You’ve probably seen a lot of Michelle Mone recently. Her much publicised separation from her husband after a long term marriage and the subsequent discovery of an affair between her husband and one of her most trusted members of staff have been splashed all over the tabloids – difficult, yet defining times.
She delivered a keynote at yesterday’s Talk of Manchester conference on how she took her brand of women’s bra’s from an idea she had whilst working for an alcoholic drinks company, through to one of the most successful global brands in its sector – Ultimo.
A great speaker connects with their audience, is personable and let’s their personality shine through.
There can’t have been a single person in the room yesterday that wouldn’t have failed to warm to Michelle. She’s very pretty, funny, oozing charisma, she showed her product off to it’s full potential via a stunning outfit, is clearly driven and very accomplished in telling her story. And it’s a really inspiring story, which I’m not going to re-cap in detail - go see her speak, but I would like to share some of the key lessons I picked up from Michelle’s talk.
Ten Lessons from Entrepreneur – Michelle Mone
- “Every day is a school day” – you can learn something new from every experience, every day.
- Her biggest self-confessed weakness is the numbers/finances and she just has a great team around her to do that whilst she takes care of the product innovation and marketing. This is all about playing to your strengths.
- Think small when thinking big. She burst onto the scene and generated £62m of press coverge with a £500 PR stunt outside Selfridges when first launching the brand. She continues to think in this way, pushing people to be more creative, rather than assume there will always be a big budget.
- She sleeps for four hours a night and is always on the go. You can see the raw energy when she speaks. She comes across as calm and collected, however you can see a steely determination to get things done.
- She has a list of objectives. A small notebook in her bag carries her short and long term objectives. These are reviewed every day for her to stay focussed.
- Her biggest lesson was being taken for £1.6M by an overseas business partner. Minutes away from being foreclosed by the bank, she negotiated a re-financing package with HSBC which saw her overcome the adversity and go on to global success. She cites this as one of her most difficult periods, but one in which she learned a lot as is often the case with adversity.
- She is about to launch a new spray tan product called UTAN. When you’ve set up a business with all the right channels of distribution, look for other product you can push down that pipe. Next logical step for the brand is in complementary goods, expect to see them in the shops soon.
- She is a big fan of innovation. Doing things which others say, can’t or shouldn’t be done. Michelle is constantly looking for ways to create new products or do things better. Exactly as it should be.
- Michelle always set challenging goals for herself. When joining a drinks manufacturer as an adminstrator, she set her sets on running the entire Scottish operation within three years, she achieved it in eighteen months. Being the best you can be is always about pushing your potential.
- She created her own opportunities. Speculatively sending bra’s out to 100 top stylists in the world. The Ultimo bra was worn by Julia Roberts in the film Erin Brockovich, without Michelle’s knowledge. This led to the bra getting huge international exposure and a new American market was opened up.
Summing It Up
Michelle Mone is a very driven person, hugely successful, with a real sense for business. It’s the second time I’ve seen her tell the MJM story and for the second time I was really impressed by her, her style and her achievements.
My audience question was “When will we see Ultimo with an underwear range for men” – M&S have dominated the sector for years, so perhaps its time for a breath of fresh air and some uplift in the gentlemans department. Watch this space!
The most important lesson I think is this. Michelle has got where she has got through hard graft and hard graft alone. No reality TV show, no leg up, no silver spoon. She set her sights high and set off – that’s what I liked most about her and that should be your “uplifting” moment, along with a decent Ultimo bra if required
“My greatest regret, turning down a stake in Manchester United Football club for £250,000.” A lifelong fan of the club, Fred Done, of bookmaking giant Betfred confessed to this during an interesting one to one interview with Insider NW Editor – Michael Taylor – in Manchester on Monday night. The Leaders dinner, an annual affair which brings together around one hundred and fifty leaders of regional businesses, is an event I enjoy each year. Informal with a great audience of CEO level attendees.
Done, looking much younger than his age (mid sixties), spoke of the growth of the Betfred empire, which now has a turnover of £3.5bn+ via its network of 1350 sites. He’s been in the betting game over fifty years, starting when he was just fifteen and now sitting on an enormous betting empire, including the recent acquisition of the Tote.
There’s a lot to appreciate about the Done brothers. They started with nothing and have gone on to own multiple successful businesses in differing sectors. Fred, is a really ordinary guy. He spoke very plainly about his business, raising finance, the Tote acquisition and lessons learned. There was no corporate speak, citing “top hats vs. flat caps” as one of his observations of the political nature of the Tote acquisition. Here are some bullets I took from the interview: -
- The brand Betfred came out of a brainstorming session. They got an employee to design the logo. He compared that to the £5M the Tote spent on branding with an agency.
