On the way up: James Endersby, Opinium Research

On the way up:  James Endersby – chief executive, Opinium Research 

For our latest inspiring stories series, 'How I made it', we're interviewing the cream of the crop across all facets of communications and marketing. This is where you'll learn about how the best in the industry got to where they are today and hopefully pick up some tips along the way to help your own career progress.

As chief executive of Opinium, a fast growing insight agency, James works closely with clients from a variety of sectors in the UK and around the world. Taking over the reins whilst still in its start-up phase, he has grown the agency into a major industry player working with 22 of the Fortune 100 and focusing on five core practice areas of Brand & Communications, Product & Service Development, Stakeholder Understanding, Thought Leadership and Market Understanding. James previously worked for the management consultants Monitor Group (now Monitor Deloitte), and was based out of London, Delhi and Boston.

He told us all about how his team help keep him sane, how to improve diversity, retaining talent in the work force and why it’s important to try and act entrepreneurially every day.  

How did you get into the industry? 

I moved into the industry around 15 years ago. I was a manager at a consulting company, and I suppose therefore the end client for market research agencies. We were commissioning and using research all the time so I understood all the ins and outs and what could be done better, such as guidance on using data strategically, the importance of speedier processes in getting insight to stakeholders and the power of great story-telling. Eventually I accepted a job offer at one of the agencies we had worked with as joint-managing director and head of business development. 

From that role, I got an offer a year later to head-up Opinium which was still in start-up phase, and was my big break. I felt very lucky to get the opportunity to build something special, and we’ve grown from a team of three, to a company of 41 people today – and growing. 

What keeps you sane on those crazy days? 

First and foremost, my family. It’s always great to go home to my wife and kids, who really anchor me and make everything worthwhile. My fabulous team definitely keep me sane too. We have managed to attract some incredible people to Opinium who make the team what it is. When there are just not enough hours in the day to get things done, their characters stand out, and it’s so inspiring to see them in action. 

Do you, or did you, have a mentor? 

Yes, my parents. They are both very entrepreneurial. My mum had a business which she grew from scratch and my dad worked for DeBeers. My dad always told me that no matter what job role you’re in – even if you’re in a massive company – treat every day entrepreneurially. Find the fun in every task and situation. That way, you take control and you make every day a challenging and exciting ride. 

What three words best describe you as a leader? 

Passionate. Enthusiastic. Supportive. 

With the knowledge that you have now, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?  

I would tell him that relationships and communication are the key to everything from the word go. Build those relationships and your networks throughout your career as you really can’t do anything by yourself. And that – getting to know clients and colleagues along the way – is actually the really fun part.  

I’d also tell him to do lots of exercise. Run and stay fit and healthy – it helps! 

How do you create a great place for your employees to work? 

We’ve been very lucky. Over the last couple of years we have won a few awards and been recognised as a great place to work. We are currently the Market Research Society winners, two years in a row for the Best Place to Work and we’re up for it again this year, and Best Agency for the fifth year in a row. Fingers crossed. 

I think it’s our culture that has enabled this. Obviously, it is initially created by the people leading a company, but for us, everyone has played a part. It’s an incredibly supportive environment. Whether you’re a new joiner, or under pressure, there’s always people wanting to both help you and to help the company grow. 

We have a huge focus on personal and professional development, and we have a good time while we do it, with lots of social events. For example, our most recent strategy away-day was held in Barcelona. While there, everyone, at all levels, were encouraged to feed into our 10-year plan.  

Another element that is important to us is ownership. We’ve awarded 25% equity in the business to people working at Opinium over the last 10 years and we’ve just agreed to release a further 25% over the next few years. This means that eventually, over half of the business will be owned by people working at Opinium and really invested in the business and their client’s projects, which can only be a great thing. 

What are the top three things that businesses should do to improve diversity? 

I think one of the most important things is to educate employees about the vital importance of ensuring a diverse work force, especially those involved in the recruitment process. 

I also believe in opening up the hiring decision-making process to a wider group of people within the organisation – not just the HR team for instance – to make sure decisions are made by a wider pool of people rather than one group always making the hiring call. 

Businesses also need to encourage flexibility and work-life balance, particularly for parents returning to the workplace after maternity leave. For this group in particular, it can be so hard to balance their return to work and their new family, but businesses can take steps to make it easier for them, and in doing so, retain that talent and keep them in the workforce. 

What one piece of technology can you not live without? 

My Nespresso machine. That gets me through the first few hours of the morning.  Also my iTunes account, which gets me into work in a good mood. Whether it’s your commute or a film – a good soundtrack is always essential. 


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