Stimulating Business Innovation – New Economy Working Paper


The New Economy report launched this week provides a solid foundation on which to build Manchester’s prominent position as UK’s second City. We now need to move policy and strategic thinking into tangible activities that generate a pipeline of gazelles and gorillas. These are the terms that define businesses, which employ skilled people, generate foreign earnings and help to create vibrant and thriving local economies. By creating more of them we reduce the dependency on attracting FDI in an increasingly competitive global market place.

To build such a stock of these businesses we need a feeder of individuals with ambition and who possess a mindset that sees no boundaries, interconnected thinkers who fuse ideas together to build new and outstanding business models. Innovation starts with the way we think, if you think you can you can, if you think you can’t you’re right. Winners get their head in gear and are extremely focused and obsessive about achieving their personal and business intentions. When this frame of mind is fused with a sound commercial proposition, strong team and adequate resources, the ingredients for success are in place.


High quality business support lies at the heart of supporting the next generation of superstars, I don’t agree with the report that states this is in place in Manchester, because its not – if anything it needs to re invent and innovate itself. We have a strong financial and professional services sector, this goes without saying, but it’s more than this. Business advice that sticks is delivered by someone who has real empathy with the growth journey – they understand the key transition points of the growth cycle, its ups and downs but more importantly they provide sound inputs based on real life experience. Wrapped around high quality one to one tailored advice is the power of peer-to-peer networking – entrepreneurs learning from each other and sharing experiences in an informal manner.

Building a business can be a lonely existence. Sharing problems with likeminded people is in massive need. Manchester needs to put momentum into building high quality networking forums. We must build an environment where entrepreneurial networking leads individuals to imposing pressure on each other, in other words they want to be more successful and grow faster than the person sat next to them in the room. This friendly rivalry is a stimulus for constantly raising the bar of performance. It also creates the breeding conditions for global giants, those we typically see on the West Coast of the States.

The High Growth Foundation, a legacy of the North West High Growth Programme, aims to fill this gap. A rapidly growing alumni of ambitious individuals who want to take their business to the next level. They have bought into a belief system and supporting philosophy that acknowledges success comes with having the right mindset and a sound business idea. When you surround yourself with successful people it triggers innovation and progressive thinking, but then you need the tools to finish the job as Winston Churchill put it!





High Growth Companies Are Innovative


This was one of the conclusions of a recent NESTA report looking at the performance of high growth businesses – but what does this really mean? Is it about product development? New technology? Working with a University? Well its all of these but it starts with the way you think and the way you view the world, it about exploring possibilities and promoting diverse thinking. Allowing different worlds and ideas to come together to create something very different and memorable. That’s what high growth companies do. I would encourage any ambitious business person to start looking at their environments through different windows because you then see things you never knew existed. You avoid the rut that so many organisations find themselves in, this leads to blind spots and inertia. New ideas are only stimulated when your mind is given the opportunity to think differently – this is why the Think, Do, Review approach to strategy and execution is so effective…so many people in business just keep doing with giving themselves time to rise above and see whats going on.

Give yourself space and time to open your mind to new possibilities, keep your antennae switched on to whats going on around you. More specifically try some of these practical things to get you thinking in a new way:

1. Go on an overseas trade mission to look at what your industry is doing – get a global perspective. It’s as cheap to go to New York as it is to travel from Manchester to London on the train

2. California in the US is the home to innovation – have a look at what is happening there. Can you learn anything from similar companies to you? – just do a Google search

3. Speak to a University or spend some time with leading academics in your field to see whats coming over the horizon

4. Arrange a brainstorming session with customers to understand their problems and challenges.

5. Arrange for you and your team to hold a strategy day in somewhere completely different – somewhere were you can’t get a mobile signal

6. Explore collaborative opportunities with companies and individuals or activities that could give your company a boost and stand out e.g. Gary Lineker and Walkers Crisps, Innocent Drink Fruitstock, Daley Thomspon and Lucozade, BP Garages and Subway Franchise

7. Encourage staff to come up with two new ideas per month

8. Spend time looking at the trade press to see whats going on, give yourself the space to read the press covering parallel industries e.g if you are an engineering business and you want to improve customers service – look at tourism and hospitality magazines

9.Commission a University student to research an idea you have

10. Spend an hour a day in the open air – if you have not got the time, get up an hour earlier or go to bed one hour later.

