Meet Jonathan Keable Mastermind of Business Success in Devon, Combining HR and Marketing for Higher ROI

Jonathan Keable has been turning companies around for more than three decades. Today he is the Area leader of FSB Plymouth, Chair of Plymouth’s Employment and Skills Board and on a number of steering groups to support businesses. Jonathan is also the founder of Business Strategy Group which includes Business Success HR Services and Business Success Marketing Services. We caught up with him in Exeter to find out why he is so passionate about helping businesses succeed.

Devon Business: You’re quite a mover and shaker in the Southwest from a business and networking perspective, with an emphasis on HR and Marketing. How did it all start?

Jonathan Keable:
 I did a BA Hons in International Relations at Keele University in Staffordshire followed by Postgraduate Diplomas in Marketing and Marketing Research at Newcastle. So, I have always been interested in businesses, its people and what motivates them. On an HR level, this could be getting a team to work smarter and in marketing; it’s creating the customer journey to achieve brand loyalty for your products or services.

For some 35+ years, it’s what I’ve enjoyed doing, and what I’m good at. I’ve run businesses of all sizes from family companies to management in £multi corporations. So, there probably isn’t a business hurdle I haven’t come across. My goal today is to provide solutions to businesses through HR, Marketing and Consultancy.

Devon Business: Tell us about some of your earlier experiences….

Jonathan Keable: After University, I went into management training with a national electrical wholesaling company called Newey & Eyre. I worked there for ten years which gave me my first taste of business management. I first became a Branch Manager in Barnstaple at the age of 25, where I achieved a record double digit profit in my first 12 months. I went to the USA to research and brought back the Branch / Satellite concept. I opened the first satellite in Taunton, and then Newey & Eyre did the same in every major town and city throughout the UK.

I was then promoted to Reading where I achieved the same record profit. I also won my first £1m contract at AWRE Aldermaston. I then went on to become Branch Manager in Nottingham of 75 staff and three satellite branches with sales of £9.5 million. My business career was progressing well, but then my life took an unexpected turn when my elder brother, a 33-year-old dairy farmer, passed away leaving no one to run his farm. I was thrown into the family farm business, with no prior knowledge or experience.

I’m in the process of writing a book about my 10 years as a novice farmer. The only reason I succeeded in this new venture was because I had experience in turning businesses into profit. The farm was no different and I achieved this in my first 12 months.

I started farming with 70 Pedigree Friesian cows and built the herd up to 250. I bought another 50 acres of land for making silage, which saved me £50K a year in animal feed, and in effect paid for the land purchased within three years. That was a good investment. However, there were all kinds of new challenges in the faming market that prevented me progressing further such as: Foot and Mouth, BSE and the national price of milk dropping by 52%.

In that decade of farming, I discovered how to survive when markets are against you and that sometimes in business you need to stop, evaluate and take a different route, or at least have an exit strategy in mind! Today I use my experience to help others achieve what they want from their business. My passion is to help them get back into profit, build great teams, operate more effectively, increase market share, expand, franchise or exit. This involves an evaluation of their systems, structure, people, as well as their marketing strategy. It’s all connected.

Devon Business: The book you are writing sounds fascinating. Tell us more

Jonathan Keable: My children have spurred me on to do this. They want me to share the 80 or so amusing stories I experienced first-hand during my years on the farm! For me it is about sharing insights that lead to success. Sometimes as a business owner you need to understand the technical side to get the results needed. An example of this was learning how to perform artificial inseminations on my herd of cows, so I could improve the conversion rate; to get more females than bulls that allowed me to grow and increase milk yield.

Unfortunately the national dairy farm industry was affected by a change in its route to market and the milk price dropped from 30p to 14p per litre. I wasn’t prepared to work below cost or compromise on the wellbeing of the animals, so I implemented an exit strategy that allowed me to get out of farming, whilst allowing my parents to remain retired on the land and receive a passive income higher than when farming. Crazy I know, but we made more money not farming than farming!

Coming out of farming was the right thing to do because you cannot shortchange a dairy herd and expect it to produce more milk. In the same way, your people are your assets, and you cannot afford to shortchange them either and expect increased productivity.

You also can’t work for nothing. There is no point in working for no reward. With falling milk prices, and the increases in production costs, it was a very tough time for dairy farmers, many of them fell into financial difficulties, with some making tragic decisions. I was lucky because throughout this time, I saw the farm as a business rather than a vocation. I also had a simple ‘exit strategy’ that if the price of milk dropped to a level that prevented me providing good animal welfare, then I was out.

