Collaboration is key to competitive advantage

13/07/2012

How times have changed in the past ten years. Companies I would have viewed as major competitors at the turn of 2000 have now become close allies – we are sharing knowledge, IP, business ideas and revenue streams. It strikes me that collaboration is very much embedded within the mindset of the forward thinking organisations I meet on a day-to-day basis. Those that hold their cards too close to their chest will almost certainly miss out on new business and product opportunities. Collaboration can present itself in many formats:

  • Businesses with complementary skills coming together to bid for large contracts – one where the mix of expertise and geographical coverage offers massive benefits to a customer. This can be achieved as a consortium or through what is commonly referred to as a special purpose vehicle (SPV)
  • Companies fusing complimentary products and services to create a new offering – WP did this several years ago, we took creative expertise of a University and combined it with coaching techniques to create the highly successful Winning Pitch TV (WPtv) – a great example of HE working with a SME
  • Euro Garages one of the North’s most successful companies brought together petrol stations with Starbucks and Subway franchises to build a new experience in filling the tank.
  • We see it everyday on the motorways with Starbucks, M & S and other high street chains teaming up with service operators to create a new service station break – this used to be a joke in terms of food quality, now, very different
  • Large pharma companies engaging with smaller niche R & D operators. A much nimbler and cost effective route for multi nationals to build their innovation pipeline

Fundamental to collaboration is a win- win attitude, there has to be a common goal, a shared vision, a sense of trust and purpose, fair commercial gain for both parties. Working as I do everyday with high growth companies, its very clear that those entrepreneurs who think partnership are opening themselves up to so many new possibilities.  Stay awake, think about who you can collaborate with, the only warning is, be sure why you are doing it and what’s in it for both of you!

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Gazelles – past and present (part 2)

02/05/2012

I wrote a blog a week ago that covered Harvey Goldsmith’s view of the Top 10 greatest entrepreneurs past and present (part 1). Here is the final listing from 6 – 10 and the insights I think are important for other ambitious people:

6. Harry Hyams (1928 – ) – a man who changed the face of commercial property. He built Centre Point in the 60’s and left it controversially empty for months. He was a man who got his timing right, stirred things up – a great example of success is often down to luck. Many would say he planned to be “lucky”

7.Bernie Ecclestone (1930-) – grasped the opportunity when he saw it. From selling cars to F1 supremo. The window of opportunity is presented to so many of us but how many grab it when it appears? It often only lasts for a short time. His vision and leadership is an inspiration to us all.

8.William Morris (1834-1896) – crafts and arts specialist who dreamed of improving the quality of life for British workers. He was a highly successful artist whose designs are still around today – the message is? Leaving a legacy and putting something back!

9.Lew Grade (1906 -1998) – a master entrepreneur in the entertainment business. Famous for pushing an idea across the finishing line – how many of us are guilty of losing faith in an idea when the first hurdle presents itself. Faith is such an important part of getting the idea into the market place. Sunday Night at the Palladium and Pink Panther were several of his major accomplishments.

10. Sir Martin Sorrell (1945-) Not had the best of press this week given the big salary. However, so many forget what this man has achieved. In the mid 80’s he bought a little company called Wire & Plastic Products – this became WPP. It emerged as a world-beating communications and advertising business. Annual revenues running into billions and profits approaching £1bn. How many others can say they have done that. Grit and determination are key ingredients of his success. So the press….get off his back, how short people’s memories are!


Gazelles – past and present (part 1)

16/04/2012

There was an excellent article in the Weekend Mail a few weeks ago written by Harvey Goldsmith (entrepreneur and impresario). It catalogued his views on ten of the greatest British Entrepreneurs. I found it to be a smart account of those individuals, past and present business who have  made a profound impact on the UK economy.

The Governments new high growth service targeting gazelle businesses over the coming years will hopefully be the stimulus for creating more of these globally focused organisations. Here is the list and my own view of the insight we can gain from these incredible people:

1.Simon Fuller  – Entertainment Business (1960 -). A man of great vision who sees opportunities grabs them and just gets on with it. Avoids the celebrity limelight a real doer. Stop talking start doing.

2.Chales Dunstone – Mobile phones (1964 -) Carphone warehouse fame, a person with the courage and belief in his business model to take on giants such as BT and Vodaphone. Living proof that a small company can take on a big brand and win. Fortune favours the brave!

3. William Lever (1851 – 1925). The son of a Bolton grocer, with a social conscience. He built Port Sunlight for his employees and Unilever is now one of the biggest companies on the planet. Look after your staff and the rest takes care of itself.

4.John Sainsbury (1844-1928). The core idea that offering a little more quality than your rivals can go a long, long way.

5.Dame Anita Roddick (1942 -2007). Body Shop was set up at a time when more and more chemicals were finding their way into cosmetics and packaging was getting fancier. She swam against the stream and introduced her natural range of products – a global phenomenon building over 2,000 stores worldwide. Dont always follow the pack, have your own mind and think blue ocean

The next five to follow soon.


