Strong decision making ability is often a characteristic of business success. We asked 20 British Business Leaders, chosen from a wide variety of sectors, to give us examples of the best business decisions they have made.
Read on to learn about the decisions they made, the inspiration that lay behind them, and the outcomes that resulted.
20 Examples of Successful Business Decision Making
1. Putting down roots
In 1984, the components of Grass Roots, the business I’d founded four years earlier, were spread from London to Leeds. I took the risk of borrowing a large sum of money on a personal indemnity and brought everything together at a country house in Hertford. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that staying out of London for a services business such as ours was akin to staying out of touch. How wrong that was. We have remained headquartered in Tring, and thanks to a lot of hard work and determination from our staff, we have grown from a turnover of £11 million when I took that decision to almost £300 million today.
David Evans, CEO, Grass Roots
2. Moving into new markets
My best business decision was to widen the company’s offerings from its traditional remit of horseracing while using skills it already had in-house.
We were founded in 1770 and provide banking and administration for British horseracing. Quite a lot of the business is also in printing and publishing, producing race cards and other literature.
Given there was a ceiling on what we could sell to the horseracing market, we decided to draw on the skills we already had in-house. We were already printing quality sales catalogues for the horse pedigree market and realised that it wasn’t such a huge leap to move into other sports like rugby and cricket.
Nick Craven, Chief Executive, Weatherbys Ventures
3. Being quick to market
We took the decision to extend our web-based service, so customers could customise greeting cards through a mobile application. One thing that is very different is that everything takes much longer in the mobile space compared with the web. Even after the technology is approved, it took months before the product was in shops. I would say that the technology may not be quite there yet, in terms of the speed of the connection, but the quality of the photos is astounding. It’s a new market for us, but with such a high penetration of mobile phones in the US and Western Europe, it’s a land grab and we wanted to be there as quickly as possible.
Raam Thakrar, CEO and co-founder, Touchnote
4. Adopting transparent reporting processes
Our admission to AIM in 2004 acted as an incentive to adopt transparent reporting processes. During three years on AIM, we established a track record for corporate governance that was way ahead of what was expected of an AIM company.
We made the decision to move the business to the Main Market last July. The fact that we had already complied with every form of best practice, including IFRS [International Financial Reporting Standards], made this incredibly easy, as we didn’t have to do anything new. There were no ongoing costs, no hurdles and we no longer have to pay any nomad fees, so you could even say we’re marginally better off.
Rob Cotton, CEO, NCC Group
5. Sticking to what you know
Although we’ve taken on our fair share of acquisitions in the 11 years since the company’s inception, we have also managed to grow organically. The way that we’ve approached that is to be ruthless in sticking to what we know. In life you have to decide what it is you do, get very good at it and do lots of it.
If you’re a golfer and you get down to scratch, you don’t then go out and learn to play cricket. We have lots of offers for contracts in other areas that look very interesting, but in the end we know our business and that’s how we deliver for our shareholders.
Simon Rigby, CEO of Spice
6. Using private equity
Taking the private equity route has been something of a pleasant surprise.
When you have private equity on board, all working processes are sharpened and focused on results. Their approach to board meetings is professional and disciplined, and they are very driven on the strategic direction and momentum of growth and acquisition. It can be very demanding, but it’s worthwhile.
If you want that discipline and rigour as part of your company, perhaps with a view to a flotation in the future, then private equity can work wonders for you.
Kevin Scullion, MD of homecare provider Independent Living Services
7. Taking on a Partnership
Partnerships, especially with powerful players in your sector, can pay dividends when it comes to sales.
Initially, we developed our own CRM solution and sold it directly to niche markets in the UK. In 2007, we changed our strategy by working with Microsoft to provide additional software for its CRM product.
This relationship has meant we now have access to Microsoft’s other software partners through its global network. It’s provided us with a highly defined route to market that’s enabling us to scale the business.
We set ourselves a target to partner with other businesses during the year and we’ve already achieved it.
Matthew Crook, CEO of software developer SalesCentric
8. Merging two companies
We formed Fabric Technologies from the merger of two companies. Both had been very profitable and were ticking along nicely, but we had aspirations to take the combined business to another level, where we could deliver a wider range of services and deal with larger accounts. In poker terms, we went all in: we rebranded the business completely and spent a lot on marketing and on new facilities such as a network operations centre. We knew we had to get a lot more volume for the business to be viable. We saw almost 50 per cent sales growth to £5.2 million in our first year, when we did make a loss, but we returned to profit after another six months and now our turnover has increased to £7.3 million.
Misha Gopaul, CEO, Fabric Technologies
9. Believing in people
Believing that people are basically good was my best decision.
In October 2004 we saw an opportunity: people now walk around with loads of mobile assets and these are crucial for work or home, be it car keys, a laptop or mobile phones.
Because they’re carried when out and about, they get lost. We realised that people are, at their core, decent and if you made our service easy and cost effective people would use it to get things back.
It’s proven to be a model that works in London, San Francisco, Dubai and Madrid.
Frank Hannigan, co-founder and managing director of Yougetitback
10. Opening an office abroad
Just over a year ago, we opened our office in New York. We’d always got a lot of work out of the US and we believed we could get a lot more.
