Entrepreneurs from across the region shared their experience of how to survive and thrive during the pandemic and beyond as they gathered at Humber Business Week.
Professor David Hall, who describes himself as a “business helper” with a career spanning more than 40 years, brought in proven business leaders to present first-hand case studies on the theme of “succeeding in Chaos – How Entrepreneurs do it”.
Paul Sewell, Chair of Sewell Group and a co-founder of Biz Week, highlighted key entrepreneurial attributes which his business already had in place and which came to the fore when the pandemic hit.
Rob Daysley, Managing Director of Designs Signage Solutions, told of the importance of belief and consistency as he led his team through the challenges.
Entrepreneurs within the audience added their stories of launching businesses, making fundamental changes to the way they work and looking forward to implementing some of the ideas aired at the event.
David said: “I can remember some very hard times such as inflation and the banking crisis but I can never remember as many things coming together at once as we have now.
“It’s almost like a tsunami of things that have hit businesses, and it’s ongoing, but we want to look at the positive side and look at what can be done about it. What are other businesses doing about it that maybe we can take something from? That’s the purpose of this – that maybe people can come away with some ideas and motivation.”
Rob revealed that a request from the NHS to keep a small team together to work on livery for ambulances enabled him to furlough some staff but also keep working, maintain consistency and take the opportunity to think.
He said: “A key element was the unwavering belief that you would get to the other side. You also had to be brutal, honest and make the right decisions for the business. I tried to be consistent in my mood within the business and at the end of the day people understood where I was coming from and the position I was in.
“We are OK now. A friend spoke to me at the beginning of the pandemic about the need to survive, emerge and thrive. We have emerged, we haven’t quite got to thrive yet but it’s coming.”
Rob urged the audience to “get round other people who are in this room, talk to people who are in the same position and understand the challenges we have.”
Paul spoke of the importance of leadership, culture and mindset and of the need for first-rate internal communications.
He said: “We have been on leadership training for 20 years and one thing we did do was promote females to top positions and we really benefited from that during the chaos. If you only get command and control at the top you get passivity lower down and you don’t want that in a crisis.
“You either have a strong culture going into the crisis or you haven’t. You won’t discover it going through there. I was humbled and heartened about the way our people looked after each other – not management looking after them, they looked after each other.
“We made it very personal in the pandemic. I sat and recorded two or three personal messages. People who I knew were living on their own I rang and told them I was more worried about their personal wellbeing than the profitability of the business. Get personal, get it to the team, get it to the whole organisation but tell the truth because people prefer that.
“You get paid to make big decisions and there are bigger decisions in a crisis and chaos than there are when things are going smoothly so don’t procrastinate or disappear under the duvet – make those big decisions.”
From the audience, Sally Wray told how she had only taken over tool and equipment hire specialist GoHire in 2015, expanded in October 2020 with the acquisition of another business which gave her a presence in Grimsby and opened her second Hull branch early in 2021.
Asked by David if she was planning more expansion, Sally replied: “Absolutely! I just really enjoy the chase. It’s quite boring at the moment because we are having a period of consolidation, getting ourselves ready to go. It’s necessary but quite boring.”
Matt Dass, Managing Director of Eon Visual Media, revealed that trusting his workforce delivered significant growth.
He said: “We knew if we could get through the pandemic with healthy people we would be a healthy business. We have now moved everybody who can work from home onto working from home contracts and we have added some flexibility to that.
“It comes down to trust and what we have seen is that our productivity go up considerably. Between both businesses we have grown by 30 per cent over the two years and increased our head count from 85 to 120.”
Martin Lauer, Founder and CEO of The One Point Ltd, said their step change work with David prior to the pandemic left the business well prepared.
He said: “We took the word manager out of the business and instead we have leads of department and a leadership team. Manager suggests someone is coping, and we have leaders at every level.”
Mark and Toni Watson of Key Green Properties said they were impressed by the panel and the contributions from the guests.
Toni said: “Everything they spoke about today can be adapted to any type of business. It was brilliant.
Mark added: “For me it was the transferrable takeaways that are relevant to businesses and personally. How I act in business is similar to how I act as a father. A lot of the things resonated for me and especially getting on with things when the chips are down and your back is against the wall.”
Chris Whitelock, Chairman of Pure Renewables, said he will suggest changes to his business: “It was incredibly helpful. There were some real gems in there which I am definitely going to take back to the senior management team – and rename them senior leadership team!”