11. Get involved with industry networks and forums – speak to like-minded people and share ideas. Get to spend time with individuals who’s achievements you admire

Innovation is all about conditioning the mind to think differently, practice and discipline leads to a new way of thinking. The outcome is you view the world, market and your life from a more exciting angle. Innovative companies do the above things unconsciously. Be aware and get closer to the power of innovation.

Downtown – Liverpool Business Awards


I had the great pleasure of going to Downtown’s Liverpool in Business Awards on Thursday night, it was a great do. As usual I did my observation bit and tried to get under the skin of the key messages of the evening. Had the opportunity to talk to successful business people and politicians and listened to several speeches – what was my conclusion? A bunch of people who have a love and passion almost to obsession for their City. Other cities talk about “Family” but to me its nothing but rhetoric. Esther McVey, and Max Steinberg set the scene with an update of whats happening in Liverpool but what really engaged me was Joe Anderson leader of Liverpool City Council. A man of who spoke from the heart and with bags of forward thinking. More specifically he focused on what they are going to do, not what they were thinking of doing. His enthusiasm for enterprise and entrepreneurship is reflected  in the fact that Liverpool is hosting the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (Kauffman Foundation) – a big tick in the box for enterprise in my view.

There is something about Liverpool that I just can’t put my finger on, an invisible force a bit like the wind you cant see it but you know it’s there. Without doubt there is a stronger sense of community than in any other city I visit. (The story of how the Cathedral was built is brilliant – donations from residents). The underlying spirit manifests into a mindset conditioned to think big, move forward, stop living in the past and make it happen. As I said in previous blogs, cities and the general economy need mavericks, individuals who want to build momentum. They set out on a journey to change things for the greater good, not just for themselves. I saw loads of it the other night. Pity I had to get up at 4.30 Friday morning to drive South or it would have been an even better do!




Smart Operator – High Growth Individuals


Recent economic challenges have placed serious pressure on people to think very differently. Business as usual is not an option, its time for something completely different. Cuts in public and private sector budgets have taken their toll – redundancies, lost revenue, projects going on hold…the story goes on. So what’s the answer? Manage decline and depression or look for the opportunities. As one delegate at an event I spoke at the other week put it….”recession, I have decided not to participate”. A very refreshing approach and outlook, the very opposite to the doom and gloom the media encourages us to embrace.

The answer is to practice and develop the Smart Operator Mindset – this ultimately leads to the creation of the high growth individual. We should draw parallels from the world of enterprise and create our own personal business plan, one that maps out a destination with the prioritized tasks to get us there. Here are some pointers for the Smart Operator Mindset:

1. Smart Proposition – define your unique talents, what you love doing, what you want, what gets out of bed. Aligning a future to a basic purpose really does help to accelerate the way forward.

2. Smart Vision – write down your personal intentions for 6 months, 1 year, and 2-years. Base this on your Smart Proposition. Include earnings and other components that make up the life you want

3. Smart Plan – remember a vision without tactics is hallucination. List the things you need to do and get on with it. The right path will emerge when activity is initiated.  Avoid procrastination. Set yourself KPI’s to check whether you are on track.

4. Smart Brand – you are selling yourself, so work out what mental imprints you want to leave on those you meet. Be memorable, deliver on your promises and become the master of your trade. This is what you will become known for.

5. Smart Collaborator – work out who you need to engage and team up with. Alliances and partnerships are a critical part of the Smart Operators DNA.

6. Smart Communicator – master the art of getting messages across, think win-win and live in the world of your audience. Clarity and concise messages that considers both your needs and those of others lead to positive relationships that go somewhere.

7. Smart Connector – work out a plan for finding, reaching and locking into to those individuals and organisations that are important to your personal progression. The connectors and influencers could include suppliers, banks, associates, partners, customers, other departments.

