The Big Interview – with Steve Morgan, head of Zest

Steve Morgan, head of ZestPublished in the West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce Magazine, June 2021.

To begin, tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m committed, hard-working and very competitive, I enjoy success, deal with adversity, take a hands-on approach to life and to work, look out for family and colleagues and raise money for charity, all with equal gusto.

For someone labelled as an underachiever at school, I was really only good at sport, but I did get my 0-Levels and later acquired a diploma in timber technology and then a degree.

I went on to play rugby for North Wales; and always excelled at team games. I also had a strong ‘will not fail’ drive, backed up by an equally strong conviction from my father, Malcolm Morgan, that you do not quit.

I found that out when I threatened to pack in my first ever job, which was washing up in a local hotel. The gist of his response was “Don’t quit! You can do this” and I remember the scene to this day.

In between county level swimming and rugby, I had a passion for sport which endured even after I had to give up playing rugby in my mid-thirties. The army beckoned but I decided against it. I spent some time travelling in America and working on building sites and appearing in two Hollywood films, even being included on the credits of one of the Freddie Kruger films!

My passion for sport continues to this day. I eventually gave up playing rugby, but took up cycling and marathon running, before moving to the triathlon. I’ve completed many events for charity often in silly costumes: completing eight Iron Man distance challenges and also a number of shorter triathlons including half distance Iron Man triathlons in Poland alongside suppliers.

I ran in the first anniversary celebration of the original Greek marathon which finished in the Olympic Stadium running from Marathon to Athens. On entering the Olympic stadium in the heat of the day, having carried an olive branch the whole way, my pace quickly shifted from a shuffle into spring chicken. This challenge was in aid of patients suffering from Lupus.

I have a black belt in karate originally starting to train alongside my two young children Sam and Nell (now teenagers).

What attracted you to the company?

The P&A Group was established by my father, Malcolm Morgan in 1985, and I’m continuing in the family tradition as we have roots going back five generations in timber manufacture and owning timber yards in Scotland and Ireland.

What are your main responsibilities?

I am the Managing Director of the P&A Group, and there are four group directors.

Each division has a head who reports into me and I also take on the Commercial Director’s role which encompasses the marketing team, products design team and sales.

What does a typical day involve?

In terms of day to day, I like to start with some form of exercise, as it’s a great way to engage the brain for the day ahead.

Thoughts, opportunities and issues pop in and out of my head while exercising and, at the end, I usually have a plan of how to proceed. After that, I’ll have a number of appointments and meetings, either catching up with my team on their areas of responsibility or on a more business development topic.

I like to ensure that there is enough time in the day to think about the business and the different divisions and potential opportunities, and I also try and ensure that I can give people the time that they deserve.

Who are your target audience and what is the main aim of the organisation?

The P&A Group has grown significantly and we have added specialist divisions focusing on different target audiences.

The Woodworks Garden Centre and Café is a popular destination garden centre and café based on the outskirts of Mold.

P&A Pallets continues to produce pallets to support key customers operating in ‘essential services’. These include food, medical, agriculture, chemical, building and nuclear, operating both in the UK and internationally.

The Group established Zest 4 Leisure in 2005 to bring high quality timber garden products to consumers via garden centres, online retailers and major purchasing groups across the UK. Its FSC-certified sustainable timber range includes outdoor furniture, arbours and obelisks, fence panels and a ‘grow your own‘ range.

St. Andrews is a business centre with serviced and virtual offices ranging from 80 to 500 square feet.

What projects are you currently working on?

We’re currently working on the strategic development for the Zest 4 Leisure brand. The biggest consumer-facing opportunity now is Zest 4 Leisure and here, the focus is product innovation and understanding the future needs of our customers and the garden market sector that we supply.

Zest’s product designers have spent time designing quality products that customers will get plenty of enjoyment out of for years to come. This includes the many new gardeners entering the market as a result of lockdown.

How have things gone so far?

Things are going well; the Zest design teams meet frequently online to present ideas and findings from focus groups. The importance of responsibly sourced timber is as much of a focus to me as it was to the Morgan ancestors in 1870 and I’m proud that it remains at the forefront of the way we do business. The P&A Group operates a zero-waste policy with any unrepairable pallets, chipped and used to fuel our five 200-kilowatt biomass boilers that heat our offices and warehouses. We have solar panels on most of the roofs within the business and the aim is to put solar panels on all of our buildings and the combined effect will be heating, lighting and hot water throughout the P&A Group.

Any difficulties? If so how did you overcome them?

I’d be lying to say that every business decision has gone smoothly over the years. When we expanded to our second Zest 4 Leisure site in Saltney, there were bumps along the road. Due to the condition of the site we had to invest in the buildings to ensure that products would be kept in clean and secure locations, but we took time to look at the operations teams and employed people with the right skillset so we could continue to develop the business. Things have worked out well – expansion is always a risk but it’s been worth it.

How have businesses and individuals responded to what you’re offering?

We are pleased to say that all individuals have responded well to the development plan and work well together as a team for the common goal, and this is important to P&A.

As a company, we also work as a team in fundraising and have raised thousands of pounds for many charities such as Hope House and Ty Gobaith, Save The Children and Macmillan, which is this year’s chosen charity for P&A. I’m proud of the ways employees choose to raise money from sky diving to marathons.

This year we’ve also sponsored a new hot air balloon with Nightingale House Hospice, but if anything, I’m even more proud of the fact that 21 employees signed up to run the marathon for a charity in Manchester – some who had never run anything like that distance before – and all 21 finished the challenge in great style.

Are there any particular people, business leaders or others you look up to? What have you learned from them?

I have always looked up to my parents, my father taught me to always try and do the right thing, appreciate life, be generous and be fair – kindness costs nothing.
I’m also inspired by my grandfather on my mother’s side who was a code breaker in Bletchley and an all-round fantastic man, dedicated, generous and always encouraging me to do maths or puzzles whilst never making it a chore.

What are your career aims and aspirations? Is there anything else in particular you’d like to achieve in your lifetime?

My aim is for continued strategic development and growth and allowing those that work within the business to flourish.

I am committed to making the P&A group an employer, customer and supplier of choice.

What message would you give to other people in business?

The best way forward as a business is to make things work in a way that everyone can enjoy being part of it. Yes, there are times to be serious, but it’s important to make sure that there is a good balance with a clear common goal. It’s vital that you have a good team of people around you and trust that they’ll give you their honest feedback – this works both ways.