Richard Reed stands slightly sheepish in a crumpled T-shirt and jeans, his tousled hair belying a successful business brain. Just five years ago, he and a friend invested £500 in mixing smoothies to sell at a music festival. Above the stall, a sign said: 'Should we give up our jobs to make these smoothies?' Punters voted by casting their empty bottles into one of two dustbins. The 'Yes' bin won and now Innocent has a £37 million turnover.
What could Reed tell the Marketing Society annual conference? He kept it simple. His five rules included 'keep the main thing the main thing', and 'take care of the details'. He summed up his faith in continuous learning with the phrase 'be porous' – suck in all the information you can. And he was keen to make best use of his website, which invites constructive suggestions from consumers. His most compelling arguments involved corporate social responsibility. While 'it's no good if a tobacco company decides to invest in a children's playground', Innocent gives 10% of its profits to the countries that grow the fruit it uses.
Reed came across well, but he could do with help on his speaking style: he often spoke too quickly and swallowed his words, and he needs to eliminate some buzzy jargon – I lost count of how many times he said an initiative 'had traction'. But his rough-and-ready approach struck a strong chord with the audience.
Key moment: When Innocent joked on its bottles that the ingredients included 'plump nuns', Trading Standards told them to remove this or include plump nuns in the recipe.
Key lesson: Tell it like it is and you'll do well, even if your delivery is rough around the edges.P>Silver tongue or foot in mouth?... Silver Tongue
A visiting professor of business communications at Southampton University, Khalid Aziz chairs the Aziz Corporation (firstname.lastname@example.org)