Manchester Giants


So why has Manchester and the surrounding region not created a Facebook, Google, LinkedIn or global giant for a such a long time?

We have so many fantastic stories of success, one of which I was with yesterday JD Sports plc based in Bury. This is just an amazing story from one shop in Bury in the early 80’s to a business today turning over some £800M and employing 10,000 people. They also have made acquisitions and joint ventures in New Zealand, Australia, USA, France and Hong Kong. Having spent an hour with Executive Chairman Peter Cowgill yesterday you see why they have done what they have done – commercial focus, attention to the audience they serve, people development coupled with personal energy, drive, vision and a sense of grounded humility are key ingredients of creating such a success story.

The key for the economy going forward is that we need to create, nurture and support more of these companies. So what is the blocker? Why is the University not creating more companies of this scale – after all Manchester has more Nobel Prize winners than any other university in the UK (after Cambridge, London and Oxford). So what is the problem?

1. Lack of funds

2. Insufficient scaleable business ideas

3. Lack of ambition and big thinking

4. Lack of connectivity between entrepreneurs and funders

5. Poorly developed networks

Well from what I see and hear there is no shortage of funds, an entrepreneurial culture, massive talent and well qualified individuals – something is not right with the infrastructure. We have some fantastic businesses in Manchester, but not enough of the scale such as JD.

So what is the missing bit of the jigsaw?


Be prepared – Sometimes it can be crap


I am really encouraged by the new Coalition Governments attitude and approach to enterprise and entrepreneurship. Start up’s are the future, they will create the jobs. But one word of advice is that being your own boss can be demanding and at times take its toll on you personally and potentially your family and dependants – it’s stressful. Most people who know me will appreciate that I am a passionate and proactive ambassador for entrepreneurs who go out there and take a risk. So much of our recovery as an economy depends on individuals with an idea who can take it forward with gusto – generate revenue, profit and create not only a wage for themselves but also for others. It really is not easy.

My advice to anyone who is thinking about, going it alone, is get your HEAD IN GEAR. As long as you are prepared then you will be OK. Being your own boss is great when you are riding the wave of success but the lows can be at best crap – it’s a bit like a rollercoaster. As long as you know this you can be mentally prepared for the journey. The high’s include:

– The feeling of euphoria when you win the new contract

– The pride in creating new jobs and seeing individuals develop

– Recognition from your peers about the difference your business is making

The lows often involve a sense of just wanting to escape to somewhere well out-of-the-way, particularly when you are:

– Worrying about whether you have the cash to pay the wages

– Waiting to hear about a new contract that has cost you a fortune to bid for

– Dealing with people who are making your life really difficult, sometimes people look to you for the    answers but you really don’t have them.

So my advice is get your head sorted, expect the unexpected, accept its going to be full of surprises, ups and downs. When you realise this it’s a great journey. Always maintain the faith in what you set out to do, accept the brutal facts and just keep pushing and pushing till you get to the destination.  Its going to be crap at time but that’s just temporary the highs massively shadow the lows!

Why do staff just not get it?


I wish I had a tenner for every time I heard a business owner, entrepreneur or manager say this. It often relates to must do tasks such as bringing in projects in on time and budget, managing costs, chasing money or outstanding quotations, getting out important messages to customers, following up on important leads, getting quotations in on time, sorting out the hospitality of guests. Executing key business priorities that seem so obvious regularly remain a blur to those we expect to just get on with it. Well the first lesson is dont make the assumption that others do actually understand what is expected.

I believe effective leadership is all about helping staff to understand what and why certain tasks are important. It’s all about communicating the consequences of not fulfilling certain duties and the potential impact of not doing them. Communication must be delivered with clarity and candour.

Here is how a friend of mine who runs a small creative business delivered a communication to her sales manager “if you don’t hit the sales target for the next six months the business will struggle to deliver on revenue and profit targets, this has implication on the teams viability and jobs will be at risk, including yours. We will be reviewing performance every Friday afternoon”.

Seems such an obvious thing to do but the reality is many growing companies lack this discipline, much to the frustration of the entrepreneur. Being too busy is often cited as the excuse – there should be no surprises when the wheels come off. Fire fighting becomes a way of life

For businesses to succeed this level of focus is vital. Good leadership is about communicating with clarity what is expected and the reasons why. Ensuring conformity to the KPI’s and values is a leaders job.

So why do so many entrepreneurs live with lack lustre and mediocre performance, then fail to address important issues head on – they just moan about it and give themselves high blood pressure….

