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Our September 2021 South Yorkshire Masterclass was our first Masterclass back in person since March 2020! This was a panel event including two of Yorkshire’s most successful entrepreneurs; Simon Biltcliffe of Webmart and Lisa Pogson of Airmaster Air Conditioning, as well as member of Connect Yorkshire, Jill Wood of Signum Facilities. The event was chaired by Phil Harris from our Investment Manager Partner, Brown Shipley.

The first question was: How has Covid affected you?

Lisa Pogson

Lisa attended a conference in Sweden early on and when most air conditioning work had stopped. But luckily for Airmaster, hospitals were and are our main clients and they still needed servicing. Lisa did a video blog with Simon Biltcliffe which was a real challenge which Simon was a great help with.

Jill Wood

There was still a requirement to comply with the law so had to continually communicate with her team.

Simon Biltcliffe

Webmart lost 80% of forward orders within a week!. We had closed the office early on, it was very strange having no one there. We’ve always been flexible about people working from home so not too much change. We have a new 32yr old MD who furloughed me, I was off work for the first time in 25 years. The team did the heavy lifting intellectually and emotionally, we paid full salaries. We paid all suppliers on 7 days (£1.2m invested in suppliers). We had to broaden our reach with new services eg. website design what can we do differently from everyone else. Simon got into charity work and into politics. We gave the staff a chance to upskill themselves. Many came back with new ideas. Flexible furlough helped but customers want to deal with “their” person.

Lisa Pogson

We’re doing some flexible furlough, lost some staff which was really challenging. Had more Covid in the last 2-5 months than before. We now have 3 eclectic vans as we’re thinking more environmentally.

Jill Wood 

We used furlough and it has transformed the business. It gave us the opportunity to overhaul our systems and review processes. The increase of rules & regulations was a worry for some.

The next question was: Moving on from Covid

Simon Biltcliffe

We’ve been shut for 18 months and we’re reopening our offices later this month. IT people love working from home, back office so so about it, but we’ve always had systems that enable you to work from home. If you can’t trust them to work from home, they shouldn’t be employed in the first place. Young people without their own place find it difficult. We gave each person £500 towards their mental health, we find that younger people talk about it a lot more than our more senior employees. We forced people to take their holidays. 

The Green Agenda – We are rewilding a farm we have owned for 7 yrs. Staff have built 18 new ponds and we’re planting 450,000 trees, 180 solar panels and all company vehicles are electric.

Phil Harris

We find more people that are coming to us are a lot more conscious about their carbon footprint.

Jill Wood

Some staff on furlough had mental difficulties, so an open culture was needed. We’re definitely better now than before Covid, it has allowed us to unpick our business and our systems are much better. I need a break! Covid made you take stock of your life. 

Phil Harris

We had the whole team talking on the phone, just to keep in touch and if they could help in any way. There will be no going back to ‘normal’, as we’ve adapted and changed for the better. Got to keep moving forward and evolving.

Final Question: Where are we going

Phil – Using IT more, as we can now have world wide meetings. Travelling a lot less – Have 4 or 5 old meetings on one video call now. Still do occasional meeting in person.

Lisa – Construction hasn’t changed much, but people are more empathetic.

Jill – Constant review of the business and keep communication open. 

Simon – Why are we in business? Get involved in your clients strategy. Add meaningful outcomes to your work, not just profit.


Nick Butler