Discipline must run in parallel with Innovation

19/12/2011

High growth companies are disproportionately innovative to those that are not and whilst I believe creativity is the ultimate source of competitive advantage, I must caveat my views. The importance of embedding a culture to allow free thinking that stimulates new ideas is well documented. However, without control you end up with pet projects, loads of possibilities and hundreds of potential initiatives that absorb time, energy and resource. Large companies have processes to deal with their ideas pipeline, but in smaller high growth businesses the danger is that there is too much innovation and entrepreneurship and not enough control and discipline.

Commercial problems potentially loom when there is too much lateral thinking and lack of order. Jim Collins in Good to Great uses a very powerful phrase – “Disciplined Entrepreneurship”. This embraces the notion of balance – innovative thinking and behaviours being guided within a framework of performance measures and KPI’s.

Too much Discipline – then a disconnection with customers, markets and new possibilities takes place

Too much Entrepreneurial flair – nothing gets done because everyone is bouncing off the walls with great ideas

Successful high growth companies tend to have a disciplined approach to new idea generation and implementation – a form of commercial filter. I often wonder how much smaller high growth companies can teach large corporates about innovative thinking and entrepreneurship. The reverse is also important – how can big companies help ambitious founders gain a better handle on their organisation? Feels like a powerful learning forum!


Global Brands – Did they take part in recession?

30/11/2011

The Autumn statement provided depressing news for many households and entrepreneurs trying to build a future. Running a business is hard enough without listening to Euro crisis problems, poor growth forecasts and a recovery in the dim and distant future. The resultant effect of the Chancellors statement for many will be – baton down the hatches and reduce investment in people development and new ideas. This becomes a self fulling prophecy and usually you get what you think about.

There are always different ways to view the world, we can be a builder or destroyer of our own future. Well my advice is life is too short for two years of life to evaporate, i.e sitting there and waiting for economic recovery to happen, we should embrace a mindset of not taking part in the recession. Scarcity is the mother of innovation and history tells us that some of the most successful brands on the planet started or thrived during recessionary times here are just a few examples:

General Electric – Not only did Thomas Edison set this Company up in the middle of a recession it thrived when the US economy faced collapse.

IBM – Set up in the middle of a US economy slump

General Motors – set up during the US financial crash of 1908 and went on a buying spree when the Federal Reserve was approaching melt down

Disney – really started to take off smack bang in the middle of the Great Depression

Burger King – started just after the Korean war, its founders philosophy being people still need to eat

Microsoft – Started by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in 1975 when the United States was mired in stagflation -the combination of rising unemployment and inflation combined with stagnant GDP

CNN – Started when the Federal Reserve made the decision to aggressively raise interest rates to curb inflation, it caused a “double dip” recession

Apple– Apple got its start in 1975, during another downturn and thrived just after the dot-com bubble burst!

So the message is…Its not all bad news, it’s about having a vision and mindset to create something special and different. Whilst we must avoid putting our head in the sand and thinking all is OK, we must find a balance – place one foot firmly on the accelerator and have the other hovering over the brake!


Coming soon – High Growth Foundation, Silicon Valley

25/10/2011

If the UK is going to become the best place to set up and grow a business then we need to look at great practice. The entrepreneurial capital of the world is the West Coast of the US, Silicon Valley. The UK has the expertise, knowledge, skills and talent to match any part of the world, so what’s holding us back? We need to change our mindset, think big and learn from those parts of the globe that just get on and do it. The High Growth Foundation, founded in the North will lead the charge on encouraging ambitious individuals to release their full potential.

Building on success to date, we will be setting up the HGF in Silicon Valley and encouraging best practice exchange, collaboration and business development. The future of the UK economy depends so heavily on high growth businesses, to get more of them we need a catalyst – hopefully the HGF will demonstrate just what is possible ! Watch this space.

http://www.highgrowthfoundation.co.uk – this Friday


UK Gazelles – Finding it hard to raise cash – why?

20/10/2011

Recent press reports would suggest that our gazelles are finding it harder than other European Countries to raise cash. More than a fifth of companies (many from information and communications technology sectors) failed to get the loan applications approved in recent years. The report which I have yet to find, claims that it provides further evidence of the damaging effects the credit shortage is having on the economy.

Whilst I understand attitudes to funding have changed and the banks have had a severe kicking, I do think we need to look further into the detail. My experience (we have worked with over 3,000 potential high growths!) is that lots of these businesses are just not investment ready and it would be ludicrous to give them cash and indeed subject the founders to PG’s – its for their own good in many instances.

Poorly thought through applications, business models just not viable and inexperienced management teams are also part of the reason for the lack of funds being pushed into the market. Whilst funding is harder to extract, there is cash for well thought through propositions, period. Many of the high growth potential (gazelle types) companies need to be nurtured, mentored and supported – we must look at the quality of the business plans falling onto the desks of VCs and funders, maybe then we would get a better view of the world. My advice to anyone seeking funding is:

1. Can you evidence a viable business model with customers that want to buy what you are offering?

2.Have you got the team in place – thinkers, doers, sellers and controllers

3. Do you have the resources to make it happen and do the financials stack up? More importantly would they stand scrutiny.

4. Can you articulate 1-3 clearly, concisely and convincingly.

If you can’t then dont blame the banks!