Personally, it couldn’t have happened a moment sooner as I wasn’t in a good place physically from the years of milking, dehorning, treating cow’s feet, calving, cultivating, feeding, development, maintenance, and animal husbandry. All had taken its toll on my body which took two years to repair. I needed time to recover and rebuild my strength. It was time to explore a different career.

Devon Business: So, lots of lessons learned and business experience to share. What did you do when you left farming?

Jonathan Keable: I returned to Newey & Eyre, where I managed their Exeter branch and within three months returned it to its first net profit. One of my highlights was winning a £1-million electrical supply contract from the Met Office. I then became a Project Manager helping to create nationwide customer support centers. I then moved to Brakes Foodservice where I was a Regional Manager for 10 years.

In 2016 I started my own business consultancy company and partnered with ActionCOACH for four years. I now run Business Strategy Group incorporating Business Success Marketing Ltd in 2019 and Business Success HR Ltd in 2020. Alongside this I became Leader of the Federation of Small Business (FSB) in Plymouth in 2018. As I said, I’ve run businesses of all sizes and my goal nowadays is to provide solutions to businesses, through HR, Marketing and Consultancy.

Jonathan Keable Business Strategy Group 2
Jonathan Keable of the Business Strategy Group / Leader of FSB Plymouth.

Devon Business: It’s interesting that you see HR and Marketing as being so closely aligned.

Jonathan Keable: Yes, they should both work together. We created and registered the One Force Strategy® which combines HR & Marketing to help companies build the right team to deliver their products and services, helping them to gain and retain customers, who tell others to use you too. It is a bit like having your customers become your sales force. By doing this you receive qualified leads and referrals.  In fact, some 67% of best-in-class companies combine their HR and Marketing for this reason. Your marketing is only as good as the people that deliver it. Your customers will say good things about your business if you have the right people servicing them.

When we talk to businesses about marketing, it often leads to HR and talking about the team delivering your products or services. A key question I ask is: “Have you got the right people in place to deliver on your marketing promise?” If they haven’t, my next question is: “So what are you going to do about it?” Because at the end of the day, it’s pointless spending money on marketing, if you haven’t got the right people to deliver on your marketing promise.

Another aspect of our marketing is our Go Green Programme, encouraging companies to be more environmentally friendly, educating their teams to be more energy efficient and sharing this in the marketplace. We help companies to start taking small steps on their Net Zero journey and communicate their actions effectively.

What we have found about marketing is that at some point one has to deal with a people problem, because both marketing and HR are all about people. If you don’t handle people challenges in the right way, it can have a detrimental affect on your team, business operations and customers.

Devon Business: So how do you handle people problems?

Jonathan Keable:
 At Business Success HR we say that when it comes to addressing challenges with staff, you’ve got three options. You can (1) improve, (2) do nothing, or (3) remove. Improving requires training, mentorship and an opportunity to progress, based on business performance. We can teach you or your staff members how best to do this. It’s not acceptable to do nothing because it will affect your team and business performance. People are your biggest asset so you should always be looking to make improvements. Removing staff can be difficult with some threatening to appeal, refer to a tribunal or even involve a solicitor. This is where we can come in and help you navigate through this, to achieve a solution based on employment law and fairness. We also recommend that you have exit interviews with those leaving your employment.

We believe that every growing business needs HR and if you don’t do it properly, you can end up in a tribunal. The average tribunal claim is £15K, while the highest is in the region of £165,000; that was awarded for discrimination. Things can get really scary, so it’s important to have up-to-date contracts of employment, that relate directly to each job, so everything is in writing and there are no legal loopholes. Certainly, any company with a team needs HR support and if you employ five people or more, invest in a comprehensive Staff Handbook. My ideal company to work with has a team of people, where structure needs to be implemented and policies put in place.

Devon Business: Any parting pearls of wisdom?

Jonathan Keable: Relationships are key. They require authenticity. It’s essential to listen to people. Your customers want to be listened to and if you’re not doing that properly, you’re going nowhere.

I know we’ve got the Internet, mobile phones and artificial intelligence (AI), but when it comes down to it, business happens between people. That’s what builds trust. It’s all about how we deal with others. The most important thing one can do in business is to develop better relationships. And we can help with that from both a marketing and human resource perspective. Combining these can ensure a higher ROI on your marketing, along with a motivated team to deliver your brand promise to your target market. That is how you can guarantee business success!

Book a Marketing and HR audit for your business with Jonathan Keable with his money back guarantee, email him at

Watch the Business Success Podcast from Jonathan Keable of Business Strategy Group with Adrienna Cheshire.

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