Duncan Tift meets Marc Schroder, a man with the unusual ambition of making health and safety sexy.
The prospect of interviewing a German talking about health and safety for two hours must be most people's idea of hell - and I have to admit it wasn't one that initially fired my imagination.
However, when you do this job you quickly come to realise there's no such thing as a free lunch and sooner or later, there's always price to pay. Not that on this occasion I even got lunch!
The assignment did teach me an important lesson and it was to remind me in this profession you should never allow your prejudices to get the better of you.
If they had I would have missed out on discussing important legislation with what turned out to be a cultured, intelligent and highly civilised individual who left me feeling humble.
But then I would imagine Marc Schroder has this effect on a lot of people - and don't believe it when people tell you Germans have no sense of humour, because this one does.
The newly-appointed head of employment law and health and safety specialist, MHL Support, is a likeable individual whose enthusiasm for his new employer is out of all proportion to its rather dry subject.
Schroder, a youthful 36, has had a colourful career.
"I moved from Germany when I was 18 after my family sold their recycling business. I decided to come to the UK and joined the European Business in London.
"During my studies I focused on strategy marketing and operations and when I left, I started work with Aldi," he said.
Working for the low-cost retailer was hard work but gave him a sound grounding.
"I was sent all over the UK and helped to set up different stores, however, I was fortunate I survived my first day."
Sounds intriguing I thought - what happened?
"On my first day I was sent to the fruit and vegetable section and told to order new stock. They gave me a machine into which I had to place orders and these were dispatched to the depot.
"I saw we were low on bananas so I ordered some - unfortunately, instead of one case I ordered a lorry load and it was too late to change things by the time I realised.
"The next thing, we had a lorry of bananas turn up, so you can imagine how popular I was. I think the case is remembered to this day.
"I really didn't think I would be coming back but it taught me an important lesson and my manager said if I get 51 per cent of my decisions right I won't go far wrong."
Despite the gaffe, the retailer must have spotted potential because it decided to keep him on and he flourished.
After developing the firm's operations in the Lake District, he was dispatched to the Emerald Isle where he helped set up the company's Irish operation.
He was headhunted by Staffordshire-based mobile phone emperor John Caudwell.
"I worked for them for 18 months in Stoke on Trent. It was a tough time but good experience. I had lots of responsibilty even though I was only out of university a couple of years."
After heading the group's mobile phone repair business, he was again lured away, this time to a French company suffering from the dot.com crash.
"I was brought in to set up a reverse logistics operation in the Midlands. After this I was sent to America where I had to help with restruc-turing.
"I went to Mississippi and had to close a large factory there and relocate to Dallas Fort Worth. After that, I was asked to come back to the UK and head a business unit there and remained for three years," he says.
However, around this time he began to get itchy feet again.
"I looked for a new challenge. Industries were moving out to Eastern Europe because labour costs were cheaper and every week it seemed like there was another restructuring to carry out.
"Eventually I tired of this and I wanted to go to a company where I could add value," he says.
He looked around and came across The Bibby Group, run by entrepreneur Sir Michael Bibby. The Liverpool-based group, best known for its shipping business, had recently acquired Staffordshire-based employment law specialist MHL Support.
"Although I had not worked in the legal and financial sector before I nevertheless found it very interesting. MHL offers a unique service and it was consistently delivering high quality to its customers.
"I went to the interview with Sir Michael Bibby and I found him inspiring. He was constantly stressing the value of quality and I quickly made the decision that I wanted to join, and I don't have any regrets."
In its chosen sector, MHL, which employs around 180 people, is currently ranked ninth in terms of revenue but around third in terms of growth.
"We are one of the fastest growing companies in the sector. We offer one of the best packages in the marketplace and with my knowledge I believe that I can add value.
"Having more than 100 per cent growth year on year puts a large strain on an organisation, especially with customer service, but with proper restructuring and the development of new products I believe we can go on to even greater things."
