The Times Business Awards 2017 on May 18 will, we’re delighted to announce, be hosted by Ken Bruce. Eileen Leahy caught up with the popular Radio 2 DJ to find out how he’s stayed at the top of his game for the past 40 years and why he’s such a passionate champion of small and independent businesses
HAVING broadcast on the BBC for the past four decades, 66-year-old Ken Bruce certainly knows a thing or two about career longevity and continuing success. The Glasgow-born presenter has been in charge of his eponymously named Radio 2 mid-morning show since the mid-1980s and recently signed another three-year contract, making him the network’s longest serving DJ.
Ken’s appealing Scottish lilt, razor sharp wit and intrinsic knowledge and passion for music – not to mention the phenomenally popular Pop Master trivia quiz he hosts every weekday morning – have all ensured the presenter has stayed at the top of his game, despite various musical trends and presenting styles coming and going over the years.
So, with an impressive track record like that, a regular audience of over eight millions listeners and a sideline in running a small business, Ken is clearly an ideal candidate to host the Times’ 2017 Business Awards ceremony at Salomons Estate in Tunbridge Wells.
When we start our interview, Ken is as -self-deprecating as ever. “I’m actually a failed accountant,” he chuckles when I ask him how he got into DJing in the first place. “I studied -accountancy for two years but I knew my heart wasn’t in it.
“I didn’t attend classes and it didn’t end well. After two years my bosses said ‘you’re not going to be God’s gift to accountancy’ so I just ran away to the circus as it were and got a job washing cars and then I started doing hospital radio and that’s where it all started.”
After applying for various jobs he eventually secured a contract at BBC Scotland as a staff announcer. “I was married and had a mortgage by then so to give it all up for a three-month contract was a big risk,” he says. One that was well worth taking, though, as he has worked for the BBC ever since.
“This year is my 40th anniversary but I still think it could all end tomorrow.”
He says his route to Radio 2 was ‘mostly accidental’, and he finds the fact that he has been anchor on The Ken Bruce Show for the past 33 years as ‘unbelievable’.
No one can doubt his determination to succeed. When he wasn’t reading the news or being a -station announcer, Ken was busy writing letters to those with influence.
His persistence paid off and he was given a daily show on BBC Scotland, then eventually a guest slot presenting a show on Radio 2. “I was then offered a Saturday night show a year later, and in 1984 I was given a daily show which I’ve been doing ever since.”
Ken clearly possesses those all-important attributes you need to succeed – determination and the ability to graft at something to achieve a positive end result – but what would he personally say was the key to his success?
“Well if I knew that I’d have done a bit more of it,” he jokes. “I’ve never sought fame or success. I just wanted to do a good radio show on a station I felt comfortable with.”
As for the music side of things he’s very open to most genres: “I’m quite lucky that most of the music we play on the station is what I like. My own tastes range from opera to well, not quite grime but that kind of thing. I like to keep an open mind as there’s good in everything.”
Running such a successful show for 40 years means that Ken is often asked to appear at various corporate events and prize ceremonies but the fact is, he turns most of them down.
He explains: “I like to do my radio programme every day and if I do too many other things then I find that I’m tired in the morning and don’t do as well as I should be doing on the radio, and that’s my -priority.”
So what made him agree to join us in Tunbridge Wells? “The thing to remember is that for the people involved it’s the biggest night of their career and I’ll be very aware of the fact.
“I know it means a great deal to those receiving awards so although it’ll be lots of fun, I never treat it lightly. It’s a big event and wonderful for people to be recognised by their peers and organisations such as yours who encourage them to keep at it and keep doing their bit for the economy.
“A lot of businesses are small outfits with people working every hour God gives and they’re making a living and not a fortune. So anything that can give them that little extra boost – a little word saying ‘well done, we’ve noticed what you do, so congratulations’ – is a good thing.”
Ken reveals he has an inside steer on what it’s like to run a small business and dealing with issues such as cash flow, attracting customers and generating publicity.
“I’m involved in a small business myself and know how difficult it is to make money in a -competitive industry. I’m a partner in a heritage bus hire company called This Bus. We have old Routemasters which we hire out for weddings and things like that, but it’s a constant struggle to keep in business and we always have to look for ways of diversifying.
“You can hit upon a good idea and make money out of it but unless you develop that idea and keep moving it forward the business will die. You have to keep looking for other angles and other -ventures – not necessarily just expansion but moving in a different direction and keeping yourself vibrant and vital.
“Every business has its problems and you never sit back and put your feet up and think ‘that’s great, we’ll just coast from now on’. I don’t know anybody involved in any business who feels that. So encouraging the people who do well is a great thing.”
So is the Scotsman familiar with Tunbridge Wells?
“Yes, I know it slightly,” he says. “It’s a beautiful part of the country and I just love The Pantiles.
“It’s lovely and traditional England at its best, and as the Times is hosting its business awards, it obviously has a thrusting and vibrant economy as well.”
To enter, visit our awards website and follow the instructions that could put you on to a winning path: www.timesbusinessawards.co.uk
The award categories
New Business of the Year: You’ve come into business in the last three years (start date after January 1, 2014) with a bang and are really getting noticed. Tell us what makes you the best of a great new crop of companies.
Creative Business of the Year: This award category is for any company over two years old in any sector that can demonstrate creativity as well as adding value to your business’s success.
Family Business of the Year: The business must have been trading for a minimum of 12 months. Applicants must show the set-up, family members involved (past and present) and the financial success of the business.
Young Entrepreneur of the Year: This award is open to dynamic individuals aged 30 or under by the closing date of April 13, 2017 who are running their own business and are able to demonstrate great success and drive in growing their company.
Service Excellence Award: The winner of this category will give outstanding assistance and advice to those who buy or use their business or organisation’s products or services.
Business Person of the Year: The winner of this category will show they have a clear vision/strategy for their business and are committed to growing it.
Best Independent Restaurant of the Year: An award celebrating independent restaurants who source their food locally, demonstrate exceptional customer service and offer the very best all-round dining experience.
Best Small Business up to £2m turnover: This award recognises those who have maintained consistent growth and strong financial performance.
Best Tech Business: Innovation lies at the very heart of successful tech companies, and this award is given to recognise outstanding success in commercialising new technologies and making an impact on the local and wider community.
Outstanding Business of the Year: This is the ultimate award of all the categories and will go to the business that can show outstanding initiative, boldness and imagination in their enterprise, as well as sound management practices.