Behind every successful scale-up is ambition and dedication

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Every successful scale-up business has a boss with drive and ambition. We meet three bosses who have grown their abilities thanks to investing in developing exceptional leadership skills

Simon Kershaw Managing Director, SK Heating and Cooling, Gloucester

Simon launched his business in 1993, as a 25-year-old self-employed man-witha-van. “I’d worked in the industry for seven years but always wanted to work for myself.

“I wanted my family to have a secure home and it helped that my wife did all the paperwork and accounts, alongside juggling the responsibilities of supporting our young family.

“Now the children have grown up, we want to be recognised as leaders in refrigeration, air conditioning and heating. We want to be recognised as the company to call in Gloucestershire and surrounding counties for delivering a quality job.”

The company has grown significantly. “My wife still supports me and the business in accounts and quality control, but we now employ 40 people and have multiple contractors working for us.”

No one gives you a rule book when starting a business, Simon admitted. “Most grow organically, with reactive rather than proactive management and that is what we were doing.

“But as we got bigger, I found it difficult to delegate and was getting involved in everything.”

QuoLux’s LEAD course changed his approach. “I began to empower our managers to take control. After all that’s what I was paying them for – and what they wanted.

“I also put them through LEAD, and this has encouraged others within the business. We’ve got a great atmosphere internally and they are much more involved in running the business.

“In the last five years the business has undergone a massive change. I’m proud of our management team and staff who are now the core of the business, rather that it just being about me.”

But the benefits of training weren’t immediate. “It’s taken four or five years to embed the learning to drive change and growth – like cooking breakfast for a family then learning to cook for two rugby teams – they have totally different dynamics,” said Simon.

“Last year the business grew more than expected. We are now turning over around £4 million and aspire to grow at the pace of what we can deliver.”

Getting the right support drives healthcare company’s growth Jessica Fairhurst and Graham Bloxham, Premiere Healthcare

Premiere Healthcare was set up in 2007 by Jessica Fairhurst and Graham Bloxham. The company helps occupational therapists, physiotherapists, clinicians and patients get specialist equipment without unnecessary delays or complications.

Having worked in the healthcare equipment industry, the couple wanted to build their own business.

“We loved the industry and the people, and could sense there were opportunities,” Jessica said.

“Our early ambition was to create a business to sustain our family financially and become best in class in Gloucestershire.

“Originally, we supplied beds and mattresses to the NHS and nursing homes. Then we expanded our range to include specialist seating.”

The company’s growth has come from word of mouth and delivering outstanding customer service. “The basics are so simple but are often overlooked by our larger more corporate competition,” said Jessica.

Premiere Healthcare now employs a team of 29 and turnover for 2018 was £3.5 million.

“Our business extends to a 120-mile radius of our Tewkesbury headquarters.”

The couple have two children, the oldest of which has just started secondary school. Around two years ago Jessica realised that to support the business’s growth and profitability, she needed new skills.

She toyed with the idea of an online MBA or more traditional night school, but this wouldn’t have fitted her lifestyle and she felt she would struggle to convince her senior management team that such a significant investment would deliver results quickly.

“I found QuoLux and it was my chance to develop personally and work on real time projects so that the team could see immediate benefits.

“It has been a real game changer personally and professionally,” she said.

“The way I approach challenges and opportunities has changed. I am supporting the team towards achieving their full potential which is paying dividends.”

There have been several quick wins in terms of motivation, morale and productivity, Jessica said, along with some longer projects, including the implementation of a strategic marketing plan.

“We will be developing the business through existing and new customers within our current geography, then looking to increase our reach. We are looking to achieve an £8 million turnover in 2022. My learning from the LEAD course and from my peers on the course will be invaluable to allow us to achieve our goals.”

A big dollop of knowledge spurs on Cheltenham foodservice business Chris Creed, Chief Executive Creed Foodservice

Chris Creed , Chief Executive of Creed Foodservice since 2014, has been the driving force behind the Cheltenham-based company’s growth from a regional foodservice supplier to a national player. Under his watch, the business has grown from a £2 million to an £80 million turnover company.

Creed helps customers achieve their food strategies and commercial objectives, and has become a significant player across the care, education, leisure destinations and hospitality sectors.

He joined the family firm, then called Linbar Foodstores, in 1985, from his previous job at GCHQ. He’d always had an interest in food and liked meeting people (perhaps something he didn’t get to do when he worked for the UK’s listening service).

Linbar subsequently became Creed Catering Supplies in 1989 and then Creed Foodservice in 2010.

Chris was always ambitious but in the early days there was no real plan. There is now.

Without any formal business training, he, along with his brothers and co-directors, drove Creed to a £46 million turnover.

Having achieved such a track record, many bosses might think they didn’t need any more business knowhow. Chris would disagree.

“LEAD taught me about leadership and completely changed the way I approached life. It was such a big change that I have encouraged all the Board to undertake the LEAD programme.

This has given us common purpose and understanding and has completely changed the way that we do business.”

“People commented on how much I had changed. The biggest difference has been the cultural shift. We are now a Best Companies one-star employer, hoping to increase to two stars this year. Our amazing team of people share the same desire for exceptional customer service.”

The company recently held its second CreedFest for employees and their families, with nearly 400 people attending. “We are much more focused on the wellbeing of our people and the creation of the Creed culture.”

This renewed enthusiasm has spurred his ambitions. “We have joint goals. One is to reach £100 million turnover in the next few years. The other is to be a three-star company to work for.

“Being profitable means Creed can do all the socially important things like working with charities around its three depots and investing in their communities,” said Chris. “We can also make sure that we can maintain the wellbeing of all our employees.”

Scaling-up for success Stewart Barnes, Managing Director, QuoLux

It’s often been said that the “best view comes after the hardest climb”.

Growing a business is no easy task. Leading any business through the changes that growth inevitably incurs is certainly not for the faint-hearted. But with the right skills and support and, most importantly, the belief and will to succeed, scaling-up successfully is achievable.

Belief really is vital. We see first-hand among the delegates participating on our programmes how increasing selfconfidence is often the key to unlocking potential for leaders. Recognising and appreciating their skills and attributes as a leader and being willing to work on those areas that they wish to improve, identifies practical, actionable steps. To do this, it’s vital to stop, reflect and seek feedback from peers.

This is something that works particularly well on our 10-month long leadership development programme LEADTM. Delivering positive change is a common challenge for leaders. On the programme they take time to focus on their business, equipping themselves with new tools and reflecting on their challenges from different perspectives.

Here, business people feel comfortable to openly discuss issues with like-minded individuals, often gaining reassurance by the commonality of the situation and support from those who have also “been through it”. On every programme we see individuals inspiring each other; growing in self-belief.

Buoyed with self-confidence, leaders are better equipped to face organisational growing pains, whether that’s about securing more investment, delegating, taking on more staff or sites, re-organising management, motivating and inspiring staff or changing processes and even culture.

That in turn raises the issue of flexibility. Scaling-up brings change; organisations must adapt and diversify according to the environment they are in. Continual innovation is a must. This applies to businesses in all industries, not just tech companies often associated with scale-up, and the companies profiled here confirm this fact.

Never lose sight of your vision and ensure you bring your team with you on that climb – inspire belief. Then, the view will be worth it.