The modern business leader: Fewer employees, more influence

Miranda York is one of a number of young entrepreneurs making waves in the UK food scene. In 2012 she founded At The Table, an events company and creative platform that explores food and drink culture. The nature of the company means she splits her time across various projects – heading up a team of people that aren’t directly employed by her, but who continually look to her for leadership.

"Getting people I work with genuinely excited about what they are doing is important to me. I believe you’re more likely to innovate and produce your best work if you enjoy what you do and feel you have ownership over it."

Self-confessed as 'obsessed with the London food scene', York started her career working as a freelance journalist, writing for publications such as the Financial Times, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. It was around this time that she says the food industry started to peak her interest.

"Food was becoming very fashionable again in the UK," she explains. "People were eating out more, street food was booming and a chance conversation with a friend lead to the creation of TOAST Festival, my first ever event. We had over 40 speakers, from every area of the food industry."

York explains that she hadn’t really thought about what would come after the festival, but when people started asking her what was next, she realised there was a real call out for intelligent discussion on food culture.

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Four years later and At The Table, formerly known as TOAST, has several branches, including an annual food magazine and a comprehensive events and course program. It’s most recent addition is Druid Street Market, a food and gift market based in Bermondsey, South London. With all of this under her belt, what does York think is her most important role as its leader?

 

"The overall direction. Exploring new avenues and taking the company forward. It’s also important to set the tone, making it clear to everyone what the ethos of the business is."

From commissioning journalists, to curating the selection of market traders for Druid Street, York’s involvement with a variety of people is wide-reaching. How does she manage to be effective, and encourage those around her?

"I tend to give people a lot of creative freedom, outlining a project and then letting someone roll with it," explains York. "I also try to be as open and approachable as possible, encouraging the flow of ideas and listening to the opinions of everyone I work with."

Read: Meditation and its impact on modern leadership

The food sector has become one of the most exciting industries in the UK, with growth exceeding all expectations. It was reported last year that turnover in this sector was over 39 per cent. Technology undoubtedly has had a part to play in this. With the rise of social media, documenting what you eat and where you eat it has become a very popular hobby. Has York seen any impact of technology on the business or on her role?

"A lot of my staff work remotely, so using apps such as Slack and Wunderlist - as well as Google Drive, makes it so much easier to communicate and streamline workflow."

Social media has of course been instrumental in our growth and continues to help us reach a wider audience. Plus advances in technology mean that we can produce better and better film and web work - both for At The Table and for clients - even with small budgets."

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York’s company is still relatively young, but she has already experienced the successes of her own start-up - with glowing reviews about Druid Street and the events that At The Table host across London. What is her outlook on the values that an effective leader of a company should have?

"Leaders need to be strong, but my definition of strength has changed as my business has evolved. I still believe it’s essential to have a strong vision, but it’s also ok to ask for help and admit when you don’t know something."

In past jobs, I’ve often taken note of how not to do things. I want to inspire, not evoke fear. My frustrations with how many companies are run is one of the reasons I set out on my own."

And if there was one piece of advice she could give to someone going into a position like hers for the first time?

"Go for it! And always trust your instinct. People may question and doubt what you’re trying to do - including yourself - so it’s important to be confident and believe in your ideas. If you don’t, no one else will."

At The Table have just launched a collection of bespoke tableware made in collaboration with London makers. The second issue of their annual food magazine will be out November 2016.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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