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Meet the MD: Christopher McDermott, The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan

"Don’t be scared: of what people will think, of making mistakes, of being bold, or of challenging people, situations or the status quo." - Christopher McDermott, Managing Director of The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan

What is it the company does?

We are a diet food manufacturing business based in Corby, Northants who make meal replacement and total diet replacement food products, which are sold to consumers through a direct sales network of now more than 6000 independent personal diet Consultants in the UK. We also export our products to more than 30 countries around the world.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

My role is to lead the board of directors and to set the strategic direction of the company – I am, if you like, the conductor of a complex orchestra. My role is to also articulate this strategy into a clear vision and mission that people can understand and then aspire to create for themselves.

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

I left school at 16 in South Africa and became an apprentice goldsmith. After qualifying, I was a jeweller for a few years until I decided to switch careers. I love writing, so as a mature student I studied journalism and radio at college in the UK (two years in one). From there I started working in PR for a number of PR and marketing agencies in the South West before joining Cambridge Weight Plan as a PR Executive in 2003.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

It is for others to decide if I am a great leader or not. What gets me up in the morning is a desire to make a difference for myself, our business and the people in it. As The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan is a 100% employee-owned business (with a very similar model to John Lewis), I take my responsibilities in leading such a business very seriously. I want to ensure that what we are building something in Corby that is not only successful now, but will still be around in 20 or 30 years’ time (long after I have retired).

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Managing change. In the time that I have been Managing Director (four years) we have completely reformulated all our products (to comply with new EU legislation), rolled out a comprehensive rebranding project – we have gone from Cambridge Weight Plan to The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan and, in the last 18 months, have grown by 30%. Trying to plot our way through all this and take everyone with on the journey has been (and still is) a huge challenge

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

Wherever possible I try not to work (or send emails) over weekends or during holidays, and I encourage the team to do the same. I am very conscious of my stress levels, and I have learnt over the years to recognise when they are rising to dangerous levels, and to take action to bring them down through cognitive behaviour techniques.

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

I can’t remember having one specific thing I wanted to do. However if I had my time again, I would quite fancy going into the creative arts (writing, directing, editing, performing).

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

I don’t like people being late for things. I find it very disrespectful for those who have bothered to turn up on time.

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

Our vision for the business is to be ‘the world’s biggest direct selling diet company’ so we have an awful lot to do. By 2024 I want our brand to be famous in the UK, our products to be sold in more than 50 countries around the world and our workforce to be substantially better off than they are now, thanks to our unique employee ownership model.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Don’t be scared: of what people will think, of making mistakes, of being bold, or of challenging people, situations or the status quo.

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

It’s all right to feel afraid. Acknowledge it, accept it even, but then feel the fear, and do it anyway!

Abi Bentley-Cottam
Article by Abi Bentley-Cottam
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