- Fred has “no plans” to retire.
- Bet365 is a business who he admires and feels is the industry benchmark for on-line gaming.
- Their on-line gambling business is growing at 80%+ CAGR. Staff are based in Gibraltar due to taxation. He said he would move the staff to the UK tomorrow if the tax environment for a global on-line gaming business were right.
- Money is out there for borrowing. But you must prove your case.
- The journey to acquire the Tote took around 7 years from first idea to deal conclusion. It took a huge amount of effort, advisory fees and political lobbying.
- Their initial valuation for the Tote was £150M. Betfred eventually paid £265m. He felt that profits could be increased by at least £25M per annum with liberated staff and more business focus, so was happy to pay the higher price.
- A lesson learned from earlier in his career was that he wasn’t aggressive enough and too parochial. If he wasn’t sure, he walked away from a deal. Now he says “If in doubt, do it!”
- He feels as ambitious now, as he did as a 21 year old and success for him in the next phase of his career is to make the Tote ” a business that I’m proud of.”
The Done brothers are highly influential in the region. Fred is passionate about young new start businesses and has backed many, aswell as investing group spend in the region wherever possible. His brother Peter, who runs an employment law and health and safety business called Peninsula, is very much part of the business too. They are busy building a conglomerate of businesses.
If I were a betting man, I think that would be “odds-on” bet for great success. Excellent fellow, excellent business, excellent evening
Senior Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer of IBM – Mark Loughbridge – visited Manchester last week to deliver a lecture at the business school about IBM and their 100 year journey from a small punchcard company to global giant. In an hour long talk, he covered the four phases of IBM’s existence, including the disastrous imploding which saw their share price collapse between 1973-1993 as the company lost it’s way and drifted from its core competency, losing $16bn in 3 year period at one point.
Compare that with now and IBM is unrecognisable. They totally turned the business around and made an astonishing 125 acquisitions from 2000 onwards, totalling $33bn, quite a story. Highly articulate money man – Loughbridge, 57 – lived through all of this. Joining IBM in 1977, he now has over 11,000 financial people reporting into him across the globe.
A few things stood out for me from the lecture, which I think are worthy of note: -
- Between 1951-1972, what he described as “The System/360″ years, the then president discontinued every single product line they owned and threw an incredible amount of money at product development. During this period, they spent as much on R&D as the American government did putting the Apollo space rocket on the moon. After a period of re-consolidation, IBM came back stronger and went on to grow at 20% CAGR.
- When they had their bad times, it was because the company launched into so many non-core areas, in so many countries, they lost the DNA of the businesss. Son of the founder – Thomas J. Watson Jr – was quoted as saying “It’s harder to keep a business great, than it is to build it.” This took a massive amount of energy to turn round and at times the business came close to running out of cash. A far cry from the hugely profitable business it is now with $47bm a year in gross margins alone.
- They achieved the turnaround by jettisoning low margin, non-core businesses and launched themselves into the services/consulting sector, focusing on performance, information and content. They acquired buinesses with high margin potential and proprietary technology, improving productivity and margin as they consolidated them into the group. IBM now employees over 420,000 people – some wage bill that must be.
It’s a fascinating story of a business that grew and grew and grew, had a major period of drifting in the wilderness which nearly bought it to bankruptcy, which turned itself round to become a huge global organisation with massive profits. There’s some lessons there: -
- Sometimes you have to be bold, to stay relevant. Discontinuing every product they produced was a massive gamble or calculated risk? Looking back, their CEO was a visionary, he studied what he felt the future might look like and got the business ready for it. What’s the future for your business/category/space?
- Big decisions need implementing. Jettisoning the low margin businesses, cost a lot of money and time, however they had to cut them loose to grow their profitability. Think long term, don’t wed yourself to something because it has been great in the past. If you decide to do something big, do it.
- They standardised quickly. Using the same language for financial reporting, sales reporting and group KPI’s. It was “my way or the highway” when it came to implementing reporting. Those that resisted were quickly exited in favour of progress. Time was against them, they had a sense of urgency to save IBM in the dark days. What could you do to standardise more and get a common language going in your business as you grow.
- They dealt with the brutal truth. Read Jim Collins book “Good to Great” and you’ll see the importance of doing that.
- They had a strong vision of the future. Loughbridge put up some interesting charts which they used with investors, to give clarity as to their future plans and reasons for acquisitions. Many of those reached out over ten years. It’s important to financially plan, to know what course you’re ultimately sailing.
