Neptune co-founder John Sims-Hilditch tells journalist Suzanne Imre how looking beyond the here and now is enabling the business to be more inventive and creative.
100 years. A century. Per centum. It can mark a mere moment in history or chart an entire lifetime. It’s also the vision that Neptune’s co-founder John Sims-Hilditch has for the business: to create things that will last beyond a hundred years. A legacy of beautiful furniture, carefully considered, crafted and cherished.
This centennial mindset is the result of much contemplation, as John explains: ‘The idea started when we were considering the long-term challenges that face any growing business. What are the differences between a company that lasts beyond a century and one that doesn’t?’
In exploring such a conundrum, John fell to thinking about his early military career, where defining purpose was the key to success – not financial gain. ‘When purpose is well established, it can last a long time,’ he observes. ‘Traditional business doctrine teaches that the purpose is to maximise profit. But finance is a resource, not a purpose. Of course it needs careful management, but if a business looks after its customers, people and finances then it can achieve its purpose. The purpose needs to be front and centre.’
Once established, John saw that this mindset could offer a host of progressive opportunities, not least providing the team with a clear benchmark against which to test their decision-making processes. It was an approach that didn’t demand reactionary turnarounds or knee-jerk responses. Taking a long term view could help people navigate complex decisions. ‘This is not about rushing to a destination as a company,’ adds John. ‘The future is over the horizon and we can’t see it, but we know we will be there.’
It’s an intriguing philosophy – future planning for benefits you may never see. Preserving for the generations ahead. It’s not unlike the mindsets of creatives of the past – 18th century gardeners who planted up estates but never got to see the wonder of the avenue of mature lime trees, or Renaissance architects who resolved structural issues but never witnessed the final stones being laid. ‘There is a real sense of humanity and spirit in this approach,’ says John, ‘creating something for someone else’s enjoyment in the future.’
In practical terms, the 100-year mindset means the business is focused on creating well-made, sustainable furniture that people will cherish. The solid oak tables and rush-seated chairs of today may, in time, become family heirlooms, imbued with sentiment and history.
Looking ahead, John envisages that the business’s restoration services will grow as more people choose to renovate and preserve their furniture rather than discarding and buying new. The team already share refurbishing advice, helping customers look after and maintain their investment pieces, but the ambition is to develop this part of the business further. ‘I suspect that a lot of what we’ll be doing in the future is looking after things we’ve made in the previous 100 years,’ notes John.
And so the purpose is set. Beautiful furniture made to last for 100 years and beyond. A simple concept. A huge vision.