Business Balls Up – Ten Easy Steps


How often do we lose the plot with our businesses? It is so easy for confidence to take a turn for the worst. Here are my top ten tips for making a complete cock-up of your business:

1. Let your ego take over when things are going well. Your head will get so big getting through the door becomes a challenge

2.Lose sight of the short-term issues such as cash and the customers world

3.Dont bother to look to the market horizon, just convince yourself everything will stay the same

4.Empty the till every year when you make profit and fill your pockets with the dividends – an investment in Spanish property seems like a great idea.

5.Allow underperforming staff to carry on underperforming – just convince yourself that things will get better. No need for a one to one home truth chat – that may just seem like confrontation.

6.Convince yourself that your website, social media and other marketing activities will do the trick for winning new business. Spend less time in customer face to face meetings and keep on sending the emails. Avoid picking up the phone because customers will knock on your door

7.Make price your competitive advantage and keep lowering them to win the business.

8.Avoid investing in personal development – embrace the mindset that all that stuff is for tree huggers

9.Ignore the opinions and views of staff/colleagues views and stop communicating – you know best.

10.Monthly management accounts and KPI’s will sort themselves out – leave it to luck and avoid driving the bottom line. People should only be expected to work 9-5 its important for their work life balance, after all its your duty to keep everyone in a job.

I could go on. Of course I am not guilty of anyone of these easy steps because I know it all. What was point 1 again? How familiar does this sound? We all should take a reality check and take stock of whats going on in our business and marketplace. Self awareness and humility are a pretty important component of leadership – so is saying things as they are. The minute you try to please everyone you please nobody.

Keep reinventing yourself


You must accept that you have far greater control over your life than you realise – who you are, what you want and what you think. Your mental outlook on life as well as your character, and personality remain under your own leadership and guidance. When things don’t go to plan or you feel that you are stalling in your career or personal life its time for doing some different. Successful people recognise the need for constant change. When the results don’t come through a period of reinvention is invariably needed because what you are doing is not working. We can’t excel if we are not aligned to what we want out of life. If you are fed up with your career, not getting the new job or promotion after constantly trying then you must change. Successful people who go the extra mile understand the need to adapt.

The process of reinvention means that you need to critically appraise the status quo – look at your life or career from different angles.

Where is the stale you? Why are things not working or going to plan? Are you feeling fulfilled and happy with what you have and what you are achieving? Ask others for feedback on you and your performance. Open up your surroundings.

Where do you want the new you to be? – Get back to reviewing your intentions are they clear and precise or are they lacking definition and clarity.

List the key transition points? Define what specific things need to change. Draw up an action list. Detail the new partnerships and relationships that are needed to move things. Draw up the new tactics and work out the vital things that will deliver a different result.

Act out the changes – make a conscious effort to implement the changes that you need to make the transition to what you want to become. Without action nothing will happen. Make sure you signal the changes to your stakeholder group.


The Power of Focus


The ability to remain focused is a key ingredient for anyone who aspires to achieving more. All too often we can be side tracked by ideas or pet projects that don’t contribute in any way to the personal intentions we have chosen to pursue. When presented with set backs or difficult situations that require attention it can be easier to default to tasks that are hassle free or easier to fulfil.

Pet projects often come in the way of achieving what we want. Always remind yourself of:

“Must do” – what are the activities vital to accomplishing your intentions? Implementation must involve doing the things that directly align to your ambitions and desires. By keeping a journal or completing a daily to do list you remain focused on the critical essentials. Such simplicity ensures clarity remains the priority. Your direction becomes very clear and success prevails

“Nice to do”- most of us will be clear on what is required for success. However, all too often we get distracted by more enjoyable activities, equally we can we tempted to pursue things that require less effort.  Pursing nice to do projects will move you away from what you set out to achieve, they divert energy and you lose focus. Continuous attention on the wrong things will lead to ineffective performance. You will delay the process of success or as a worst case never get to the destination. Too many people become very easily distracted and forget what is important.

Be aware of what you are doing, keeping asking yourself – is what I am doing going to give me what I want? – Such consciousness allows you to do away with non value added activities. Time is the most precious commodity for anyone who wants to achieve more. Thinking in the must do nice to do way will help you to do the right things at the right time. Momentum results from focusing on the activities critical to success. Don’t be distracted.