It was an hour well invested. Some good lessons and a great reminder that even big businesses get it wrong. The trick is, recognising it and pulling it back.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a private dinner with Dr. Andrew Sentance - who sits on the Bank of Englands monetary policy committee (MPC) – on a visit he made to Manchester earlier this week.
Meeting business leaders as part of his visit to the North West, he was interested to understand feedback about life on the street and hear directly how we felt the economy was doing, our outlook and perspective for the future.
Articulate and brainy (why wouldn’t he be with a name like Sentance), he opened with a macro view on the global and UK economies. I’ve captured some of his key commentary in no particular order: -
- Commodity pricing remains a key issue (oil+gas).
- Interest rates do have to go up soon and “how to deploy the exit strategy” remains the key consideration without damage to the economy. Perhaps in steps of 0.25%, travelling to 1% sometime over the next 12 months.
- The world is truly globalised now and it is difficult to act independently with so many chain reactions now built into the system.
- UK is in a recovery phase (as detailed by yesterday’s 0.5% rise in GDP) however the recovery is at different speeds, in different sectors.
- The 2.5% VAT rise is equal to a 1% reduction in wallet spend for the average consumer.
- Inflation remains a key long term concern for the economy.
- Exports continue to be in good shape with the weak £. However, he did ask the views of the group about if the pound went up to the 1.25-1.30 range, would we see that as “damaging” – conclusion was no.
- Wage settlements continue to be inconsistent across sectors. Some businesses opting to not offer increases, others awarding at RPI/CPI rate (up to 5%).
I asked whether the MPC took into account “natural disasters” in their forecasting. It’s become clear now that a great deal of worldwide production is going to be impacted due to a lack of things following the disaster in Japan, such as micro-chips. This inevitably may lead to a shortage of some goods in developed economies and therefore a potential to impact growth. Sentace said the short supply may push prices up, therefore lifting selling prices, so my advice is ”buy it now” – for anything electronic!!
It also became apparent as there were a few businesses there which sold multi-nationally, that production by some major brands for developed economies is being capped in favour of developing economies like Russia, India and China (where there is a huge appetite for western goods and brands). This is impacting on some of these goods entering the European supply chain. For example, I didn’t realise that there was a shortage of pigment which car manufacturers use for painting cars, seems that one luxury car brand could only supply their cars in white for the forseeable future. Interesting thought (guess what colour my new car is – that explains a lot).
It’s good to get these “think tank types” out. Hearing real feedback from real businesses. Having debate. Listening to opinion and it’s a real value to meet other businesses from non-competing sectors to hear their view of the economy. In a “sentance” – well worth the time investment.
Speaking to a Treasury Select Committee on Monday, Barclays CEO – Bob Diamond remarked “The big banks need to stop apologising for mistakes which led to the global financial crisis.” I’m sure the two thousand or so workers from Manchester City Council who have today learned that they are to lose their jobs, totally agree. “They’ve said sorry, so why should we be bitter?” That makes it alright, an apology. Not! Perhaps Mr Diamond might treat them all to a small drink up with his reputed £8M bonus that he is set to receive this year.
In a way, the people I don’t feel need to apologise for the banks behaviour are the thousands of bank workers in branches, customer support centres and campuses across the UK. They are having to be the front end to the bitterness that many will foster for a long time, particularly those affected by job losses. It’s the City boys where the blame firmly lies, many of them still sitting on the millions they made selling toxic debt to each other in the merry go round of hysteria. Anyway, not planing to rant, wanted to quickly talk about the idea of the “jobless economy.”
With the public sector reducing headcount, clearly the private sector needs to grow to boost the economy. Many businesses, having laid people off or re-organised, may well be reluctant to take new headcount on in the short term, opting to do more with less, in case there are any more – ahem – surprises. 2011 will be the year, where nervousness will exist in all areas of the economy. Macro level forecasts take time to kick in. So, whilst the public sector and related private sector companies with high public sector dependency make short term cuts, the private sector will be looking for new business, whether that be export or home market.
This transformation of growing new business in new markets won’t happen overnight. New strategies need to be implemented, sales cycles need to be gone through, prosepcting, meetings, proposals, further meetings etc. So, 2011 may well be a time where business does more with less. Sweating assets (human and other) will be where it’s at, so whilst the economy may grow slowly, the number of jobs may not follow in the usual cycle. Hence, we may well remember 2011 as the year of the jobless economy. Let’s hope not.
What can business do to contribute to the big society ideal formed by the government? That was the main question primed towards a small audience of business leaders by Business In The Community at an event in Manchester tonight. I hadn’t really given it much thought previously, however in the surroundings of Manchester Business School and in the company of some bright minds we attempted to try and identify just some of the facilitators and barriers.
