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Case Study: An Authentic Heritage

November 5th, 2014

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Matthew Jones

John Jones first entered into the fine art industry in the 1960’s when he quickly discovered that he had an aptitude for making high-quality bespoke picture frames. It was not long before he was framing professionally for artists such as Francis Bacon and David Hockney, designing and producing museum-standard frames specifically to complement their work. In January 2012, John Jones was awarded an MBE as Master Framer for his services to the arts.

In the intervening decades, John Jones oversaw the expansion of his company into a leading international consultancy business specialising in the protection and presentation of works of art. But he never departed from the belief that the firm should be family-owned and family-run, bringing his sons, Matthew and Kristian, and sister, Kelly, into the business and handing its stewardship over to them when he retired as CEO in 2013.

In June this year, the company moved into its new north London HQ – a six storey warehouse incorporating design consultation, conservation, photography and print studios, plus workshops where artwork is fitted into frames that have been hand made at the John Jones wood mill in Hertfordshire. It also houses the John Jones Project Space, a not for profit exhibition space, part funded by the Arts Council England and Islington Council.

With its bare concrete ceilings, simple wood floors and plain, unadorned windows, The Arts Building reflects the key message that this is a business that values substance over image and is determined not to compromise on its values or the way the business is run.

As Matthew Jones, the eldest of the three siblings and managing director of the business, explains, the building may mark the start of a new era, but the legacy of his father is never far from the surface.

“It’s his name above the door of the new building and we have created something that he is proud of. He built this business on an authentic passion for being the best and delivering unequalled quality. Now that my dad is out of the picture in terms of the day-to-day running of the business,it’s up for us to continue this legacy,” says Matt.

It has also been part of the journey to recognise that the authenticity of our brand is based on our passion for high standards and refusal to compromise on quality. We are very conscious of the fact that it would be detrimental to the business to lower our standards or to compromise simply to meet a budget,” he continues.

Matthew is a member of Academy Group 88 and was also voted Academy Member of the Year for his contributions to his group and the strategy and actions he’s applying to John Jones.

“Our business can be very fluffy.  We are dealing with creatives – artists and art lovers.  Art is an incredible thing – you buy on impulse to collect and you hope that when buying that it will also become an asset that will increase in value. These decisions are based on a creative eye, intuition and even an emotional connection with the piece of art. So one important aspect of the culture of our business is that we are authentic, sensitive and in tune with these impulses.

But that doesn’t mean indulging every whim. Sometimes a creative tension emerges:

“Part of our role is to take people through an emotional journey in acquiring a piece of work – flat or sculptural and the creative process of how it can be installed in its new environment.  Our clients trust the pedigree of our brand and its heritage and so if a customer has a view but we don’t think that it is right – from a quality and/or aesthetic point of view – we will take a stand.”

And there are other areas where the tension between the commercial and emotional sides of the business can emerge.

“We get approached all the time to support charities, and whilst we would love to be able to help on every occasion, you have to remember that you cannot say ‘Yes’ to everything. This is where putting clear budgets in place for the year and sticking to them is important.

“My Academy Group leader, Glenn Watkins, has been instrumental in reminding me that at the end of the day, we are a business. One thing in particular that I have learned from my time at the Academy is the importance of knowing when to say ‘no’!

“In terms of the dynamics of working for a family business The Academy was very supportive in helping us through this transition. As a family we all went through the process of better understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how we can all work together to best effect. As a result there’s no doubt that we have grown stronger.

“It’s also all too easy to think that you think you know it all but actually talking through things it really helps. I am a big believer in reflections. If you are talking through where you are and where you want to be, there is encouragement to ensure that things are thought through in the right way.

“In our case it is clear that the brand, the heritage, the business are all intertwined and so it was essential that my sister, brother and I were all aligned through the process of transition now that my dad has stepped down from day-to-day responsibilities. It has also helped us to come together as a team as never before.”

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