and one of the most prolific thinkers about the internet and its societal impact.
Which media Wired. It's pitched just right in terms of reading about business, technology, science and innovation. I still prefer the print format to sit and flick through.
Website BBC Online. I visit countless times a day checking headlines, market latest and news about Arsenal.
Saying "Not good enough." It's blunt but I have exacting standards. It's always followed by a 'why I think that', which I hope is constructive. I will commit time to people to help move the game on, but mediocrity is not in my vocabulary.
Influential figure Maya Angelou. Her books are indescribable in terms of experience, spirit,storytelling and rhythm.
Can't live without The relationships in my life. Objects mean little but if I had to pick one – it would be my BlackBerry.