What’s obvious is that there are no easy answers or quick fixes. There is a massive societal shift needed. Who will move first? Is competition too fierce in the global economy now for us to adopt these holistic ideals? There were some interesting points made, however it was clear that it won’t be easy to get quick traction. Nevertheless, here’s a few of the points I thought relevant (in no particular order).
- Will people be prepared to work less hours for less pay to see more people in employment? - Tough one and the government might not like the answer. We live in an age of consumption. Of acquiring things. My device is better than your device. My TV is bigger than your TV. Will people be prepared to trade down for the bigger good?
- There’s no financial incentive. You really want to motivate a businessperson to get involved, show them an opportunity, not a draw on their time.
- The bulk of business people represented on panels like this are normally large and successful. You only needed to see the audience in the room tonight. All Gen X. Board Directors in successful businesses. You wont hear the view of SME’s who make up 99.8% of business. They are the ones you need engaged too as they employ half the UK workforce and can be more inciteful as to the conditions they would need to donate their time.
- If the Big society makes us globally uncompetitive, forget it. Harsh, however social investments rely on economic prosperity, a fine balance.
- Do Generation Y care like Generation X do? Generation Y (digital natives) have a completely different outlook on life. They are pursuing fame and instant fortune (bit stereotypical I know), however this may get in the way of their ambitions. You have to incentivise at all levels to get change happening.
- You need some new innovation in there somewhere. Salami slicing public sector expenditure and then shifting the burden to business, just isn’t on. We all know the public sector is hugely inefficient in many areas. Why not incentivise private sector business to drive savings and efficiency in public sector?
- Get local government to spend more of their grant with local businesses, not on national contracts. They can then insist on some of the big society ideals as part of the supply agreement. Seen it done already and it works.
- The future isn’t public or private. It’s a fusion of both in the big society. A fusion of Enterprise. Rip down the barriers to enterprise. Make public sector procurement easier. Making the planning process easier for businesses to build the premises they need. By expanding, there will be more jobs in the economy. Carving up current jobs – in my view – just isn’t the answer.
- Do people have the time for all this? People are pressured. T.A.T. rules. Time is at a premium. Work/Life blend is poor.
I’m not negative about it, just realistic. I’d love to see a society, which is more like Japan for example. Purposeful. Respectful. More societal in its outlook. However, people will need to see quick and early wins for this one to make it’s way out of the manifesto and into everyday practice. It’s a big job, however a worthy aim. What do you think?
“Maybe what got us here, may not get us there,” proclaimed Manchester City Football Club Chief Executive – Garry Cook – at their inaugral City Business Leaders breakfast at the City of Manchester Stadium this morning. Describing the process of change that the club has undergone, the club has benefitted from massive investment from its Abu Dhabi owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and embarked on a programme of massive investment on and off the pitch.
Addressing an audience of around eighty business leaders, with a common interest in that they are all City fans, Cook went on to talk about the numbers, the culture change they have undergone, their global ambition and their “fix, build and grow” mode since being acquired in September 2008. Flanked by CFO – Graham Wallis – who eloquently explained the massive investment phase of their cycle (hence huge annual losses of circa £121.3M), both executives went to great lengths to explain that this was part of the plan. I did smile when Graham Wallis described them as being “virtually debt free,” (the club has long term commercial bank debt of £37M, not insignificant to many businesses), however in context of the fact that their owner has converted £305M of debt into equity, I guess it’s all relative.
What I was most interested in was the “City Code” guide that Cook introduced. This is a 120 page document describing in great detail, standards of behaviour that they expect all employees of the club – including players – to ahdere to. I couldn’t help but feel that this is a leadership challenge in the making. Wayne Rooneys recent off-field antics and other Premier league players would challenge any code of conduct I’ve ever seen and from a leadership point of view, and if the code isn’t rigorously applied at all levels, then they are simply words in a book, consistency counts in the leadership business. A brave move.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t fail to be impressed by Cook today. He was very articulate and I could see that he is implementing a clear vision for the club, “one house of football” was mentioned a number of times. Brand was aligned to values and carried through rigorously to the mulitple platforms they market via. There is a clear expectation of where and how they want to grow and I liked his description of them being in the “talent management” business, Cooks years at Nike clearly coming to bear there. There must be a lot of pressure fulfulling the expectations of a fabulously wealthy owner, a fanbase with decades of expectation which previously have been unfulfilled and a workforce witnessing dramatic change.
