Thursday, 24 May 2012

Enterprising North East

I had a most enjoyable evening last night at one of the Entrepreneurs Forum Members Dinner.

This is the first EF event I have attended since I have joined.  Over the past 6 months I haven’t been able to attend events due to diary commitments usually because I am not always in the North East during the week.

However on this occasion I had the chance and decided to go along.  The dinner was for a small group of about 20 people who where there to listen to Jonathan Eldridge who was the founder of the Gadget Shop in the early 90’s.

For those who have read my blog previously you will be aware that I am really interested in business stories.  Jonathan’s story is great.  From very ordinary beginnings in Hull he built a retail business with a value of over £60 million which employed 750 people at its peak.

Things then started to go wrong.  He had cash flow problems for a very short period of time and made one miss-judged call to the bank asking them to extend his facility.  They got nervous and called in the debt.  He had nowhere to go and had to bring in external investment.

There was some serious infighting between the investors which landed him in the High Court.  Cutting a long and interesting story short the business fell into administration largely due to the board being distracted by the legal issues.

From having shares worth millions he ended up with nothing.  He has since brushed himself off and started again with Red5.  What struck me was how balanced he is and how he carried no baggage from what had happened previously.  He was very philosophical about life and wouldn’t change anything which I found inspiring.

I encouraged him to write his story because I thought it has the good, the bad and the ugly.  He said he was waiting until the story was finished and wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested in the down side of his history.  I think it is the down side which makes his story particularly interesting.

Across his whole story it was obvious there was the lack of support from banks.  I always think it is difficult for banks to support entrepreneurs who have passion and drive.  Sometimes this is not tangible and we know in the current climate banks are unwilling to take risks.  His support generally came from private investors when he needed it.

Currently the Government seem to be focussing on encouraging the banks to lend money and we all know this is not working.  The Government should therefore incentivise private investment and acknowledge the importance this support plus the risk investors take plays in the ability to deliver growth.

The other interesting aspect of the evening came from the cross section of the other guests.  All ran North East businesses and all were realistic about the current market.  Everyone is finding it tough.

The interesting thing to me was that probably 70% of those around the table were from family businesses.  I have not decided why this is yet but wondered if this “keep it in the family” approach to business is preventing growth outside the region.  The other thought is do businesses retain ownership because there is a lack of talent beyond their small circle.

It is one to think about and discuss…

Thursday, 17 May 2012

BIM Show Live

I have just about caught up after a very busy week last week at BIM Show Live.

We had the idea for BIM Show Live about 18 months ago and managed to put on our first event in October 2011.  We had 300 delegates on a single day.  This year we managed to attract 450 delegates over two days. 

This year’s event was a step up from the previous year without doubt.  The depth and quality of speakers was outstanding.

What I particularly liked was the networking which went on over both days.  There were events before the start of the conference, as well as a great dinner in the evening between.

It is at these sessions where the learning and connections are made and where the real value and progress is achieved.

We made the journey down by transit van, which was an experience in its own right and then put up the stand with one good arm, which was worth seeing. 

The BIM scooter made its way down to London again, not for marketing reasons, more just to irritate the organisers who particularly dislike it for health and safety reasons.

There was a great crowd in attendance and not only did we see all of the usual suspects from the UK BIM crew, but there were also many new faces.  What is becoming apparent is that constructors are ploughing their own furrow when it comes to BIM and several of them are now even employing their own modellers.  I suspect this may become an approach adopted in the future.

All was not perfect at BIM Show Live however.  I was disappointed with the central space for the keynote sessions.  Whilst the area we had was great in that it brought everyone together, trying to talk whilst there was noise on the balcony was very off putting. 

The balcony also did not give a similar level of exposure for all exhibitors, with those at the sides struggling to be seen.

I also felt that the show was a junior partner to the BFE Exhibition, which is something we were adamant must not happen with the organisers.

Still, it was great to see so many exhibitors there and particularly to see all of the major software vendors in the UK at the same event with equal billing.

All of this good and not so good information is gathered up and will be fed back into the plans for next year.

There has been debate about whether we should have another event in 6 months time, but I think it would be more sensible to wait a full 12 months so we can really review the progress that has been made across the industry.

Thanks for everyone’s support and we look forward to seeing you next year.