Satellite navigation and strategy

29/07/2014

In times of turbulent economic conditions and market uncertainty much of the strategy stuff you read in management text books just does not apply. What I see at the moment is very much a survival approach with long-term strategy not featuring on the agenda of board meetings I attend. (The strategy is actually the tactics). My own research has found that a good proportion of the entrepreneurs who come through challenging phases have faith in what they are trying to achieve and remain firmly fixed on their destination.

They operate a bit like a sat nav system in the car – when we lose our way we take a new path, different road and a detour –  a re calculation of the coordinates eventually put us back on course – we maintain faith in the software to get us there! This is probably a good way to think when things are not going to plan.

We have to deal with the short and immediate term issues without losing sight of the destination, however plotting a new course is vital. This often means putting yourself about in the market, nailing what you already have as well as keeping your eyes open to new ideas, reinvention, diversification and forging new partnerships and relationships to generate new opportunities.

Keep the strategy sat nav on!


Entrepreneurship in the public sector

19/07/2012

This morning I experienced a great example of public sector entrepreneurship. We recently moved to Salford Quays next to Media City (new location of the BBC) – one of the key attractions was to be close to the digital expertise located in the area and indeed the Media department of Salford University. Why? can any business overlook the benefits this new digital age will bring?

All well and good, however business growth only takes place when conversations and personal relationships gather momentum, trust is built and mutual respect results. Critical non essentials such as courtesy, humility and just caring are so often overlooked in the teaching in business schools and the books they encourage us to read.

Back to the point, having been in our new office for only 1 week a call came into us from Salford City Council – Matthew Lynn, one of the Economic Development Officers. Can I come in and talk to you about how we can help? Firstly, I was astounded that they knew we were coming and secondly, today a meeting with Matthew clearly demonstrated:

– Customer focus

– An interest in what we do

– An explanation of what services the Council can offer

– The introductions they can make to partners

– Details of networking opportunities

– Opportunities to work together (win-win)

I was left with an overwhelming sense of entrepreneurial flair and what I call living in the “Customers World”. Top stuff, I was inspired to see that both an individual and the Council had a genuine interest in us. The start of a great relationship (I hope) – who said the public sector is not entrepreneurial!

 

 


Entrepreneurial Learning

29/06/2012

I spoke at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference earlier this week. The theme was entrepreneurial learning in organisations. It was an extremely thought provoking session, that brought together fantastic academic minds on the theme of entrepreneurship.

As a keen observer of entrepreneurial learning and improvement, my view is that the UK economy will grow faster if more effective leaders are created and nurtured. Enterprise policy makers must recognise the importance of bigger thinking and greater ambition – a key component of leadership. Academic enterprise research needs to investigate in greater depth the emotional needs of entrepreneurs – the spirit and mindset. Setting up and growing a business can be extremely demanding. For entrepreneurial leaders balancing personal and commercial risk can be a debilitating experience – we must look at developing practical coping strategies to help leaders overcome the fear often associated with the stages of growth.

From my discussions with participants I was encouraged to hear that softer issues do appear to be attracting more academic interest. Topics such as developing an entrepreneurial mindset, coping, resilience, mental toughness, personal branding and faith must get on the agenda. These are all essential ingredients for leadership success. Practical tools to help entrepreneurs address these areas would be well received within the community – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Entrepreneurs are courageous individuals who cope well with the lonely rollercoaster existence, helping them to live with high pressure moments would be a well-received antidote for those wanting to make a difference. I am extremely excited about the work ISBE is undertaking.


There are good things happening!

15/06/2012

The constant doom and gloom we hear through the media really is not very helpful to the entrepreneur out there trying to build a life from him/herself and family. The reality is for many of us, the Euro crisis and all that other stuff going on does not have a direct impact on the success of our company. You can’t change what going on in world markets, so don’t get drawn into it, focus on the things you can effect.

Live in your own “micro climate” – staff, market, customers, new products, think differently, experiment with new ideas, discover new partnerships, think collaborate!

There are good things going on and despite what the media says there is help for SME’s, the new BIS service – GrowthAccelerator (www.growthaccelerator.com) is a great example of a fantastic service that will help entrepreneurs to build a better future – help for planning and strategy, innovation and getting yourself ready for investment…….

There are good things going on and smart people are doing great things – please can we celebrate a bit more!


Small business owners ‘ready to give up’ (what?)

24/01/2012

This was the headline finding of a report compiled by Aviva and covered in today’s Daily Mail. It went on to read “a quarter of small business owners say the economic outlook is so bleak they would rather return to being an employee”. Given the job I do I am more than aware of the pressures and challenges entrepreneurs face, but why is the media constantly pushing out such bad news.

Negativity of this nature can condition ambitious people to hang up their boots up, we must balance all of this with celebrating the successes of many entrepreneurs who have decided not to participate in recession.

