Case Studies

The start of a business education for a classical guitarist turned new business director

As career moves go, switching from being a professional classical guitarist to the business development director of an outdoor publishing company has to be amongst the more dramatic.

And yet that’s exactly the job shift that Joe Williams made when he joined the family business, Cicerone Press.

It was a change that brought Joe closer to his love of the mountains – one of the publisher’s chief specialisms. It was also the start of a journey that will see him and his sister, Maddy, eventually take over the reins from his parents, managing directors Jonathan and Lesley Williams, who run the 52-year-old Kendal-based firm.

When he joined Cicerone Press six years ago, Joe was, as he puts it: “At the start of his business education.” Keen to expand his understanding of both the theory and practicalities of good business leadership, he enrolled in the Cumbria Forum at Lancaster University Management School (LUMS).

Joe says: “Looking back, I was a little green when I joined the programme and so it gave me the firm foundation I needed in business strategy, market orientation and creating customer value.

“Because the Forum is delivered by world-leading academics, the principles are very modern.  We covered ethics, sustainability, the circular economy, corporate entrepreneurship, increasing employee wellbeing…the kind of things that business leaders should know to survive and thrive today.

“I remember attending a Cumbria Forum session with LUMS Professor Gerry Johnson and being very aware that I was being taught strategic management by someone who was at the very top of his field.

“Back then, I found some of the questions quite difficult to answer – like what our customers really want, need and expect from us – and yet now, these principles are at the heart of how we run our business.

“One of the key things I took from the Cumbria Forum is the importance of making certain things explicit within a business. At Cicerone Press, our vision, mission and values used to be implicit: things that we hoped would be understood. Now we are working to make them very much explicit, so that our whole team can get behind them.”

The start of lasting connections and friendships

Half a decade on, Joe is still in regular contact with many of his fellow Cumbria Forum delegates.

He says: “One of the primary benefits of the Cumbria Forum has been the relationships that we’ve built up as a team – particularly amongst a few of us that set up a small ‘action learning’ group.

“It has given me a support network of fellow delegates, now very much friends, who have been a constant over the last six years.

“We come from hugely differing businesses around Cumbria: one runs a chain of solicitors, another works for a plumbing company and another is in the glass manufacturing industry. Yet whether our issues are similar or different, sharing and talking them over always offers insight.”

An enduring relationship with Lancaster University

Having caught the business education bug, Joe has recently completed the LUMS Executive MBA (EMBA).

Joe says: “After completing the Cumbria Forum, I went to as many LUMS masterclasses as possible, keen to pick up as much as I could from the business leaders who are connected to the school.

“As a company, we are now making use of contacts in University’s Centre for Family Business which is helping us to prepare for the leadership transition.

“For me, the EMBA was the logical next step in that journey.

“Taking part in the Cumbria Forum kicked off a relationship with the Management School which is based on the genuine way in which LUMS sets out to help businesses.  I can only see that relationship enduring and deepening in future.”

Places are still available on the next Cumbria Forum: Business Model Innovation programme, which starts on 16 November 2021. The programme consists of 3 half-day online sessions.

The programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for Cumbrian SMEs with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent employees and an annual turnover of less than €50m.

To enrol, or to find out more, contact Ewan Pullan at