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Engine Shed briefing: Leadership – the challenges of a scaling CEO

Published on April 4, 2017

On the 4th April, Engine Shed held an event bringing together three business leaders to share insights

into scaling their businesses. We had a 60 strong audience of attendees, with a great balance across

different sectors, communities and stages of business growth. This briefing focused on leadership as

we heard stories from all three CEO’s who have grown and exited their businesses.

 

Engine Shed has a big interest in business scale-ups, across all sectors, aiming to create an

environment where businesses can grow to their full potential; be that in terms of jobs, revenue or

impact. Recently the Scale-Up Institute identified a number of potential gaps that an ecosystem

might have; namely leadership, talent, access to finance, access to markets and infrastructure.

 

During this ‘leadership’ focused event, it was discussed how business is all about the people; the

right quality and quantity of people at all levels in an organisation is critical to success. For a rapidly

growing business, the responsibility of the CEO is to maintain the culture, costs and quality as well as

the product. We specifically chose people who have left their businesses as that makes it easier to

be objective about what worked and what didn’t.

 

We first heard from Heather Frankham, founder and former CEO of Lifetime Training, building her

apprenticeship and training business to an 850 strong team. Then we heard from Toby Hughes,

founder of MoneyHub, an innovative personal finance platform that puts the consumer at the heart

of their finances. And last but no means least, Ben Cosh, founder of TGC Renewables, talked us

through how he helps landowners and businesses benefit from land diversification

To allow our speakers to be free to share some of the real challenges, we are anonymising some of

the gems that were shared:

  •  The challenges of balancing social impact and generating profit for shareholders, it is perfectly manageable so long as you align the interests of your investors with your business, and your staff with your mission.
  •  It is possible to establish a set of values early on in a business and stick to them, and this is vitally important to gain growth.
  • When dealing with really challenging people or situations, it’s best to be completely honest, but also to have solutions ready and prepared.
  • The real test of leadership is when things get tough, that’s when the pressure is really felt as a CEO as you feel like the sole focal point of responsibility.
  • Be aware that being acquired by a corporate and living in that culture can be very different to the higher-risk, entrepreneurial culture that you grew in your business.
  • You need to create a culture where the entire team is entirely focussed on your objectives – but that is tough, and brings a lot of responsibility. Keeping the momentum, as an individual in that, is really tough.
  • Even if you have a Finance Director, never under-estimate the importance of knowing the fundamentals of finance. It’s finance that can kill a business, even with a great team. It’s worth doing one of the “finance for non-financial managers” courses out there.
  • Think carefully about the personal relationships you have with your colleagues.
  • The best way to learn is to hire someone better than you.
  • The emotional toll can be significant – be prepared for some really, really low points.

To round off the insightful event, we asked our speakers to share their single piece of advice for a

founder/CEO facing a steep incline of growth. Their responses were an amalgamation of ensuring

you find the right business model, which gives you the most cash generation, as this is what will fund

your growth in the long term. Understanding your ‘why’, business is about making money but it’s

also about what you want to do personally, so define what success is for you. Know why people are

going to buy from you, and then align your vision to those reasons. And lastly, keep ahead of the

innovation curve.

 

Engine Shed is grateful to the speakers, all of which are giving back in one form or another, and to

those who make these valuable sessions possible through funding, sponsorship and meeting room

hire.

 

Join us later this month as we look at a very different type of leadership – Civic Leadership – and as

we host hustings of the 6 candidates for West of England Combined Authority Major. Check out our

events page to find out more.