Sean started by asking the panel about their journeys in business.
Rana was a chemist by training and in 2007 started using mannequins to sell her own clothes. She couldn’t find a mid-priced mannequin, so sourced some from China and started selling them under the name of “Dazzling Dummies” from her garage, that was when I met Rana for the first time. She then expanded into other shop fittings; Rana told the rest of her story at our Leeds Masterclass in July.
Michael Hughes admitted rather reluctantly that he trained as an accountant, and did a variety of corporate finance jobs before he became CEO of Hesco Bastion. Hesco Bastion was started by Jimi Haselden, a Yorkshire coal miner, who supplied concrete barriers to the US and UK military; they were used to build Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. Jimi got the sales up to approx £120m before he suffered a fatal accident. At about the same time, the patent on the product had expired and Obama started withdrawing troops. Turnover sank to £30m. Michael was asked to come and help; he made half the staff redundant. Lesson: Cut deeper than you need and recruit new people not stuck with what had gone before. Eventually Michael got sales up to £80m by diversifying into connected products. They bought a hard armour business in the US where sales were $1m and now are $15m.
Gez Walsh’s Innergy group is now Calor Gas’ biggest distributor in the UK. Gez is co-founder, Managing Director and sole shareholder of innergy Group Ltd. With their Head Office in Leeds and additional depots in Dewsbury, Castleford and Harrogate, innergy supply over 5000 commercial customers across Yorkshire and the North East. A new division, supplying dispense gases to the drinks and hospitality industry is enjoying rapid growth.
innergy have made seven acquisitions to date with more in the pipeline and aim to have turnover of £10 million by 2021.
How important is Culture?
Rana – You need to change and adapt as you grow. Look for people who like change. Branding is very important. Rana has her staff training in the ‘Monster Way’.
Gez – Not everyone needs to change His customers like the same driver delivering their fuel on time; most resistance to change is when he buys a small business, he generally loses 50% of staff. The culture is set by people in the business; no bad eggs, no shouting, can’t be led by price, it must be by service.
Rana – Monster Group have 2 staff members responsible for the culture of the company which includes great training; warehouse people are more negative than office staff.
Michael – new staff to be interviewed by 2 or 3 different people. Throw in different questions to dig out their attitude. Gut feeling is important.
Are Entrepreneurs Born or Bred?
Rana – two parts: anyone can learn systems, a/cs etc. 2nd part is tenacity and drive, determination to succeed.
Gez – bring in better people than yourself. You are born to be an entrepreneur. Admit mistakes and be honest with customers.
Michael – entrepreneurs are risk takers. Get good advice, but remember you don’t have to follow it!
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