Connecting business leaders within the fan base is a good idea, having Marco Pierre White do the breakfast is an even better idea and a great way to guarantee bums on seats, friends in high places. For the next event (assuming there is one), I’d issue attendee lists so that you could peruse who was there, issue name badges and start a Linkedin group for the invitees to really start connecting up before they come. Still, was nice to be invited and was well worth the time to hear Gary share his vision.
Insider Magazine Editor – Michael Taylor - gave me the opportunity to write a blog for their readership following the IoD Award win last week. Here’s what I had to say: -
“Against a backdrop of impending public sector cuts, and the impact that they may have on the wider regional economy, it’s easy for business leaders to get into a negative mindset and prepare for the future by salami slicing costs rather than looking ahead more positively.
When times are tough, leaders can become distracted. There’s a lot of pressure out there. Too much pressure leads to stress; too little, to boredom. Optimum pressure leads to optimum output, any sportsperson or psychologist will tell you that.
Salami slicing leads to too much pressure because everyone becomes focused on cutting what exists today, rather than doing something new like re-inventing a process, challenging your business model or looking outside of your industry convention. The flame of innovation dims. Research and development is cut, sustainable investment is cut, and hope is cut.
We need continued investment and good leadership in the private sector over the coming years. The regional and UK economy needs us to grow, take up the slack, keep things afloat. Salami slicing won’t lead to growth. It’s about finding new customers, new markets and coming up with new ideas. Having a decent plan A and B, being positive, but realistic.
By preserving time to think, by challenging your people with your problems, by living your values and creating a little space, innovation can glow brightly and provide you with new or renewed direction. The results could be far greater than any deep cut. At Brother, we call this 141 per cent – thinking bigger and bolder than the competition.
Creativity, leadership, knowledge and talent management, innovation and belief are just some of the key ingredients needed to keep one step ahead. For me it’s about identifying your critical capabilities (your major strengths) and your competitors’ critical vulnerabilities (their major weaknesses), then deploying your main effort to exploit both. Marry that with a clear vision, some decent intelligence and the right people (in the right seats) and you’ve got a good chance of doing something special.
So, if you’re going to cut anything, cut the amount of time you’re chained to your desk and get out and meet some new people, cut unnecessary processes and release unnecessary pressure, cut ties with unprofitable customers and win some new ones, cut a new plan and go somewhere new and cut yourself a break. Then, we’ll have a fighting chance to take up this slack and get right back on track.”
Was thinking earlier about when I first started out in sales. Just had a mobile phone and an address book. Laptop came after the 3 month trial! Comparing that to now, there is just a huge amount of tools we can use to optimise our working life. Here are the ones that I use most regularly: -
1. MS Excel (the daddy of all things spreadsheety).
2. MS Powerpoint (always been there , still unstable, slowly going to Keynote).
3. MS Outlook (e-mail still the #1 communication tool).
4. Twitter (fast catching up e-mail for instantaneous).
5. Tweetdeck (best app for Twitter).
6. Blogger (hosts my cycling blog).
7. WordPress (hosts this blog).
8. Google (still the best search engine by far).
9. Basecamp (Great cloud based project management tool).
10. Adobe PDF (still the best at minimising documents for sending).
What are yours?
Quite a night, last night. I managed to pick up the Manchester Director of the Year award at the annual Institute of Directors North West dinner, held in Manchester. Around 360 of the great and good in North West business turned out in their best clobber, for a bit of dinner and entertainment.
The competition was really stiff across all the fourteen award categories which you can see here. Some brilliant businesses and brilliant leaders, all well worthy of their place there on the night.
However, a fantastic evening got better as it went on. I also picked up the overall award for North West Director of the Year, which is selected from all the entries, across all the categories, stunned is the only word that comes to mind. It resulted in quite a night of celebration which went on to the early hours, a real career highlight.
Awards like this are fantastic. It would be great if I could split it up like one of those 3D puzzles and give a piece to the brilliant team of people I work with at Brother. Everyone in the business has contributed to help me look good, thanks to you all, you rock.
In addition, there were loads of people I knew in the audience from the Manchester business scene, I was overwhelmed by the fantastic and generous comments I received on the night and the wonderful messges I’ve received today via e-mail and Twitter. The support was terrific and really overwhelming.
In closing, a big thank you to the judges on the night, who chose to get behind someone that runs a big business, rather than a new start entrepreneur who continue to be en vogue. Sometimes I’ve heard people think that running a big business is some easy ride, for some maybe, not for the one I run. We have enormous complexity, a highly demanding marketplace and a high requirement for customer acquisition, so I’m delighted that the judges spotted that and felt it worthy for recognition.