Meet the MD: David Gelb of JBi Digital

Pivoting from launching a recruitment consultancy in the depths of the global recession to making use of the digital skills of his team, David Gelb took a huge leap of faith in establishing JBi Digital. He tells us more about his ethos and growth plans. 

What is it the company does?

JBi Digital is an award-winning London-based digital agency. We create outstanding digital experiences for clients such as Hitachi, Hovis, Rolls Royce, BBC and ITV. Recent work we have undertaken has included redesigning the website for iconic bread makers Hovis, and creating brand and marketing materials for the IsThisOk? campaign which is jointly run by Missing Persons, Children In Need and the NSPCC.

Our ethos is based around striving. We always seek to go one step further in everything that we do and offer. If we don’t feel we can add value to a project, then we won’t agree to do it.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

I make sure all the components of the business work together synergistically. There are processes to manage, new business to acquire, projects to oversee, and staff to support. The majority of my time is spent looking at ways to improve our client offering, as well as understanding the latest trends and technology. 

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I started my career as a graduate trainee in the banking industry, after which I cut my teeth in a range of different businesses. Turning around a failing call centre in Glasgow is one particular memory that springs to mind!

Prior to creating JBi Digital, I created a global online recruitment business and hired some extremely savvy digital people to help support the recruitment activities. Unfortunately, bad timing meant the launch occurred during the global recession, which severely curtailed the success we expected.

Given that we had a number of highly-skilled digital people already in place, we decided to take a chance and change course. So JBi Digital was born and we are still going strong 10 years later!

What do you believe makes a great leader?

I think it is important to be a people person. To understand your workforce as both individuals and team players is essential if you are to successfully tackle a specific challenge. You can’t put square pegs in round holes. You need to ensure you are working with the right people, and know where to place them, so they can work effectively. 

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

When JBi first started in 2007, we had no clients and little resources or even industry knowledge. The hardest part was getting clients to trust us with their projects. It is the complete opposite of where we are today. Now we have the privilege of being able to turn down work if it doesn’t meet our values or creative criteria.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I walk five or six miles a day, listening to news and current affairs on my headphones while walking to and from work. It keeps me trim and ensures I am up-to-date with all the latest business and industry news that relates to my business or clients.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I started out wanting to be a footballer for Spurs but as I got older, this turned into being the club’s manager. Now I’ll settle for club chairman!

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

It is not fashionable to say this, especially in digital consultancy, but I don’t like people working from home. I firmly believe you can’t have a creative atmosphere in the office if half of your staff are sitting at home. Also, you want your team to feel like a team. That means working closely together side by side, rather than peering at each other through video cameras. The best solution I have found is to make sure that people want to come into work. An office has to be productive and fun if you are to get the best out of people. Key to this is making sure the input of others is listened to and valued.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

Technology is one of the hardest markets to work in as products, services and skills are constantly evolving, meaning that you’re always having to stay ahead of the curve. Many companies settle for targeting the cheaper, lower end of the market. The work is typically uninspiring and there is little client collaboration or consultancy involved. You are simply expected to execute the work to the brief you have been given. This path is not of interest to me or my colleagues. We aim our services at top tier clients who value quality and service and realise this may come at a premium. So in five years’ time, I expect that our client portfolio will continue to reflect this.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Be brave. Find a path that differentiates you from the competition, and stick to it.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Find a business mentor! The service industry is tough and it is easy to make mistakes when you first start out. If you have access to someone who understands business or your industry, then you are more likely to be successful within it. A good mentor can play devil’s advocate in order to really challenge your ideas and make sure you have properly thought them through.

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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