Welsh Wisdom For Business Growth – Chris Evans

Learning from those who have already succeeded in business makes a lot of sense. Ignore their pearls of wisdom at your peril.

In this series we gather advice from successful Welsh entrepreneurs, bringing together their advice and opinions, to inspire and guide you to ever-greater business growth.

Sir Chris Evans

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Photo:VisualMedia

Sir Chris Evans made his fortune in bisociences. He was raised in Port Talbot, and set up his first business, Enzymatics, in Cambridge at age 29, selling his marital home to raise the capital needed. 

He went on to found companies including Excalibur, Merlin, Arthurian Life Sciences, Chiroscience, Celsis, Piramed, Vectura and Biovex. These are involved in research, development and investment into medicines, including for the treatment of cancer, retinal and arterial disease. 

Evans was one of the first to conduct stem cell research in 1995. He has built companies worth over £5 billion, employed over 4,000 scientists, advised governments, raised over £1.2bn in investment, and put billions into medicines research.

Evans launched the Life Sciences Hub with the Welsh Government in Cardiff in 2014 https://lshubwales.com/, backed by a £100m fund. The facility brings together investors, businesses and advisers to boost the biosciences sector in Wales. Successes include ReNeuron and Proton Partners.

Business Growth Advice

1. Gain Experience First

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“Go and join someone else’s firm first – and the smaller the better, because they’re the ones filled with perils”.

“It’s no good just being a load of blokes in a room saying ‘let’s go and do this!’. You’ve got to start with the technology and the products”.

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2. Don’t Worry What Others Think
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“Go for it. Better to spend one day as tiger than 100 years as a sheep”.
“The worst thing is you fail. And if you fail, no one’s going to laugh at you, because no one knows who you are, so they don’t care.” 
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3. Listen To Lots Of Feedback

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Don’t be secretive about your idea – get negative and positive feedback, change it, then run with it.

“Always, always focus on what your customer wants, what they really need. Visit them, talk straight and if you blow their socks off you win the contracts and the cash.

“Don’t guess anything. Don’t think you know better than the customer. It worked for me and, thankfully, still does”.

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4. Persuasiveness Is Key

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“Be Creative, Flexible, Think Outside The Box. Display Energy and Positivity”.

“Now is the ideal time to get stuck in as an entrepreneur”.

“Money is waking up again. There’s a huge amount of innovation and invention around the world – there are so many funds now and individuals willing to invest.”

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5. Be Determined
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Chris Evans’ motto is: “There’s always a way!”

“Nobody knows you nor cares, so back yourself and your dream and sell it to investors and sell everything you possibly can to customers”.

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6. Build The Right Team
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Chris Evans has always cited the difficulty in building effective and harmonious, quality management teams. He considers them the single biggest contributor to the success or failure of SME’s.

 

This is an often mentioned issue by leaders, so it is clear that the right board and management team is critical to business growth.

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Quotes by Chris Evans – Sources:
  1. https://businesswales.gov.wales/bigideas/sir-christopher-evans
  2. https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/professor-chris-evans-people-coming-15536353.amp
  3. https://www.cityam.com/1410744139/business-boffin/amp
  4. http://excalibur-group.co.uk/our-people/prof-sir-chris-evans/
  5. https://moneyweek.com/31166/entrepreneurs-my-first-million-sir-christopher-evans-enzymatix-45232/
  6. https://www.walesonline.co.uk/business/business-news/how-set-up-business-wales-14179163

Welsh Wisdom For Businesses – Douglas & Mary Perkins

Learning from those who have proved their success in business makes a lot of sense.

In this series we gather advice from successful Welsh entrepreneurs, bringing together their quotes and opinions, to inspire and guide you to ever-greater business growth.

Douglas Perkins & Dame Mary Perkins

Doug and Mary PerkinsPhoto: aop.org.uk/ot/industry/high-street/2016/08/02/a-year-of-growth

Doug and Mary Perkins met at Cardiff University, founded Specsavers in 1984 in Guernsey, and gradually opened over 2,000 stores all over the world, to become the biggest global private optician chain.

The company operates as a joint-venture partnership – each Specsavers opticians is a separate legal business, with 50% of shares owned by the Specsavers Optical Group and 50% by the practice partners.

Each practice pays a fee to the Group for services and support such as IT, marketing, operations and retail training. Profits belong to the partners and staff in that store.

Mary sits on the Group board, oversees the Guernsey operation, runs PR, provides the retail know-how and vision.

Doug describes his role as ‘putting the infrastructure round that, and making sure we have done the support and marketing and motivation of people’.

Business Growth Advice

1. Work Hard

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Doug’s upbringing taught him a mantra he still swears by: if you didn’t work, you didn’t get.

“I am well and truly working class. And I’ve used it as an advantage: it gives you extra drive, there’s no doubt about that. When others may have slackened off, I’ve kept with the same work ethic for 50 years and I really enjoy what I do.”  

Mary says ‘We enjoy going to work every day. Just because we are of retirement age doesn’t mean we should stop doing what we love.’Helpful Resources:

2. Build A Family Values Culture

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Doug says “I’m not working for next year’s results like most people on the stock exchange, watching the share price bob up and down – that doesn’t interest me at all. My shareholders are out there on the shop floor.”

“That’s one of the reasons why we’ve never gone on the stock exchange, because then you would spend half your time talking to institutional shareholders”.

Mary believes the culture of the business – “still a private company with family values” – has been integral to its success.

With over 30,000 staff and a total turnover of £2.61 billion, Specsavers is a huge business, yet retains the feel of a family firm, or as Mary calls it “a family business with thousands of family members”.

