Jason Wouhra tells Tan Parsons that wholesalers can recruit talent through greater links to universities.
Jason Wouhra, director of East End Foods and regional chairman of the Institute of Directors, has received an honorary doctor of sciences degree from Aston University in recognition of his contributions to entrepreneurship and regional and national business, as well as his extensive charity and community work.
Fast East End facts
372 members of staff
1,250 own brand products
Buying group: Landmark
TP: You’re one of the youngest people to have received this award. How much of an honour was it?
JW: It was one of the best days of my life. It was truly an honour. But I could not have achieved this without the support of my family, my friends and the Birmingham business community, which operates in such a supportive and inclusive way.
How do you find time to get involved with so many organisations outside your work?
The amount of time I spend doing these things is very small compared to the amount of time I spend in my day job. But you have to find time, to make time to do it. Be open with the people you are going to help and say, “I have ‘X’ amount of time to spend with you and that’s it.” That’s how I’ve managed it over the years.
What’s the benefit of doing it?
Every person you meet, you’ll learn something from. I’m a great believer in lifelong learning: it can be about constantly learning in your career, taking qualifications or mixing with the right people. Also, if you’re not part of your community, you are meaningless. Not everybody wants to just hand over £30,000 and say, “There you are.” If you are helping local charities or the school or the football team or getting young people in on work experience, you are making a difference.
Does that extend to the work you do with your customers as well?
Absolutely. If you think wholesale is just about buying and selling boxes, that’s not a long-term view. We need to be more dramatic in how we operate. We need to support retailers on things like the appearance of their stores. We generally don’t account for that in our bottom line, but it’s an investment in the future.
Jason Wouhra has worked with Prince Charles’ charity Prime, which helps over-50s get back into work through self-employment. When he visited Buckingham Palace recently, he was hailed at the Queen’s Garden Party by the prince with a cheery, “Hello, I know you – you’re the spice man!”
How much potential wholesale talent is there among the students you spoke to?
There’s a lot of potential among university students, but the wholesale channel doesn’t do enough to promote itself and we are struggling to find good people. Chartered accountants and manufacturing firms go into universities, engage with them and get themselves known. We need to talk to students.
What should wholesalers be saying to students?
On the face of it, wholesale might not be a massively glamorous business, but you can honestly tell them the pay’s good and for people with flair, they can start at the bottom and work their way up very quickly. With wholesalers you are talking about a mid-sized business and you can make a huge contribution if you’ve got talent.