Practice makes perfect, another cliché that I hate, but its true. As Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours to become successful, so that means blood, sweat and tears, I still don’t think there are any short cuts to getting want you want. A combination of being really good at what you love doing, combined with taking ownership of your life fused with determination and persistence help pave the way forward. The Smart Operator Mindset is a framework for you to hang your thinking on.


High Growth Companies – “Sell the Love”


Yesterday morning I spoke to a fantastic group of ambitious high growth SMEs. The theme was how do growth businesses embrace a winning approach to selling. My aim was to dispel some of the myths that go with this notoriously challenging dimension of business growth. Other key messages included, superior and sustained sales growth is achieved when there is clarity in the business model, strong team ethos, robust processes and systems linked to clearly differentiated propositions.

We also discussed what makes great selling at the coal face. When you love, believe in and are passionate about what you are offering it creates an energy and customers will very often tune into messages at an emotional level. If you don’t love what you are offering don’t expect the customer to.  Only last week my philosophy of selling from within was summed up wonderfully by a delegate at another event, she said “my best sales performances are when I get the opportunity to just talk about what we do and how we add value”. The era of the hard sell is over, the order of the day is building customer relationships through partnerships and collaboration. It is vital to embrace this mindset when you turn up to your customers. Dont let them think you are only there to flog them something.

High Growth Companies – The Transition Points


I am speaking at an event this morning about high growth and the leadership characteristics that go with driving a company forward. It’s really very interesting that being at the helm of a high growth business is similar yet also very different to that of leading in the corporate world. Having a vision, game plan and great team are common must haves for leaders.

Having said all of that in a growth company the Founder has many more grass-roots issues to consider, ones that in the corporate world are generally looked after by someone else. Starting up and growing a business is a bit like spinning plates. What comes with growth is the Founders need to continuously develop him or herself – quite often they “don’t know what they don’t know”. If the ambition is to grow then the commitment to self development is vital.

What is interesting to observe is the transition points that come with growth, these transition points usually relate to the head count of the business:

Point 1 – Setting up the business is the first transition point, being alone and its all down to you – you make the decisions – so sort yourself out. Self discipline is vital

Point 2 – You start to employ people. You are now responsible for someone else’s life in part. PAYE, HMRC,  employment stuff, rules and regulations start to occupy your time and energy. In many instances this red tape is viewed as non value adding – but you must get it right.

Point 3 – You are heading for 7 employees and the hassle really starts to kick in. The Founder now becomes a social worker. The need for structure organisation and processes becomes a must have.

Point 4 – Leading up to 25 employees. Be careful because the team can rapidly become a mob. Values and a rule book must be established. Devolving responsibilities and letting go to those trusted individuals becomes a necessity. A healthy mix of thinkers, doers, sellers and controllers is vital. A culture is emerging….

Point 5 – Heading for 50 people. This almost becomes a corporate entity, usually what comes with this is size of company is devolved P & L responsibility, tight financial control, lean operations and well embedded systems and process. KPI’s dashboard is paramount (it is at all points) because leakage can happen very easily. The leader now has a very different beast on his/her hands.

So what’s the point – the leadership style at point 1 is very different to that at point 5. Very few individuals commit to the self development necessary to get to point 5. Added to this many don’t want the hassle either. It explains why some 95% of UK business stock has a turnover of less than £5M.




Fear is a major barrier faced by individuals thinking about setting up their own business, unless it can be overcome, progressing an entrepreneurial dream will be difficult.  Dipping into savings, re mortgaging the family home, personal guarantees, going without holidays or giving up a social life is a step too far for many. A foray into the unknown can be a very daunting experience, this means anyone taking the plunge should think very carefully about what the journey of self employment holds. Expect the unexpected is a phrase that so many business owners will relate to. Growing a company inevitably becomes a rollercoaster ride with no stop off point, you are swept along with the momentum that builds when, staff, customers, suppliers and the day-to-day running all demand your attention. Be prepared and aim to minimize all the risks associated with going it alone.

Given the current economic challenges faced throughout the world, entrepreneurship has now become a hot topic for debate. My advice to anyone going down this path is prepare yourself emotionally, mentally and commercially. Head, heart and wallet must be aligned. Once you get this, the rewards can be massive both in financial terms and from a sense of personal fulfillment.

