John Sutcliffe – The Accountant Entrepreneur
The event began with an introduction from Sophie Conboy talking about the benefits of membership of Connect Yorkshire, and introducing our new South Yorkshire recruitment Partner, Glu Recruit.
In the beginning
John began by explaining his background, and how he started by working in a bank before finding it boring and then taking some time out and going to University.
Having completed his accounting exams he began working at Touche Ross, which is now part of Deloitte.
He then came back to Leeds, and by the age of 28 was the FD of a PLC.
Roles and relationships
John then spent time working for Abbeycrest helping turn this from a £7m turnover business to a £60m business within 3 years. As part of this John helped to off-shore much of the supply chain to the Far East.
After this he joined Town Centre Securities whose main asset was the Merrion Centre. It was during this role that John learnt the benefits of building a strong relationship with your bank.
Then in 2006 John joined Henry Boot PLC.
John explained that Henry Boot isn’t a short-term business, with a number of projects being a long-term burn before any profits are actually seen, and that housing, logistics and commercial premises are its key areas at present.
There has been a lot of work to de-risk their construction and plant-hire arms, mainly by managing the flow of cash effectively.
As an organisation Henry Boot is 50% still owned by the Boot family and 50% owned by the public.
He explained that as a business they can only do what they do, and that the most important thing is that people need to have confidence in them to deliver.
In 2016 John became the CEO and explained some of his key lessons he’s learned so far:
- Never dis your own business
- Off-shoring isn’t always the answer
- Never trust the political system
- Develop great relationships with your funders
- Always have something in a deal, you only get one chance to build a relationship
Tips to take things forwards
His key tips for businesses are:
- Reputation is the only thing you can take with you
- A little humility goes a long way
- Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas, so listen to every idea
- Under promise and over deliver
- Always tell it like it is and never cover up
- Build a long term business whilst trying to read the markets
- Have some spare cash and don’t try and grow too big too quickly
When it came to managing cash he had a keen focus on not borrowing too much, even though he could do and treating the bank like a shadow Director even if they don’t know it, ensuring they know as much about the business as you can tell them, as for them it’s about managing their risk, as in the end they always ask for the money back, so you need a plan B for when they do.
Becoming a CEO
On becoming a CEO John explained that when he took up the position he felt the weight of expectation and the concerns of staff on his shoulders, as well as having the pressure to deliver improving results in a business which is over 130 years old.
To do this he began looking at the vision, values and culture of the organisation and worked with staff from all areas of the business at all levels to ensure these values were instilled in what is known as the ‘Henry Boot Way’.
The Henry Boot Way
A key learn for John was understanding the intellectual property he had in the business, ‘the ideas the people have’, and how these can be used to help the organisation grow, and it was these ideas which created the values, with these coming from all staff, and not just the senior team.
The values are those which are important to the business and its staff.
To manage the business there is a board as is dictated for a PLC, and there is also an operational board which complement each other.
When discussing NEDs John feels these need to complement your business overall. These should be chosen carefully and need to be able to support you, helping to focus on strategy and risk mitigation.
The values need to feed into the appraisals, and most importantly for John, the values shouldn’t be a mantra holding staff to account, but have to be lived by all from the Board room to the shop floor.