Feature Interview: Phil Jones – MD Brother UK

The global brand, ‘Brother’ is a regular sight in today’s domestic races from grass roots events to major UCI internationals and that’s primarily down to one person, Phil Jones MBE, managing director of Brother UK.

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Feature Interview: Phil Jones – MD Brother UK

The global brand, ‘Brother’ is a regular sight in today’s domestic races from grass roots events to major UCI internationals and that’s primarily down to one person, Phil Jones MBE, managing director of Brother UK.

Bike racing in the UK has a lot to thank the brand for.

What Brother UK do for the sport of cycling across many facets of it, is certainly tangible when it comes to the sponsorship they provide. It all began eight years ago when the brand name appeared on neutral service vehicles which have become part of the fabric of races in the UK. Brother UK then also got involved in supporting events like the Tour Series, OVO Tour of Britain and OVO Women’s Tour.

Crucially however, they also got involved in supporting teams (men’s and women’s) which in today’s economic market is a struggle for these teams to find the funding they need to take their riders round the country to the National Series and other events. Quite simply, Brother UK is providing a foundation for the sport to grow like no other sponsor.

In 2018, Brother UK are also a very valuable sponsor of VeloUK, helping me to serve the sport as I have for 18 years now. Having been in the sport in Britain that long, I can see the difference their funding makes and so I went to Brother UK’s headquarters, ironically in a part of Greater Manchester I used to live in, Audenshaw, to meet with Phil Jones MBE.

With some cycling related coasters on the table in front of us an indication of the link to cycling, I started the interview by asking Phil about his role at Brother UK. He explained he’d started with the company in 1994.

“I turned up here in 1994 as a fax salesman thinking I was going to do one or two years as and then nip off to my next opportunity, but as it turned out, I have been here for the bulk of my working life”.

Twenty four years on, Phil is now in the heady position of being the Managing Director of the UK company which is part of the global brand with $6b revenues and 40,000 employees. For those of you wondering what Brother UK do, Phil explained that the core product range continues to be printers, labelling devices and scanners for offices of all sizes. In addition they produce a range of mobile technology from in car printers, scanners plus a pretty swish web conferencing solution for people on the move.

“Ninety percent of the products we have are in businesses around the UK in one way or another from small home offices for the self-employed, right the way up to doctor surgeries, hospitals, government departments and large institutions. We also have products that can be used in or around the home environment such as hand held labelling devices which are great for organising your garage.”

“I love what we do and the success Brother UK has achieved. I walk down the high street and often see our products in these businesses, people may not know we are the largest laser printer brand in the UK and also the largest labelling brand, we have hundreds of thousands of businesses using our products each day.”

In the Zone: Pre – race focus for Molly Patch of Fusion RT, in the brand new 2018 kit for her team sponsored by Brother UK.

The success that Brother UK has as a business however is also having a big impact on the sport of cycling in Britain, one which is said to be flourishing when it comes to bums on saddles. The sport however does struggle in other areas and one of those is funding from the business sector which Phil is also doing his best to change.

Asked how his passion for cycling began, Phil replied “cycling for me as an individual started in 2008 when I turned 40 and got on a bike to get fitter. After three or four years as a cyclist, I realised there was a strong link between the demographic of the people we are trying to target in our day-to-day business and the people I was meeting on the bike when riding round the lanes”.

“It soon became apparent that the sponsorship in cycling would be a way of getting our brand known in this environment and this coincidentally happened at a time when I was approached by a bunch of guys providing neutral service for races in the UK.”

“They were using their own cars which Monday to Friday were used for getting to work and on the weekend the rack was put on and it was then a neutral service vehicle! They had an idea on making the service they provide more professional in the domestic scene and as I was easy to approach, they asked me what I thought and I replied I thought it as a really solid idea.”

“One of the things we like to do at Brother UK is act upon things quickly. So if someone comes to us with a  good idea and if we think it’s a viable, we’ll create the momentum quickly to make it happen”.

“So when it came to the Neutral service idea, we all met up at Starbucks and discussed it over a coffee and the next day, I decided it was a good idea and we’d go with it. That was eight years ago”

The year is 2013 and Mike Northey is away on his own in the Stockton GP premier calendar race and there, ready to be at his side if needed, is the Brother neutral service car

Phil explained how the cars were then ordered from Skoda UK and six weeks later were delivered, wrapped in the distinctive livery that every rider in the peloton at major events will be familiar with, and it was the start of a something beautiful between Brother UK and the sport of cycling, one of the country’s leading sports both in terms of participation and profile.

The Brother UK neutral service cars have since become part of the fabric of the sport just like others have in other races abroad.

By way of example, neutral service was something Phil could make a tangible connection with after watching the Tour de France and seeing the famous Mavic neutral service cars. “I used to see that and think that’s a really good branding exercise. The cars looked really smart so I could see the branding opportunity, and even better, it sat every well with our brand proposition called ‘Brother, At Your Side’.”

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“Here we had cars, in a cycle race, ready to service riders in trouble and what better way for us to represent the metaphor of what we do in our technology products in the business, ie, providing a peace of mind service to our customers when they need it.”

