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People in Business : Jamie Christon

People in Business : Jamie Christon

The Cheshire Magazine profiles some of the region’s biggest names in business

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Jamie Christon - Chief Operating Officer, Chester Zoo
Jamie joined Chester Zoo in 2013 and is responsible for business operations at the UKs number one zoo. With turnover at over £42m and 1,000 staff, Jamie leads the team that makes Chester Zoo one of the most visited attractions in the UK.

What led you into your industry?
This is the first role I have had in a zoo, but my career has been generally in retail, food and beverage and commercial management. I guess I enjoy and get a buzz from fast paced commercial management. I was aware of Chester Zoos growth plans and I wanted to be part of a constantly changing organisation.

Who was an early business inspiration for you?
Probably a store manager and mentor I had in my first ever job as a trainee supermarket manager in Cheshire. He ran a very tight ship and had really high standards and was very competitive. His store was “tin and packet perfect”. I liked his style and a lot of it rubbed off on me as my career developed. 

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Reflect on potential decision making before committing to that decision. I’ve always worked in a fast-paced environment and sometimes have been used to making a decision and acting on it very quickly. This is often forced on you but trying to work through the consequences of that decision to everyone involved is often difficult without time. If possible, I will make a decision in my head and mull over it before committing or take advise. The classic example is never sending an email in anger. Write it, leave it overnight and re-read it the next day.

What’s the secret of great leadership?
I would say communication, both ways, with your team. Understanding, listening, explanation and regularly updating the people who you lead is key to being a great leader. They need to hear and see you and you should expect the same back. This leads to respect, loyalty, transparency and trust. I am guilty of not communicating enough, despite trying and it’s easy to get bogged down with the day to day running of an organisation and spending less time with my team as a result.

What’s the most significant leadership lesson you’ve learnt?
Displaying behaviour which is expected of my role is probably the most significant lesson I’ve learnt. The example I would give is when I managed a large and devastating fire within our Monsoon Forest building in December. I managed a team in our control room, known as gold, at the zoo. The team were responsible for emergency response, crisis management and communications and business continuity. I remained calm, clear and dealt with the strategic issues which then ran into the days after the event. These sets of behaviours hopefully then displayed themselves with the rest of the team and the way we dealt with a major incident.

Has there been a truly pivotal moment for the business?
Chester Zoo is nearly 90 years old and there have been some hugely pivotal periods, from first opening in 1931, becoming a charity to major new habitats being developed. The scale and size of growth over the last ten years has been hugely influential. The opening of Islands in 2015 led us increasing our visitor number from just over 1 million to nearly 2 million last year. That now means we can plan way out into the future with the knowledge that the organisation is successful and has an amazing reputation and following worldwide.

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Which areas of the business will you focus on in 2019?
We have already had a great start to the year and operationally we need to make sure this carries on until Christmas. We are quite weather dependent, but we have campaigns running all year round. Our big focus is over the summer and I would love to tip visitor numbers over 2 million this year. Grasslands is a scheme which, hopefully start later this year and be in build until 2022. Its hub will be a large open, mixed species savannah and large terraced restaurant. We are also developing plans for overnight accommodation.

Chester Zoo

Upton-by-Chester, Chester, CH2 1LH

t: 01244 380280 e: guest.services@chesterzoo.org

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