Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Jonny Tooze, Founder and CEO of LAB Group

Jonny Tooze, Founder and CEO of LAB Group. He founded his first digital business at eighteen years old and in 2003 founded LAB, which has grown to be one of the UK’s leading independent digital agency groups. We find out who has most inspired him on his way to the top.

Who is your digital hero?

It has to be Ash Roots, currently the Managing Director of Digital for BT/EE.

What has he done to win hero status in your eyes?

He opened my eyes to how collaborative senior people can be in the digital industry. He fundamentally transformed the digital operation of Direct Line by transforming a corporate culture to create the right environment for digital and creativity to flourish.

This was no mean feat.

He also was the first person to abandon the trend of monolithic enterprise CMS and opt for a much more agile and practical approach to running a large estate of highly successful websites.

He has had some monumental roles in the digital industry and has always kept a low profile, although he has earned so much authority in the industry.

How has his heroism helped drive digital?

By fundamentally putting culture first in his teams.

He has shown to many that to run a good digital team you need to blend process, creativity, technology, and practicality, and the results are incredible. The ultimate case of leading by example.

What the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?


Mainly the discrimination that still occurs in almost all businesses, and is still here in digital. I think our industry has moved forward faster than most, but there is still a long way to go, such as female entrepreneurs seriously struggling to get funding from VCs.

Additionally, the concept that big brands have to buy big names in the consulting world.

We still seem to be living in a ‘nobody got fired for buying IBM’ world, when often the best solutions to an organisation’s problem come from smaller, more agile businesses.

What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?

Our business won ‘Agency of the Year’ at a fairly well-known national awards ceremony. Unfortunately, the ceremony was in bad taste, propagating stereotypes and sexism.

As a result I published a response to denounce the awards and sent the trophy back, while acknowledging that the team had still done brilliantly to earn it. It hit the headlines in the national press. I had neighbours knocking on my door to thank me.

Many others award winners followed suit, giving their awards back, including universities and other large companies. The awards has since shut down.

This wasn’t in any way heroic, just a realisation that our values and those of the event organisers were very different, and I wanted to call them out and make a point that it’s not OK.

But what really moved me is the number of females in the digital industry that reached out to thank me. It wasn’t my intention to lead a strong ethical revolt, but it turned out that way.

Reading the stories of sexism made my eyes well up; I never knew how bad it was until that moment and changed how I see people’s daily struggles with unacceptable crap like this.