The entrepreneur hatched the idea for his firms, which sell small modular buildings, because his son was unable to get on the housing ladder. He discusses the creative merits of car journeys, carpentry and country walks
We called the company Zedbox because you sleep in it. We have a housing crisis in the UK and Zedbox is an opportunity to do something about it – for people to extend their own space. We are relieving the pressure on this country’s housing stock.
The best bit about a garden office is the door. If you’ve had an awful day, you get up, walk out and close the door behind you. You leave it until tomorrow. If you’re working in a spare room inside your house, that bad day follows you around for the rest of the evening and you don’t get away from it. You are much more productive in a garden office and you have a better balance between your work and home.
Creativity can’t be run by committee. I’m a firm believer in this point. The small degree of progress we’ve made as a company is because I’ve got a team of fantastic people around me who can turn my madcap schemes into reality.
I’m at my most creative when I’m in the car. I make a point of going out and seeing the whites of a customer’s eyes. This means that I can spend a lot of time on the road. I find that I do all of my best thinking there. The car is a great problem-solving space for me. When I get home I feel reinvigorated.
Long walks in the country are also invigorating. George, my chocolate labrador, regularly comes to the office with me. He’s the same age as Smart Garden Offices, which was founded in 2001. I’ll often go on lengthy hikes with him. The Suffolk countryside in which we’re based can be quite breathtaking, especially in the winter.
I’m something of a work obsessive, because I love what I do. I play golf and go sailing, but what I do for a living doesn’t feel like work.
I retrained as a carpenter. I was doing a lot of talking about my business, but I wanted to get more hands-on, so I went back to college for a year. In 2006 I earned my City & Guilds and NVQ, so I’m now a fully qualified carpenter.
I like reading business biographies. The official biography of Jaguar Cars co-founder Sir William Lyons is probably the best I have read so far, but James Dyson’s autobiography, Against the Odds, is up there too. Both Lyons and Dyson believed in the primacy of the product. And easyLand: How easyJet conquered Europe, by Tony Anderson, was a book I really enjoyed. As the company’s first marketing executive, he has a fascinating tale to tell. I like stories about people who have had failures as well as successes. Nothing sharpens your game like a bit of failure.
‘The family comes first’ is one of our fundamental principles. This belief runs through every single member of our team, from the most junior person to the most senior – although my wife sometimes finds it rather ironic.
Charlie Dalton is a member of IoD London.
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