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3. Focus On The Customer

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“Being working class gives you a work ethic but it also allows you to identify, always, with the importance of the customer, young and old, rich and poor,” says Doug.

Mary adds “I never lose sight of the customers. We wouldn’t have a business if it wasn’t for them, so they… are my best friends, the most important people in my life.”

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Specsavers has achieved growth year after year. It has never closed a store, has no loans or outside investment. This is nothing to do with luck or timing, insists Mary, but the result of “careful appraisal of everything”.

Specsavers rigorously researches locations and partners, and is closely involved with the running of each store.

“A board member meets with all the opticians in every country every eight weeks…. It’s not all done from behind a desk, we’re very much involved at the sharp end.”

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5. Nurture Community Relationships

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The Specsavers joint venture structure encourages opticians to build engagement in their own patch.

Doug explains: “Reputation is ever more important with the new media around. Companies should stay close to their customers and be part of their communities.”

He warns the internet has increased customer expectations “Customers are searching for more value – for more for less. They’re more demanding, and more knowledgeable, using the internet to find out things for themselves, and they want better service. So they need to be told why they should spend money with you.”

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6. Stick To The Knitting

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Mary’s famous phrase is “Stick to the knitting”, which emphasises the importantance of sticking to core activities that mesh with your existing skills and customer base.

Specsavers have kept growth at a steady and manageable rate. A common cause of failure, she says, is “trying to run before walking, trying to get big in a hurry – there’s no need to do that”.

She warns against being too thinly spread, and losing culture and values when expanding into other markets.

“I think entrepreneurs who want to grow a business have to think really hard about whether they want to add on another country, or whether they should be strengthening what they’ve got.”

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7. Different Growth Stages Need Different People

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Growing a business necessitates some ruthless decisions, and involves difficult conversations.

“We started with generalists, we could all do a bit of everything. Then there comes a stage when you need specialists – a marketing director and so on.

Later when you go out to different countries, you need global experience.

So there are times when you have to say goodbye to someone… The people who start the business with you are not always the people you need as you get bigger.”

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Welsh Wisdom For Business Growth – Henry Engelhardt

How can we not learn from those who have already been there, done that and got the all the T-shirts in business?

In this series we gather advice from successful Welsh entrepreneurs, bringing together their quotes and opinions, to inspire and guide you to ever-greater business growth.

Henry Engelhardt 

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Photo Credit: Admiral

Although not originally from Wales (born in Chicago), Henry Engelhardt deserves a place in our series due to the outstanding work he has done here, and the fact he continues to live in Cardiff.

After studying journalism, working as a Credit Exchange trader, travelling around Asia, completing an MBA, moving to the UK, and becoming a management consultant, Engelhardt moved into car insurance at Churchill before launching Admiral in 1993 in Cardiff.

He later created the UK’s first insurance comparison website, Confused.com.

Wales’ only FTSE 100 company, employing over 7,000 people globally, Admiral has been recognised for 19 years as one of the best big companies to work for, in the prestigious Sunday Times Best Company to Work For Awards. 

Henry himself also won the Best Leader for three years in a row.

He stepped down as CEO in 2016, but still works part-time in a senior management mentoring and recruiting role.

Business Growth Advice

1. Good Company Culture Involves Lots Of Actions

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“A good strong culture is not one item. It’s not about taking everyone skiing for a week and everyone says ‘what a great culture’.

It’s a lot of people doing a lot of different things to ensure there is good communication, people are treated with respect and fairly, that the rewards are appropriate and we help inspire people.”

All staff automatically get shares after working at Admiral for a year.

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2. Capture And Act On Employee Feedback

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“We measure everything. From systematically collecting information about how new employees imagine a great workplace to how many employees bring children to the Christmas party”

Engelhardt read every description of a great workplace from new employees, and met every employee face to face to explain the Admiral culture.   

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3. If People Like What They Do, They’ll Do It Better

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“This means we go out of our way to make working for Admiral as rewarding and enjoyable as possible. By creating this atmosphere we believe our staff will give our customers the best possible service and the business can continue to be a success”.

“The firm has been built around job satisfaction, with the founders giving each member of staff a piece of a jigsaw during their induction, in the hope of reminding them of their role in the firm.”

Admiral also has a “ministry of fun” that organises workplace games.

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4. The Internet Is An Irresistible Force

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“Young people globally buy insurance online”.

Convenience, price and speed have meant we have seen sales of online non-food items continue to increase.

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5. Capture And Act On Customer Feedback

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“If we didn’t have any customers, how many people would we employ”?

“Questions, comments, indignant remarks”?

“Communication, communication, communication. You can almost never over-communicate”.

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6. The Power Of The Team Is Invariably Greater Than The Power Of Any Single Individual

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“No individual makes the puzzle. We all work together, that’s how we see the big picture”.

We want people who WANT to work here”.

“When you get the most from your potential you usually feel better, about yourself, your job and you usually get the most reward as well”.

“Have fun, satisfy customers, make money. Ask yourself: what are YOU doing to make the most of your talent”?

“People make the difference. YOU make the difference. YOU are the people who will make this company great”.

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7. The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good

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This quote is attributed to Voltaire as  “The best is the enemy of the good”. Also Confucius said “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without”.

We must learn to balance our desire for perfection against becoming trapped in continued reworkings of projects, leading to diminishing returns.

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8. Always Take Lunch

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Whilst it is not easy to consistently make time for a lunch break, it’s essential both for employee health and improved productivity. 

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