Headlines like this do nothing for the spirit or culture of enterprise. A brighter way of looking at the future is looking at the great successes of the past:

General Electric – formed by Edison when US economy faced collapse.

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

General Motors – went buying spree when the Federal Reserve was approaching melt down

Disney – took off smack bang in the middle of the Great Depression

Microsoft – founded in the middle of a phase of stagflation

CNN – started in a “double dip” recession

Apple– thrived just after the dot-com bubble burst!

These are the messages we should be putting out into the market. One of the key ingredients for business success is the mental toughness of the entrepreneurial team – please can we stop with the doom and gloom – we all know things are tough, stop pushing it in our face. To quote Jim Collins (again) great leaders face the brutal facts but they maintain absolute faith and belief in what they set out to achieve.

Well I am sure Aviva did the research with all best intentions, but this is  my advice to those thinking of packing in:

1. Remember the very reason why you set up on your own

2. Get involved with a network/group and speak to other business owners, ask them for their advice

3. Find a mentor – someone to lean on

4. STOP – take a day off and try to rise above your business situation

5. Surround yourself with positive people

6. Stop listening to enterprising assassins

7. Be aware of negative thinking and reframe with positive thoughts

Challenges are all part of the business growth journey, many of us would be lost without the pain. More success and good news stories PLEASE.


The Manchester Family

19/01/2012

Today’s headlines of the North West Insider Bulletin reads – Leese stresses importance of ‘family’ ties. This was one of the core themes of yesterday’s Manchester Economic Forum. What a great job the Sir’s Howard and Richard have done in placing Manchester as the UK’s second city. The City has a brand that spans every corner of the globe and the investment attracted and regeneration projects completed must be applauded – a fantastic job. The work on the graphene hub also provides bags of excitement for the Region.

My concern lie at the heart of how the Manchester Family can be perceived – can it portray an image of “closed shop”. This particularly relates to business support in the Greater Manchester Region. Every aspect of Manchester is world-class – however its business support infrastructure is outdated and out of touch with the real needs of growth SME’s. The Business Growth Hub needs passionate leadership that reflects the needs of the coal face, not world domination and self interest.

Still some work to be done here!


Our Hi-Tech Future

05/01/2012

This was the title of yesterday’s speech delivered by David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science. It was positive to hear that science and technology lies at the heart of economic growth policy, something which I passionately believe in. Even more encouraging was the recognition that science and the arts are truly complementary. My blog The Enlightened Company (20th February 2011) reflected on this very point, some of the global technology brands of today were formed by fusing the skills of arts and science graduates. It is diversity that drives innovation and hopefully this recommendation will stimulate debate between arts and science faculties, the resultant effect being new possibilities, innovations and products – maybe a Google or Twitter?

The speech also communicated the strength of the UK’s research on the global stage and the fact that we publish more articles per researcher than the US, China, Japan or Germany. Whist this maybe the case, I do seem to recall that we are not up there when it comes to commercialisation of this research. Enhanced entrepreneurial mindset and orientation lies at the core of economic growth fuelled by science and technology focus. Much to be learned from the West Coast of the States.

Science and technological excellence is fine but if the patents, know how and IP end up overseas or sitting on a shelf then it does no good for UK jobs and growth. Greater effort needs to be directed to getting HE to think more about the commercial impact of what they do. It’s not just about spinning out companies but…how do academic staff  gain a better balance of research and selling their knowledge as consultants, attaining greater utilisation of assets that sit idle…… encouraging entrepreneurial thinking of post grads – creating more ideas and mind to market.

The reality is many university professors and academics frown upon enterprising forays and suffocate new possibilities even before they see the light of day.

A greater entrepreneurial culture will be vital to the successful execution of David Willetts’ strategy.


High growth companies – “safety net” required

27/10/2011

As I have said in recent blogs, high growth equals high personal risk. What comes with high risk is the need for a safety net that cushions any potential falls or scary moments encountered along the way. A CEO of one of the North’s leading companies stated this week:

What would have helped early on, would have been investment and advice from another entrepreneur who had already built and sold a business.

The safety net here is very clear – “advice from someone who has been there and done it”. Entrepreneurs need to operate in a safe environment, typically with those who get it! The notion of an entrepreneur being a nut case risking personal assets every day of the week is totally wrong. My experience is that great entrepreneurs embrace strategies that de risk the potential challenges they face (courage is a necessary ingredient because 100% de risk is not possible). Going forward hopefully public sector will roll out support that provides a safety net of been, there done, it operators who can encourage, motivate and help set clear direction. Being able to anticipate the risks and surprises ahead is what the stars of the future need.

My own personal experience of business support in the past has been that it was too light touch, lacking depth and credibility. Often delivered by individuals who had no empathy with a personal/business high growth journey. This must change in the future.


Stimulating Business Innovation – New Economy Working Paper

28/07/2011

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!

 

 

 

 


Downtown – Liverpool Business Awards

23/07/2011

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!