This year we put our ‘10 questions’ to a host of North East business leaders from various sectors. To round up our review of the year in business, we’ve chosen some of the best responses from across the year
In July Mick Howard, who leads 135-year-old manufacturer Clearly Drinks told us the best piece of advice he had ever received was to “invest in the culture of your business. Sustainable growth and great productivity can only be delivered through your people”.
His sentiments were later echoed by the founder of property tech firm iamproperty, Jamie Cooke would said: “Look after your people and they’ll look after you. We’ve always lived by that. Our business is powered by innovative, forward-thinking people who share in our success. Attracting and retaining talent in our industry is competitive and to stand a chance you need to have a good culture.”
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But Ramarketing’s Emma Banks said it was all about projecting an image of control. She said: “When I first became CEO of DataTrial, my non-exec chairman told me that I needed to remain humble and that I needed to be a gliding swan even if my legs were running a million miles an hour underneath. It was all about the impression you gave and that, as a leader, it needed to be one that was in control.”
When it came to the North East’s suitability as a business location, Darren Davidson of advertising agency Route said it came down to the canny-ness factor. The Newcastle-based managing director said: “The North East compared to the likes of London just feels happier. The people are relaxed and everyone feels more genuine and well, canny. I feel at home in the region and able to maintain a positive life-work balance.”
Unsurprisingly, the region’s natural attributes figured significantly among the responses.
Vicki Mordue, who runs Northumberland based environmental firm Biodiverse Consulting and should know a thing or two about this topic, said: “We have some of the most beautiful and protected places in the UK (and probably beyond) which means that we get to work in some stunning environments. We’re also lucky to have the space to create new spaces (large and small) for people to enjoy wildlife.”
And James Silver, who leads regeneration specialists Landid, agreed.
Great North Air Ambulance Service chief executive David Stockton went one step further and said it was also about the North East’s inherrent talent. He said: “Not only is it a beautiful area, with incredible scenery, but it is filled with creative, talented individuals who make opportunities possible.”
Perhaps one of the most intriguing questions we posed was “what would your dream job be?”
For Steven Forrest, who leads North Tyneside-based IT strategy firm Forfusion, the allure of a particularly non-North East lifestyle was great. He said:“Buying and selling expensive French wine, preferably from a villa in the South of France whilst eating local delicacies and floating on a posh lilo.”
But Steve Horn, UK and Europe director at the Newcastle-based consultancy Black and White Engineering, had something more fast-paced in mind. He said: “When I was younger, I always had an aspiration to be a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force but for various reasons it never materialised. Looking back now it was not the career for me and I have no regrets but at the time it seemed like such an exciting job.”
Another to be filed in the ‘classic dream job’ category was Richard Lane, co-founder of sales consultancy durhamlane. He said: “Definitely a rock star! I had my heart set on a career in music from the age of 15. Looking back, I doubt I would have suited the rock-and-roll lifestyle – I’m a bit of a homebird. A career in sales and being a business owner in some ways mirrors what I might have achieved if I had pursued a career in music – the opportunity to be creative, to connect with many different people and to perform in front of an audience albeit without my guitar.”
Meanwhile Your Homes Newcastle boss Tina Drury is already living the dream.
She said: “This sounds really cheesy, but this is it. I never expected to have it, I was never ambitious when I was younger, so I think this is what makes it so special, but it’s not the position it’s where I work that makes it a dream job. In my whole career, I’ve never left the North East, and dedicated myself to the area. I never thought I’d end up back as the managing director from starting as a repairs clerk.”
In what has been a tough year for businesses facing cost pressures, supply chain issues and the lingering impact of Covid, we asked what the main change and challenges had been.
For David Armstrong, managing director of Team Valley-based Access Training, the constantly shifting education sector and recruitment loomed large.
He told us: “The further education sector is constantly changing. We just seem to get used to changes in guidance/processes from one shift in government policy, then another big change comes along. Like many industries, the biggest challenge we’re seeing right now is a shortage of applicants. Applicants are spoilt for choice in this market so there’s a lack of people applying for apprenticeship vacancies, as well as job roles we create internally.”
Hiring provided a common theme for many bosses.
Ross Oakley, managing director of civil and structural engineering outfit RWO, said: “Covid has of course had a huge impact, necessitating changes across our operations. In the absence of face-to-face meetings, we’ve had to find unusual ways to support our clients and share information with them in different formats. The skills shortage also continues to be challenging – finding the right people has always been difficult, but at the moment it seems harder than ever.”
Mark Philpott’s firm, NPH Group, provides occupational health and medical services.
He said: “There has been a significant change in the healthcare sector due to our ageing population and as a result of this, challenges like increasing, even overwhelming, dependency on medical services. Our fantastic NHS has seen the direct results of this, especially during the pandemic where services were stretched beyond capacity. To caveat this, our sector has seen some change in that businesses are taking more responsibility for the health of their employees, rather than the onus falling purely on the NHS. However, I believe this change needs to go further. Employers must recognise that life doesn’t stop at the work gates, and become partners in health to their employees.”
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