LEPS – balance thinking with doing


Having thought long and hard about this very topical issue I think the LEPS have a great opportunity to make a difference to the economy going forward. However, I am getting bit tired of hearing “they have no money and no powers, so what are they going to do?” Well the reality is they are here and likely to stay around for some time. The big opportunity is……to set the agenda and drive new ideas forward with determined ambition and passion. In my view scarcity of resources is the mother of innovation, so given there is no cash, this should drive new models and ways of doing things. I think its fair to say that in the past so much public sector funding has gone into programmes and initiatives, with much of it adding very little value. In certain parts of the Country I have seen literally millions of pounds spent on putting together activities with absolutely no thought given to sustainability or legacy. Once the public sector funding has been withdrawn everything implodes and the assets created just fall away. Every public sector funded initiative of scale should have a legacy and sustainability strategy initiated from day one of it starting, pointless 2-3 years down the line because it’s too late. This is something LEPS need to get on their agenda!

The new LEPS have the opportunity to deliver a game changing experience for local economies, this will only happen if they are have both thinkers and doers leading and managing them. I just hope there is a balance of entrepreneurial flair with disciplined (strategic and policy) thinking. What concerns me is that the latter will dominate the agenda and guess what? We will get the same as we have always got. I am still getting over a strategy and policy session I attended several weeks ago that can only be described as useless drivel and non-sense. As far as I am concerned the thinking, policy and strategy should have been done when the bids for LEP status went in. If we know the priorities then get on and do it – if the till is empty then work out how you are going to fill it. That’s the reality of the world, many businesses start with the entrepreneurs not having a pot to pee in – however, they get on with it and throw innovation and creativity at their challenges and not the bottom less pot of cash that often makes little difference.

Pushing yourself to be better


I spent a couple of days last week working with a number of potential partners on a large overseas project we are looking to get involved with. This group of complementary businesses got around the table to explore ways of working, new ideas, possible initiatives along with how to make the planned initiative a massive success. What struck me about these individuals was that they were best in class. It was a real privilege to be sat around the table because personally it tested me to new limits. It kept me on my toes and indeed stretched my own abilities. A truly worthwhile experience, probably the best “training course”, so to speak, I have been on for many years!

It led me to conclude that if you want to excel in your professional life then seek the opportunity of working with those people who will take you to new limits. The experience will extend your comfort zone, teach you new skills and more importantly allow you to gain insight to how they think and operate. It should also fast track you to putting together a plan for personal improvement.  Define whom you believe to be the best in your field and find a way of getting to work with them. Seek to collaborate on a win –win basis. As part of this process you should do away with any personal pride issue or sense of undermining your own capability and explore – it’s about self-improvement and continuous learning. One fact is for sure, in markets as uncertain as they are at the moment, no one should be complacent or unwilling to pursue new ideas and thinking. Change is the only certainty and training/collaborating with the best can put you one step of the competition – it pushes you on to better yourself.

If you want to achieve greater success then align yourself to those who consistently out perform the rest. Be open in your approach to these people and ask them – Please can you help? Or please can I ask your advice? Can we collaborate on new opportunities? By asking in this way you are delivering a complement and acknowledging their expertise and achievement mindset. More often than not people are open to such an approach.

By training with the best you set intentions and expectations that lift your mindset to new levels of attainment. Individuals you train with are different to mentors – they are the sparing partners that you work with to develop and grow your skills on a real-time basis. If the person or organisation you want to work with views you as a potential threat the relationship will not work. Be honourable about your intentions and by no means use it to gain insights that would be of disservice to them – be clear, be up front – if a conflict of interest presents itself then walk away.

Raising our own personal bar becomes a key driver for personal and business growth. Getting into the Olympic squad certainly takes you to new limits.

Invent markets – avoid “me too”


Markets are becoming more and more competitive. Trying to communicate a USP is difficult – our research shows that most companies actually don’t have one and when they do, articulation is very difficult – a bit hit and miss and not really inspiring. The high growth companies and successful organisations  I have dealt with tend to occupy space not crowded out by other players – positioning is vital. Companies with the edge I believe invent new markets – they do this by immersing themselves in their customers world – as a result they:

1. Gain an intimate understanding of needs, desires and key drivers

2. Can predict customer needs

3. Understand the problems customers experience

4. Build new propositions that solve identified problems

Great companies invent new markets they avoid following the masses both searching and creating new space. They fuse different ideas together to give an engaging experience for consumers and build new business models, they create a clear point of differentiation that delivers the wow factor.

Sony Walkman, Yo Sushi, Apple, Innocent Drinks, Cirque du Soleil are household examples of companies that invented new markets – the book, Blue Ocean Strategy provides some great inspiration to those wanting to invent new markets!