MHL is now concentrating on two packages - one health and safety, the other, employment law. It is also looking at all the other compliance areas, especially environmental laws which it believes will be the next growth sector.
It is also looking at HR and developing new modules to offer to customers.
"We have launched the Optimum package for SMEs which has been extremely successful, there's no one in the competition bringing out new packages.
"We succeed because we research what SMEs are going to need and then develop the packages for them," he says.
"We have a very small marketing team compared to our competitors but our focused sector approach is well tailored and our corporate manslaughter seminars are very successful. We are now going into a larger segment and we are not looking to focus on one kind of customer.
"We will produce various packages to suit client needs. Our competitors only concentrate on the most lucrative sector but we are looking at new areas such as care homes and nurseries, while we are also looking at developing new environmental law products."
Like most CEOs he is ambitious for his company.
"We want to be the number one choice in our marketplace," he says, adding that his ambition is to develop a company recognised for quality and service.
"Membership of the Bibby Group strengthens our position and supports further growth but only helps us so far, we also need to work for ourselves and create value for our customers," he says.
So, is he happy with the business model he is developing?
"I am very happy with the way things are going since I joined. The business is both customer-driven and development-driven. By having the flexibility we can continue to offer the best service.
"We are not a generalist company. One model does not fit all and so we have a duty of care to ensure that the package we offer is suitable for the customer."
The firm's customer base currently stands at around 3,000 businesses but it has plans to grow further and extend its operations into Scotland and Ireland.
Schroder is very much 'on-message' and trying to get him to talk about himself is difficult. I try and steer the conversation towards this on several occasions, only for us to come back to his business.
However, eventually I succeed and we start to find out a little more about his character.
For instance, does he have much of a life away from work?
Candidly he admits not, but then his desired goal is to make the company a success before he thinks about himself.
"At the moment it's difficult to have a life away from work. I have a daughter who is six months old and a son who is two-and-a-half. My wife is very understanding and has travelled around with me wherever I have gone."
The Anglo-German couple have settled in Stoke-on-Trent, close to MHL's base in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
"I thought it would be useful because my wife's parents lived there and we thought they would be able to look after the children," he says. Unfortunately for him, the grandparents had other ideas and have relocated to Dubai.
In view of his German origins what happens at home, I ask.
"I speak to my children in German, my son speaks good German. My wife speaks to them in English. The godparents are Spanish and German so the godmother speaks only to them in Spanish.
"I am happy with the arrangements and although I work hard, my wife knows I want the business to succeed."
He also has unusual hobbies - or at least what most people would consider to be unusual.
"Communications and new linguistic programming are my hobbies. I always manage to get on with people quickly and I think part of that is down to this."
Part of it is also down to his ability to communicate in different languages.
"I can speak German, French, Spanish, English and Italian. It's strange, I was never very good at languages while I was at business school but now I find it very interesting."
His time at business school provided him with the opportunity to travel all over the world.
"They made sure you gained internships during breaks and I worked in various places including Singapore and Australia."
In view of this, his choice of holiday destination is somewhat surprising.
"I have always been a person who travelled a lot but I haven't seen much of Europe so my choice would be to take a caravan, my laptop and my wife and see some different places," he says.
With his cosmopolitan career, where does he consider to be home?
"I see Europe as my home and this is where I am different from a lot of people. I wouldn't go back to Germany, I was 18 when I left and now I'm 36 so I don't regard it as my home any more.
"I prefer to speak English or Spanish rather than German - although I still speak German to my parents - but my heart is in England. If I could choose a perfect country then it would be England with Spanish weather," he says.
Will he stay here, or will his roaming spirit eventually get the better of him?
"Who knows what lies ahead. However, the Middle East is a very civilised place which respects good education and skills.
"I may look to settle there eventually - who knows?"
In the meantime he has his work cut out for him in the UK.
"I would like to make employment law and health and safety a sexy subject and I think I can achieve this."
With his determination and enthusiasm, who knows?