Introducing our Managing Director, Annelene Hutton

At Dawson & Sanderson, it’s all about the people who make up the business, and we love to hear from all team members across the board about why they love what they do.


In this week's blog post, we are chatting with our Managing Director, Annelene Hutton, and finding out more about how she has found her first year in the company. 


You joined Dawson & Sanderson as Financial Director just over a year ago with a clear brief. How did you prioritise what was important?

At the beginning of my role, I had to prioritise work based purely on criticality and impact. 


From a financial point of view, when you are behind on reporting statutory accounts, this has a huge impact on the business in several ways, so it was important to balance this as well as work through the backlog in order to manage and minimise the impact upon the business. 


I always apply a policy of being open and honest with business partners, as this allows me to explain what is and isn’t possible and manage realistic timeframes and expectations. In return, this helps to ensure that relationships are built based on trust and confidence and that partners can remain confident in us that we will deliver. 


What was your initial approach when you joined the business? Looking back, would you change anything?

 For me, changing roles within the business so quickly after joining had a large influence on my initial approach. 


Upon joining any business, I like to observe everything from internal processes and frequency of existing meetings (and who attends these) to effectiveness and participation.


A key part of this learning was to listen to the people that make up the company, as communication is always critical but often overlooked very easily.


Therefore, it was essential to take the time to assess before looking at opportunities and the direction we wanted to take the business.


In hindsight, I wish I had been more involved in the wider business from day one, as when I joined as FD, I was asked to focus on specific tasks and expand into wider business involvement at a later date. 


At first, I accepted this. However, it later became apparent that perhaps a different approach would have allowed us to navigate priorities more effectively. 


What has been your biggest challenge to date? 

The biggest challenge for me personally was keeping my head down whilst dealing with the immediate priorities of the business. I am someone who likes to work collaboratively, and I felt that we were not always communicating internally as well as I would have liked. 


I think people are a company's biggest asset, and keeping the workforce engaged and informed is so important. As a company, we were pushing out several new processes, which I feel could have been better communicated to the team. 


Although this isn’t necessarily a business challenge, how we treat people is something very important to me as a person, and I found this the most difficult when starting out at Dawson & Sanderson.


How has your background prepared you for this role? 

Fortunately, I am used to working in very fast-paced environments and under high levels of pressure, and as a result of this, I am able to stay calm and look at situations objectively. 


Having a financial background is useful as I believe it is one of the only roles that allow you to see how an entire business comes together, as every decision taken has a financial impact in some shape or form. 


Dawson & Sanderson is a relatively simplistic business model as we don't manufacture anything, but instead, we work closely with our partners, who we have fantastic relationships with, to sell their products with their support. 


I have always been someone who cares about doing good business and collaborating with partners effectively, and therefore I believe this role is a perfect fit for me. 


You’re now over a year into the role; how has the business changed during this time? 

There have been so many necessary changes in the first year it is almost easier to say what hasn't changed! 


The business was entirely restructured at Board and Director level at the time I was appointed from FD to MD, and following this, we made the decision to invest in systems that would stabilise the business and allow future growth. 


To do this, we implemented a new end-to-end booking system, a new finance system, a new HR system, and changed our new merchant services provider. 


All of these changes put a lot of pressure on our workforce whilst facing recruitment challenges in a post-Covid environment; however, I was so impressed with how our employees responded to each and every one of these challenges.


What are your top priorities for the business as you move forward?

Our core focus today is to stabilise all of the above changes whilst we focus on our people. 


In 2023 we have both restructured and introduced a regional team to allow for more support in our retail division. In addition to this, we have rolled out pay increases and new bonus incentives, and we are currently reviewing our salary levels and banding. 


All of these changes have been made to recognise the needs of our employees and support our future expansion plans.


Dawson & Sanderson remains a family-owned and managed business. How involved is the family in the day-to-day running of the business? 

The family is very involved in the business, and I speak with Tommy Dawson, our founder, on almost a daily basis. 


Whilst going through significant change, we were holding monthly shareholder meetings, and I meet with other family members on a monthly basis to discuss the current activity within the business. 


David Chambers, Tommy’s Grandson, has recently been appointed to the board, and I have been working closely with David to help prepare him to follow in his Grandad’s footsteps. 


Eventually, David will take over and step into the Managing Director role, so it’s currently my responsibility to ensure he is ready for the transition, and it’s something I am extremely proud to help with and contribute towards. 


Company culture is at the heart of successful customer-facing brands. How are you working to develop a culture within the organisation?

As I mentioned earlier, my approach is to work collaboratively within the business, as I believe it’s important that everyone feels part of the journey. 


It’s so important that each and every team member understands where they fit into the company and how they contribute overall. 


As a board of directors, we are all open to anyone in the company reaching out to us, and we welcome ideas for improvement and feedback.


We know how lucky we are to have such long-serving employees, and this experience, coupled with new experience being introduced into the business through new hires, sets us up for an exciting future.


The brand is something that people are proud to work for, and we want to focus on this as we move forward, as well as highlighting the people that make the Dawson & Sanderson brand what it is today.


Dawson & Sanderson is one of the North East’s most well-known brands. What does the future look like for the business? 

We launched a new digital division back in March this year, which is already expanding. We have another division to launch, and we are looking at other expansion opportunities for next year, so growth is a key focus for us. 


We have also recently recruited a new Head of Marketing and Design, and we are looking at our branding, which we hope to refresh next year. 


Your role as MD aside, and focusing more on your personal life, what does work-life balance look like for you? 

I’ll admit I can be a workaholic, which can make maintaining a work-life balance difficult to achieve for me, but this is purely because I love what I do and care about doing a good job. 


I do believe, however, that these periods are cyclical and that there are times when the balance swings out of control and then returns. 


I have a very supportive family, and I could not do a job like this without that support system. With the restructuring of the business at the stage we are currently at, I have no concerns that the balance is returning, and I am looking forward to quality family time in some wonderful locations.