“It delights me, when I might be in the pits at a race, and one of the riders will come to me and say, ‘thanks for doing that neutral support, that helped me out’ and it seems to have earned a lot of good will from people in the cycling community” Phil explains.

“It does cost money as we have to pay for the cars, the insurance, the petrol and the drivers, but I know the domestic racing scene is better for those cars being there than not being there.”

“I have been lucky enough to be in one of the cars at the nationals on the Isle of Man (which Brother UK also sponsored) and it was fascinating to be in the car and understand what goes on like the mechanical needs of the riders in the race. I even gained a lot of inside tips which I could use on my own bike at home.”

“So it has been a huge benefit for us to be involved with them and helped me to truly understand what the benefit was of them being there in a race and it’s huge. They have become a really dependable service to the race, riders, teams and officials. The quality of that service is consistent from one race to the next and professional”.

2017 – British Road Race championships and the Brother logo was right there on the gantry and barriers proving yet again how valuable that support is for cycling. “They were fantastic people” explained Phil, “and they put on a brilliant nationals and I was very proud to see the brand give them that final push across the line and help them deliver a fantastic event.”

It isn’t just the neutral service cars and the people in them that Brother UK have helped bring to races but also what is on the roof of the cars – the bikes.

“We have just formed a partnership with Canyon who will be providing all the bikes for the neutral service vehicles, so the service has a really high standard, high performance bike from a renowned global bike brand. We have also just bought twelve new sets of wheels for the cars for the 2018 events, new bottles, everything, so when those cars turn up, the service they provide is very professional”.

“As a global brand, that is what we want because those vehicles represent Brother the brand and what we do and we do things to a high standard. So I want that translatable to neutral service.”

The help, financial and otherwise, that Brother UK provides to the sport of cycling however is far more than the professional neutral service riders will see at events. “I have learnt a lot about the sport in the last two or three years” says Phil,  “and when we started to sponsor teams and events like the Tour Series, one thing I thought was important to do was to be there and get under the skin of it”.

So I was at the rounds of the Tour Series, multiple stages of the Women’s Tour, and the Tour of Britain and I stood back and observed the racing unfold from the pits for example, and that helped me understand how the sport worked and who the personalities were in the sport.”

“What I realised from that was when people realised you were around and were approachable, conversations were started  with people in the sport and I got to understand what it was like for a team struggling to race on hardly any budget but with big aspirations and competing with teams with bigger budgets”.

“And what I realised was that a sponsor was needed that could spread financial support around to more than one team in order that the entire sport benefited.  Events need teams, teams need riders and resources to turn up.  It’s surprising how much things like race entry fees, hotels and fuel can burn through money, so supporting numerous teams in a smaller way, we know helps the wider sport by covering some of these costs.”

2017 – in the peloton with Dexter Gardias and there’s the Brother logo again on the Canyon team jersey 

Team KGF

An example of this quick decision making was the support of a team that has literally taken the world by storm – Team KGF. Phil takes up the story. “That came around  because we sponsored another team in 2017, Brother NRG Driverplan, and one of the riders on that was Dan Bigham”.

“I know from business, that some great ideas don’t get off the ground because they don’t have the resources and we were happy to help someone help themselves.  This was a well calculated investment”

“It was at the Tour Series round in Stoke I think when I was there and Dan came over and he explained his plan. I told him to drop me a proposal the next morning and I’ll let him know the following day.”

“If I recall, they had some urgent deadlines to register with the UCI and needed the money for that and true to his word, I got the email quickly, it didn’t take me long to say ‘we’re in’  because I could see they had the potential to be something really spectacular and they just needed someone to believe in them”.

“I know from business, that some great ideas don’t get off the ground because they don’t have the resources and we were happy to help someone help themselves.  This was a well calculated investment”

“I’d seen what Dan was doing in time trialling and could see the potential in the names in the team, and I thought if that came together something amazing could happen and look at what has happened; it’s fantastic. I am so pleased for them”.

“Our company philosophy is to ‘grow ourselves through growing others’ and what we are doing with our sponsorship in cycling fulfils that philosophy well.”

Team KGF in training in their champion stripes and the Brother logo clear to see on yet another jersey

A global brand bringing others into the sport

It isn’t just the financial support that the global brand Brother UK provides that helps the sport but it’s very presence on the jerseys of riders, on the boards on barriers, on vehicles and websites such as VeloUK. Being a global brand, it has helped attract other sponsors into the sport.

“There are brands that will sit on the periphery and wait to see what is going on and we are able to show them that we are investing, it is working for us, and we’re very happy to share our knowledge with potential sponsors on what we know about the sport and the return we get our investments.”

“I see part of our role as raising the level of the sport higher and that is only going to happen when more money comes into the sport. We’re not a bottomless pit so we need to help bring in other money into the sport for it to survive long term. There is a lot to learn but what I have learned is where money should go to have the greatest impact in the sport; a smart investment rather just another branding opportunity.”

One of the teams they sponsored in 2017 was Bike Channel Canyon. “It was really great to see this team lay their mark down last season” says Phil. “They were always trying to light up races and I liked that. They were the new boys on the block and challenging the established teams with aggressive racing whilst also building a good team brand for fans.”

