Skip to content

James Davenport, COO Innocent – Enhance Interview

the enhance interview Header2

innocent drinks holds near-mythical status in today’s business culture.  Started by 3 friends 1998, it is now Britain’s largest chilled juice brand and is heading for European domination.

So, what’s it like on the inside?  Is it as fun and fresh as it says on the bottle?

We catch up with James Davenport, COO, who joined innocent in 2003 after qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with BDO.


You have been at innocent for over 15 years – what do you love most about working there?

We have a simple (but hugely challenging) purpose: to help people live well and die old. The people at innocent are all working towards this purpose in their own individual way – whether creatively, analytically, logically, or instinctively.

Being around people like this makes each day a good day to be at work.


You have seen a huge amount of change – you joined a start-up and now you are a leader of a very successful international business.  How has your role changed during this time?

I started off as the Head of Finance, with 1 other person in my team.

Now, as COO, I have a wide-ranging set of responsibilities well beyond finance and a much bigger team who I work with.

I used to spend most of my time in excel, but now it is much more about hearing and telling stories. Rather than being at my desk most days, I am now spending time with our teams across Europe, supporting them in achieving their objectives.


What was the most challenging period for you of this business / personal journey and why?

A few years ago, I stepped in to lead our UK business at the same time as doing the Group FD role. This was during a time when the Juice and Smoothie category was really struggling.

I found it really hard to give sufficient support and direction to all the people who were reporting into me whilst at the same time trying to understand what was happening externally in the market place.


What has been the most exciting thing you have worked on and why?

Whatever we are doing that is new!


What is your favourite bit of the work day / week and why?

At 9am every Monday morning the whole business gets together for about 20 minutes to hear about what is going on. There is always a good energy with plenty of chit chat going on (except from the poor people who have to present!), and it always brilliant to hear about the diversity of stuff that is going on across the business.


How important to you is your professional development – of skills rather than just technical knowledge?

For me, having a coach to help me understand my leadership style, and then supporting me in being authentic to it, has been really important.


What advice would you give aspiring finance staff?

Listen and learn from all the people in the business. One of the most important roles in our business is the receptionist, as the receptionist may be the first contact the visitor has with someone from innocent and this will inform the view they have of the business.


What advice would you give your younger self?

The piece of advice to my younger self is that the numbers just reflect all the activity that is taking place in the business. Focus on the activity, not the numerical outputs.


What is it like to have so many challenger brands emulating innocent’s brand style, the consumer perception of innocent, and they hope, its story?

I think that the most important thing is that a brand has to be authentic to itself.  The way that we carry out business, the office that we work in, the people we employ are all coherent such that the way our brand is seen externally is just an extension of who we are internally. If other brands try to copy us, unless they have the same authenticity, they are unlikely to have the same success.


Innocent is held up as a great success story for many entrepreneurs.  How does this history impact the Management Team today?

When the founders were in the business, they established a culture underpinned by a set of values that remain true today. I think this is the key enabler for our success. As the management team we continue to try to build upon this culture and keep it relevant, as we really believe in it.


How has life at innocent changed since Coke’s purchase of the business?

When we started working with Coca-Cola, a simple model of being ‘connected, not integrated’ was established whereby we would ask for help & support where we needed it but otherwise we would run the business in the best way we saw fit based on the culture & values that we had in place.

It has been a big success, and Coca-Cola have been a brilliant owner. We would not have achieved the growth we have achieved without their support and encouragement as they have increased our risk appetite.


So there we are:  the low down on working with nothing but nothing but fruit* from James Davenport, COO of innocent drinks Ltd.


* and thankfully a few human staff tooEnhance

Enhance provides coaching and mentoring for ambitious Directors.

Call us on 0203 500 6300 or contact us here  to find out how we can help you.

the enhance interview series