People of the North: Tony Hughes, CEO of Huthwaite International

People of the North: Tony Hughes, CEO of Huthwaite International

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Tony Hughes is the CEO of Huthwaite International
Tony Hughes,CEO of Huthwaite International

Huthwaite International was established in 1974 and is a leading global provider of sales, negotiation and communication skills development. It supports companies around the world with behavioural methodologies which are research-based and measurable.

Best known for its creation of the iconic SPIN® Selling, which is more relevant today than ever before, Huthwaite has worked with hundreds of thousands of sellers, negotiators and communicators worldwide, helping them improve their performances.

Tony Hughes is the CEO of Huthwaite International and actively promotes the cause for sales and service excellence, he has been a judge at the National Sales Awards and The National Business Awards. In recognition of his outstanding contribution to Sales and Marketing, Tony was presented with the inaugural ISMM Lifetime Achievement Award at The British Excellence in Sales and Marketing Awards.

Tony has been with Huthwaite for twenty-six years as a practitioner of behavioural change programmes, and for the last eighteen years has been CEO with executive control of the Huthwaite International Group of Companies.

Prior to joining Huthwaite he was a teacher and sports coach.

How long have you been running your business and what does your business do?

I have been with Huthwaite International for twenty-six years as a practitioner and delivering behavioural change programmes and for the last eighteen years as CEO with executive control of the Huthwaite International Group of Companies.

We are a behavioural research organisation and spend a large amount of time observing people in a number of differing roles. Huthwaite has developed world renowned best practice models in areas such as general interaction, group communication skills, persuasion and most famously negotiation and sales.

What or who was the inspiration for the business current path you are on?

Huthwaite was founded by Professor Neil Rackham, internationally renowned author of the bestselling business book ‘SPIN® Selling’. He is widely recognised as a highly original communicator, having first gained international recognition in the 1970s when he led the largest ever research study of successful selling and sales effectiveness. This 12-year sales research study (observing and analysing more than 35,000 sales calls in 23 countries) remains to this day the only research of its kind.

I’ve always been intrigued by the role of communication in business.  Being a teacher and sports coach and then moving into corporate training felt like a very natural progression. I became increasingly involved in the business side of things before eventually becoming CEO.

One bit of advice you wish you’d been given before you started your business?

Since taking  over as CEO in 1994 things have changed so much, in our markets as well as in our company. So any advice back then probably wouldn’t apply now anyway.  Although I do remember someone  once quoting Theresa of Avila to me who said ‘this too shall pass’.  I think that’s good advice for anyone.  You never know what will surprise and delight you one day or have you scratching your head the next. But the truth is everything keeps moving, nothing stays the same, good or bad. Enjoy the good times but don’t get too hung up if things aren’t going how you want. It won’t last.

The one most important thing you’ve learned during the experience of running your own business?

I think to trust your own gut feeling and to allow people the space to trust theirs. We have some pretty amazing people at Huthwaite who do great things. Their instincts are just as important as rigorous analysis and planning. I don’t think you can have one without the other.

What do you see as your future business challenges?

I think there is a growing tension in the many organisations that we see, in the way they want to install behaviour change. On the one hand, the trend in everything is towards on-demand, immediate impact, bite-sized, self-service, largely digital solutions. On the other, when they stop to think about it, they know that true commercial improvement comes from deeply embedded behaviour change – and there are no short cuts to that.

Our challenge is to meet the unavoidable need for speed and ease of use while also delivering solutions that achieve demonstrable results. The physical face-to-face training room will always be a part of any real behaviour change alongside on the job coaching, and digital learning. Key to meeting that challenge is to continue to innovate in all areas of learning delivery.

What would you like to leave as your business legacy?

Making sure the business continues to thrive, regardless of the wider economic challenges, is very important to me.  The team at Huthwaite feel that too and impose standards on themselves far higher than I ever could.  But if at the end of every year the business is safe, our clients are delighted and everyone feels they have achieved something then it’s been a good year.

Your biggest business achievement so far?

We won the Queen’s Award for Export. That has to be up there as one of the highlights. At the end of the day we’re a Yorkshire based SME  but we have as clients some of the biggest and most prestigious companies on the planet. For example, 30 of the top 100 companies in the world  have been trained by us. That’s a huge accolade. It feels very normal for us but every once in a while you stop and reflect. It’s a nice feeling. 

When you are not running your business, what do you do to relax?

My job takes me all over the world and it can be hard to switch off. But when I’m not travelling my partner runs a livery so there’s always something or someone that needs fixing or sorting. I like being outdoors. My motorbikes are my passion though. I try and do at least one big road trip a year. It’s a destressser like nothing else.  

Your biggest achievement outside of business?

My daughter is training to be a Vet. She’s single-minded and determined and I don’t think there’s anything  she couldn’t do if she put her mind to it. She’s also incredibly kind. Her compassion inspires me. She’s my biggest achievement.

What would you be doing if you weren’t running your business?

It would probably have something to do with horses or animals. Although I’m not a big fan of routine to be honest and I love a challenge. I’m probably exactly where I need to be.