"Be prepared to work whilst your studying"
Ammo Talwar, CEO of Punch Records is a successful music entrepreneur from Birmingham.
For the very ambitious Ammo, everything began at his specialist record shop, selling vinyl records. His visionary leadership was the driving force behind his business becoming a leading music and content agency in the UK.
Ammo is acknowledged as an arts champion for his creative work with young talent and artists on a national and international level.
Working in collaboration with government agencies, educational institutions and the third sector, Ammo is very supportive about the development of young people in the UK’s second biggest city.
Youngsters who are thinking of setting up their own business can learn a lot from Ammo’s humble beginnings. As an equal opportunities employer, Ammo encourages a diverse working group.
In an exclusive Q&A with Ammo Talwar, we find out more about him, his business, along with tips and potential opportunities for students and graduates.
Who is Ammo Talwar?
Ammo Talwar is a local boy from North Birmingham who works in the music industry, studied civil engineering and accidentally set up a record store.
I love Black music and run an agency based in The Custard Factory which tours artists, produces a festival and works across art forms with young people. I am the proud owner of two dogs, Sydney and Lenny.
What challenges did you have starting your business?
Finding a location that was suitable for the work we were doing at the time (selling records – predominantly vinyl) was problematic as costs were a major factor.
Perry Barr in North Birmingham seemed to be perfect, diverse, close to a university and a bus ride away from where I lived.
The bank of my mum, dad, uncle and aunty also helped to provide a step up during the start-up phase and having a side hussle (mine was setting up cloakrooms at raves).
Do you have advice for anyone looking to start a business?
Find networks around your business that are challenging yet supportive to your thinking.
This will push your alternative side to create magic. I’m a massive fan of critique and honesty.
Find a local mentor and ask them for help and guidance asap. Make a friend out of your mentor and allow them to hold you accountable.
What tips do you have for students looking to secure their first graduate job?
“Be prepared to work whilst your studying. Internships and long term work experience will give you a position of difference.”
Once you are in a company, ask to shadow someone senior so you see first hand how things are really made and actioned. You need to be in multiple rooms and get used to feeling uncomfortable.
When hiring new talent, what skills do you look for?
For junior staff, we look for difference, not qualifications. Our team is diverse and our behaviours support that.
For more senior staff we seek strong values and a long term commitment to making a change and doing interesting stuff.
What personal qualities are important in a candidate?
Collaboration, Consistency and excellence are key drivers for us.
Name three things most challenging for you in business
The creative industries sector is growing rapidly so creating an alternative narrative for new work is essential and yet challenging.
People are often ready to box your work and history into one perspective.
“Shifting narratives around a new business is key to new work.”
Retention of staff that support a joint shared vision is also key to deliver at a benchmark you set. Last but not least is creating a local music ecosystem that looks beyond the capital so our regions grow collectively.
How do you use digital tools to aid your business?
Digital helps you to supersize quickly but nothing beats face to face and personal.
We’re moving back to our original strategies around deep and local. The one thing that we all use is Trello (google it).
What is important about a diverse workforce?
A difference of opinion, critical thinking, decision making and a level playing field of listening all bode well with SME’s. Without diversity you fail, it’s simple.
Would you have done anything differently?
Probably would have closed my record store two years earlier. We lost over £30k in the last couple of years. which in the late nineties was a load of cash.
It was pure emotion that kept me going but you never look back. I also think all business owners should leave there business every five years for a minimum of six months and work on something else.
“It sharpens your mind and gives you another perspective of work-life balance.”
Ammo Talwar is certainly a big inspiration to a new creative generation. In recognition of his services to music and young people, he was awarded an MBE in 2008.
Ammo has many accolades to his name, including the Cultural Leadership Award. Companies with new opportunities or facing challenges are approaching Ammo as he is an astute businessman.
In 2017, to promote black and South Asian talent across the Midlands, Punch Records showcased the fantastic dance initiative, Desi Moves.