“It has been very rewarding for me to see some of these teams we support succeed and we extend not just financial support but commercial advice too”.

Teams that will be sport the Brother UK logo in 2018 include Canyon Eisberg, Vitus Pro Cycling, Crimson Performance Race Team, Team On Form, NCC Kuota Torelli and Team Fusion RT.

Brother UK though are also sponsors of some major British events like the Tour Series, OVO Tour of Britain and OVO Women’s Tour and Phil explained that whilst it was great to sponsor grass roots teams, the sport also needs these major events as teams need to sell the chance to be on TV to potential sponsors.”

“Without these major events and the TV time they provide, there will be sponsors that would not want to come in so it is as important for us to keep the events moving as it is team’s because that is the only way the economy of the sport of cycling moves.”

Bikes new and old for Phil

“The technology in bikes also appeals to me” he explained . “I have a coach who is helping me get faster and fitter and I ended up doing around 400 hours in the saddle in 2017, which equated to around eight and half thousand miles. I have to come to see it is a fantastic sport and I’ve met so many lovely people who devote a large part of their life to it, raising it higher with little or no financial gain just so people can participate or race and be the best possible version of themselves.”

Having built up such a strong link with cycling over the last ten years, on top of helping the economy of cycling through the company Brother UK, there is also a much more personal gain for Phil with his own cycling.

Despite such a demanding job, Phil still finds time to ride his bike as he explained. “I guess over a decade of riding the bike, I have come to love doing that. I do have a huge responsibility being the MD of a very well known company like Brother UK but riding a bike is the way I de-stress”.

“I do some of my best thinking on the bike and solve my biggest problems whilst riding it”

“The technology in bikes also appeals to me” he explained . “I have a coach who is helping me get faster and fitter and I ended up doing around 400 hours in the saddle in 2017, which equated to around eight and half thousand miles. I have to come to see it is a fantastic sport and I’ve met so many lovely people who devote a large part of their life to it, raising it higher with little or no financial gain just so people can participate or race and be the best possible version of themselves.”

“So cycling has given a lot to me personally which is why I want to help the cycling economy move as I do.”

“When I started out on this journey, I started a blog to share what I’d learned about technology and technique as I learnt about it, I wrote about it, and a million visits to that blog later, I realise there are other people  in the same position I was in and are keen to learn about  cycling (www.race-pace.net).

“The most popular part of the blog is how to understand gear ratios for example. So people buy a bike but don’t fully understand what they have bought and they’ll find it difficult to ride up a hill, seeing others pushing easier gears. I recall riding The Fred Whitton on my first road bike knowing nothing about gears, I paid the price that day!”

Like any good cyclist, Phil’s collection of bikes has grown over the years and he tells me one of his favourites bikes is his aluminium winter bike which simply eats up the miles in any weather, comfortable and fully equipped for long wet days. Amongst the collection however are bikes of sentimental value like his first ever bike, a 1987 Raleigh Record Sprint that he got from his mum for his 19th birthday; a bike which is still in rideable condition following a refurbishment last year.

And at the other end of the scale, there’s the fully spec’d carbon fibre performance bike. “Each of the bikes I have does something different and that is what I love about cycling is that I have begun to learn about all of that and can now give advice to people who are in the same position I was ten years ago.”

His progress in learning about bikes has gone so far he is even ‘testing’ a top end Canyon for an article to give a practical honest review of a bike rather than giving the usual full time testers perspective.

As well as meeting teams and riders and learning more and more about the sport of cycling at events like the Tour Series, as a major sponsor, Phil also gets the chance to be on the podium, seen here presenting winner at Stevenage, Connor Swift of Madison Genesis, with a trophy.
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Favourite events

The final question was favourite events and for some one in his position, naming favourites can be tricky in not wanting to upset anyone but the British Road Championships certainly seems to be one that made a big impression on him.

“I definitely think the nationals is a special race because you have a real mixture of people right from all setting off at the same time and you don’t have the normal team dynamics going on there that you’ll see in other races”.

“So it becomes a really good race on the day and the 2017 one was a very exciting race. I think the Tour Series and crit racing in general is great to see because you get close, and of course you get to see the riders a lot. With cycling, you can also get so close to the stars like your hero will on the rollers in front of you, so it’s a sport you get up close and personal with”.

With all the support Brother UK is providing  for the sport of cycling across so many facets of it, 2018 will be an exciting year for Phil and the company in Audenshaw. Phil says “I am looking forward to seeing a lot of teams race with our logos on and looking to see the sport evolve because there are new sponsors around like Eisberg around who are looking to increase the profile of their brand.”

“I’d also like to see more sponsors come forward this season and see the domestic scene grow stronger and become this amazing platform for people to come into and achieve new things …”

That is a view that all us passionate about the sport share, and if one thing is for certain, it is that cycling will be all the more successful for the sponsorship that Brother UK provide. Thank you to them, not just for the sponsorship they provide for us which will enable us to travel to events, but for helping the whole of the sport itself like no other sponsor in the sport.

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