"My background as MD is perhaps a little bit different from many SME owners. I started working at Showplace in 1994, working my way up the leadership ladder from the shop floor. The company went through several MD changes and ownerships over those years, until I and two others successfully took the company through a management buyout.
By 2018, the two other directors had left the business. Suddenly, I was running the business alone. It was at this point that I started looking for some external help. I’d previously hired consultants and business coaches, but what I felt I needed was more of an impartial peer advisory group that didn’t consist of people with large egos! I’d read good things about Vistage and decided to give it a go. What struck me right away was how grounded everyone was in my Vistage group, and how easy it was for me to gain their trust and to share my business issues with the group. The challenges you face as a business owner inevitably change over time, but my peers and chair, Peter Doggett, are always there for each other. Many of the challenges we face are common to us all.
“Many of the challenges we face are common to us all.”
Being an events-based business, Covid was undoubtedly the biggest challenge Showplace has faced. After three decades of continuous trading, suddenly every corporate event and exhibition was cancelled or postponed, and our revenue stream dried up. We needed to find a way to turn the tap back on!
We’ve always provided outdoor infrastructure, so during summer 2020 we began to look for ways to diversify our events knowledge and skills. We developed a few concepts, including visiting care pods for care homes which attracted a lot of customer enquiries and media attention when the government issued new visiting guidelines. At one point we were getting hundreds of enquiries a week.
“The group are a useful sounding board as they’ll tell you the ideas that might have legs, as well as those that are rubbish.”
I’m fortunate to have such a fantastic team around me, and the actions we took not only helped pivot the business and save it, but increased our previous year’s profits. It’s also incredibly rewarding work. In the run up to Christmas, I sent a message to all company staff saying that because of their work, there are probably 4,000 families across the country that are going to be able to see their loved ones this Christmas. Pivoting the business has been very good for staff morale.
While my Vistage peers have been there for me throughout the transition, Vistage has also helped me in ways that have had a direct impact on my leadership success. Since joining, I’ve become much more reflective and open to ideas and I’ve done a lot more work on my personal development.
When you’re a business owner there’s often no-one to push you to get things done, but that’s not the case with my Vistage group.
We hold each other accountable for what we say we’ll do. While my business ideas often come from within the company, the group are a useful sounding board as they’ll tell you the ideas that might have legs, as well as those that are rubbish. It’s so easy to think your idea is the best in the world.
Their diverse input was especially important when I set about developing a clearer mission statement for the business, following reading “Start with Why” by Vistage guest speaker, Simon Sinek. It took me a year to nail, but it was worth the wait as it’s helped keep us on track. Our message: ‘creating solutions where others find challenges’ stands up just as strong in all these new pivoted areas as it did in the events sector.
Covid has made for an uncertain future, and it’s hard to see what lies ahead for exhibitions and live events, and the impact it will have on our business and those we serve. A lot of things are likely to change. However, I’m fairly sure that waiting for the old world to return is not a wise thing to do at the moment, and we may well pivot again. As the saying goes, fortune favours the bold.”
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