My research shows that successful businesses don’t happen over night, they are the exception rather than the norm. The reality is there is no fast track to success, normally it takes over 10 years to create a properly functioning company. The journey involves navigating the forks in the road, where taking the wrong turning could have potentially disastrous consequences. Building a successful company is a bit like trying to get to heaven, you have to go through purgatory before you get there! It almost seems mandatory to have experienced two major setbacks before you get to the desired destination.

Whilst fear is a very sound reason for not moving forward with an idea, the reality is that focusing too much on this negative emotion and its associated outputs will hinder the ability to progress. Having said that a bit of fear can be also a powerful antidote to complacency. It’s all about getting the balance right.



Authenticity is such a powerful word – just being who we are, not pretending to be something or someone else and just doing what we promise to do.

No one likes a fake as this can deliver very disappointing outcomes. Personally I often question whether I go around with the word MUG stamped across my forehead, why?……. because I always believe what people tell me. If someone says they are going to do something, then why should I believe differently. We can all forget from time to time to do something we promised, I think that’s excusable, to a certain extent. However, every now and then we are let down, worst case ripped off, or left with a feeling of what happened there.

Generally speaking I believe that most people are authentic, thinking otherwise can lead to cynicism, judging others too early and intolerance.

It’s a massive area and so much has been written on the subject, thinkers, philosophers, historians and scientists. As with most things I like to keep things simple – being comfortable in your own skin and who you are is a great place to be – for many it takes a long time to get there. When we align, what we believe with what we do and who we are, then behave in that way – the resultant effect is authenticity.







Goldman Sachs Growth Event – 10,000


I spoke at the MMU/Goldman Sachs event last night and covered what I believe to be the 10 Rules for Growth, here they are:

1.Future Focused – know what you want, business and personally

2.Leadership – continuously learn or the business will leave you behind

3.Build a Great Team – you need thinkers, doers, controllers and sellers

4.A Differentiated Proposition – be clear on what makes you stand out from the crowd

5.Innovation & Creativity – curiosity for exploring new ways of doing things

6.Live in the Customers World – know what they need before they do 

7.Disciplined Systems & Processes – don’t let the wheels come off stay close to KPI’S

8.Life is a Pitch – focus on selling, the lifeblood of entrepreneurship 

9.Having the Right Mindset – its down to you BYC (Believe You Can)

10.Find a Mentor – we all need help, find a companion to support through challenging times

A brilliant initiative, I hope our High Growth Foundation clients take advantage of it.

We Need More Mavericks


This post follows on from blogs I have written over the past few weeks. Mavericks are passionate, focused, determined and  often a bit off the wall; they are catalysts for change in politics, business and society in general. Mavericks exhibit extremely strong views and challenge opponents with an intensity that cuts like a laser beam. They remain strong to their views never waver in the face of adversity – they live by the principle of when the going gets tough the tough get going. Embedded deep within their psyche is the need for justice, truth and change for the better. They must accomplish their mission because its means so much to them.

One of the best accounts of Maverick behaviour I have come across is that of Pedro Zaragoza Orts, the Mayor of Benidorm from 1950 to 1967. He transformed it from a quiet fishing village to a magnet for tourists, it has  become one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe and the basis of an award-winning Granada TV programme.

Zaragoza, sold the idea of economic transformation to the late dictator General Franco, one that would lead to allowing bikinis on the beaches! Even in the face of excommunication from the Pope he helped to make the place attractive to millions of foreign tourists who took package holidays to Benidorm. The resort changed forever, from a small village of 1,700 to a bustling holiday city today of 70,000.  This happened because Zaragoza did not want to see his fellow citizens suffer in the  challenge of economic decline. What an achievement – an individual who was in absolute service of his community.

I want to see more of this character in my beloved Manchester, because it’s lacking, ambassadors such as Sir Howard Bernstein. In my view he has done a brilliant job in changing the economic fortunes of the City. We need more of the same, individuals who are on a mission to change for the better and the greater good – not for their own personal gain or profile. Time for change in Manchester!