How did you get there? Justin Gutmann

Great to hear from Justin Gutmann who is still working in the industry at 74 and has had an illustrious and varied career across the sector, including stints at the Engineering Industry Training Board, BBC, IFF, BPRI, London Underground, Harris, Consumer Futures and Citizens Advice. Justin has also been trekking all of his life, including most of the long-distance trails in the UK, Pyrenees, Alps and Dolomites.

So, how did you get into the industry, and take us through how you got to this point?

My degree was in social science and though I had little idea of a career path I knew that using that knowledge somehow was what I wanted to do in order to earn a crust.

I started my first job in January 1974 as an Assistant Social Survey Officer in the Government Social Survey. Louis Moss, who had set it up during the war, was still there and was an awesome presence.  I learnt the survey basics there – sample design, questionnaire design, coding and analysis – and that all these things, whilst immensely important, served only to help in monitoring and developing policy.

But it wasn’t until 1979 that I became involved with market research.  Andrew McIntosh, the founder and MD of IFF Research (still flourishing) recruited me.  He was a wonderful mentor and friend until his death. He pioneered doing rigorous surveys for B2B MR whether for public or private sector clients.  That was also my introduction to the need to win business, do it well and on time, within budget and communicate the results in a way that was meaningful to the client.  It was there I met David Smith (founder of DVL Smith and still going strong), another lifelong friend and mentor.

The eighties were a time of tremendous change in Britain and also in the market research industry and related  businesses like advertising, design, marketing and PR. Many businesses that had been set up by enthusiasts or charismatic entrepreneurs were taken over and consolidated with other businesses, sometimes with great success and sometimes with disastrous results. These were great days, hard work, hard play. Great characters strutted the MR stage – John Goodyear, John Samuels, Wendy Gordon, Rudi Goldschmidt,  Dawn Mitchell, Sue Robson, Bill Blyth, Sheila Keegan, Rosie Campbell, Geoffrey Roughton, Kit Molloy, Laurence Curtis….and Jonathan Shingleton (recently deceased).

I first worked with Jonathan at Business Decisions Ltd and then joined him at BPRI.  He was charismatic, fun, caring, disciplined and had the highest expectations of those with whom he worked. Clients adored him and did so because he delivered the answers to their questions.

But I wanted to be in one of those client organisations where I could see how the results of market research played out, particularly customer satisfaction. So, in 1994 I joined London Underground Limited (LUL) as Head of Research and later Market Planning Manager. What a time to be there! LUL had taken a long hard look at itself after the tragic fire at Kings Cross in 1987.  It had cut out layers of management and decided that what was needed was a turn to the customer.  Until the end of 2002 I was privileged to be in a team that was at the forefront of that development. 

With Alan Wilson I won the MRS Silver Medal for our paper on using mystery shopping to help in measuring progress towards customer priorities.

I was also given the opportunity by LUL to make a big contribution to the MRS by being on Council, Hn Sec Treasurer, Chairman and Vice-President

The North beckoned and I moved to B&MR which became Harris Interactive. In 2008 with the recession and my 60th I was made redundant…what to do?  

The Labour Government had brought together consumer bodies to form Customer Focus, an arms-length government body tasedk with policy-making, campaigning and being a watch-dog of the energy and postal industries. I joined as Head of Research and Insight and stayed until I “retired” at the end of 2016, studying for an MSc in Public Policy along the way as it became part of Citizens Advice.

For the first time in my life I was looking at consumers across industries rather than through the lens of a particular firm.  What a revelation!

Whilst there the 2015 Consumer Rights Act was passed and we contributed to the legislative process in the lead up to its passing.  One of the things it did was to make provision for “Opt-out” Collective Proceedings.  Where firms commit harm to consumers because of their dominant position in a market and the individual harm is small so that no individual consumer could possibly bring an action for damages then a Class Representative can bring an action on behalf of the class.  If successful the case is widely publicised and the members of the class can apply for restitution.

I moved to Italy but was contacted by the legal team considering bringing the Boundary Fares Case with which I am now involved.  You can hear me discussing the case with Joshua Rozenberg on R4’s Law in Action of few weeks ago….

Justin has completed most of the long-distance trekking trails in the UK, Pyrenees, Alps and Dolomites.

What two things should junior researchers focus on as they progress in their careers?

Firstly, there is no end point to learning.  Particularly in the world of insights, marketing and research.  So be humble, you’ll never know it all, learn something new every week and be better at the things you do know.

Secondly, be kind. To those around you, those above you, those below you, to suppliers, to clients, to cleaners, internal support…everyone.  They’ll be kind to you too and they’ll remember your kindness.

How do we ensure that students and those leaving school aspire to join our sector?

I’ve spent a great deal of time during my career talking in schools, colleges of FE and universities – anywhere where I could get the message over that our industry is a great industry to be in…intellectually stimulating, rewarding, offering opportunities for women not found in many other industries and great fun for people with all kinds of qualifications, abilities, skills and knowledge. That’s a good way I think.

Do you have any advice for our sector?

Yes, don’t accept that everything clients do is good.  There are great threats to consumers in the digital space.  What may seem exciting viewed through the lens of an individual client may in fact be harmful…speaking truth to power (in a kind way) is a key skill that is going to be more important if we are to retain the trust of thoughtful true customer-focused clients.

And do you have anyone who has helped your career so far that you’d like to acknowledge and say thanks or give a shout out to?

There is a long list but here’s three: Adam Goulcher, former Marketing Director at LUL, Jonathan Shingleton, Executive Chairman at BPRI, Kit Molloy, Managing Director of MIL.