That said, we knew it was the kind of risk that could have brought the company down: the streets of New York are littered with the bodies of UK entrepreneurs who thought because they could speak English, Americans would fall at their feet saying, ‘I love your accent’. In our case, though, the gamble paid off.
We now have clients we could simply not have got if we’d been pitching from London.
About a third of our turnover is now from the US office and we’re finding work is circulating round London, New York and our office in Hamburg.
Nick Johnson, CEO, EVO Research
11. Taking a calculated risk
We invested about £500,000 in employing and training people to market our childcare vouchers, and in purchasing the software to process them. That was before the government introduced legislation to make the vouchers non-taxable.
The decision was based on a calculated risk that the legislation would go through, but we couldn’t be certain of that and a lot of people in the industry thought we were taking a massive gamble. It paid off though – because we were among the first nursery companies to market the vouchers we now control 50 per cent of the market, with more than 12,000 companies using our vouchers.
John Woodward, group managing director of Busy Bees
12. Launching a new product for a different segment
For the past seven years, Latitude has provided its services largely to blue-chip companies. That changed when I challenged my team to create a product at one-twentieth the cost of our full service offering, targeting companies with lower online budgets.
Three months later, Latitude White was born. By removing services such as individual management and field sales agents and replacing them with fixed processes, direct marketing and online reporting, my team re-engineered the delivery model for clients with a monthly budget of between £1,000 and £15,000.
I believe that we now service more UK companies in this bracket than any other provider – a market worth £1 billion.
Dylan Thwaites, CEO of digital marketing company Latitude
13. Appointing a COO
About a year and a half ago, we decided that we needed to split my role as chief executive, appointing a chief operating officer (COO) to focus on running the company day to day.
That has meant that I can be much more externally focused and concentrate on promoting the company and driving it forward. As we have a relatively complicated business, it’s vital that our clients understand what it is we are offering and why it can be beneficial. Raising the profile of the business is one way to do that.
Of course, you could appoint an external PR company to take care of this, but it’s far more effective having the CEO communicate directly than some junior marketing person or PR firm.
Ian Gotts, CEO of business process management specialist Nimbus
14. Focusing on product development
When Sorcit was originally set up, there were two elements to the business: product development and distributing our own branded products. The fact that the latter strategy meant we had a lot of our capital tied up in stock was proving a huge drain on our finances. Eventually, we decided to sell off the remaining stock at a loss and focus on product development. This was a hard decision to make, as we knew that there was a gap in the market for our products, but it really paid off. The business has since gone from strength to strength, and had we waited until the recession hit, it would have had a detrimental effect on us.
David Fannin, managing director of product design consultants Sorcit
15. Opening a new HQ
In April 2008, we opened new headquarters in Peterborough which cost £14 million. Aside from this being a lot of money for our company, we had to justify the expense by making more sales – something which was a gamble at the time but it seems to be paying off. Our new distribution centre, which allows us to hold three to four times more stock, means that we are now able to provide a next-day delivery service for our web ordering. We hope to recoup the money spent on our new premises by 2011.
Scott Weavers, partner at Kiddicare
16. Investing in top sales talent
With a recession looming, I took the decision to bring on board our first national sales manager.
Previously, our sales function had been divided among the senior management team and the business had grown through word-of-mouth referrals. However, I felt that with a recession ahead we needed to be proactive not only in seeking new business in our core markets – namely the residential property and travel industries – but by branching out into new ones.
Although increasing our headcount in difficult economic conditions was a risk, it paid off and since the appointment we saw a marked increase in converted business opportunities.
Sue Stedman, founder, Corporate Clothing
17. Performance managing my staff
Often, you find people get too distracted at work. The decisive factor for any business is to get everybody to focus on what they do best.
While this may be easier said than done, it’s important to sit down with staff and establish a set of objectives and find out what prevents or hinders them from achieving their goals.
When you have highly creative people in your organisation, you don’t necessarily want them sidetracked by dealing with general admin and financial accounts. If you have a gifted person who has the valuable skill of winning new business, then that’s what you want them to go out and do.
By performance managing your staff, you find they are more motivated, show greater loyalty and generate a better return for your business.
Iain Johnston, CEO of Loewy Group
18. Investing proper money into website design and functionality
We invested heavily in our site, which took 36 months or 200,000 man hours to construct. Our core USP was to have the online experience reflect the atmosphere of a real-world casino, something that we didn’t think anyone else had really achieved. So we chose to make the site a three-dimensional replica of the famous Lucien Barrière casino in Deauville, working with partners from the video game and cinema industries to make the setting as realistic as possible and bring a unique style to the game-play. The gamble appears to have paid off as we are currently on target to have 20,000 active customers within the first 12 months of going live.
Jonathan Strock, COO, LeCroupier
19. Concentrate on business strengths
In the past we always focused on the weaknesses in our clients’ business, the gaps and things going wrong.
So two years ago we changed our focus to concentrate on business strengths.
At the time this was quite a risk, because saying you are interested in peoples’ strengths to a board of hard-nosed business executives could have easily backfired as ‘happy clappy nonsense.’
However, since we made that decision two years ago we have seen a growth of 25 per cent year-on-year as a direct consequence. That’s because our new approach allowed us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors in what is already a crowded market.
It also made our staff more comfortable in what they were doing, so they could talk about our services with more pride and enthusiasm.
Paul Brewerton, chief executive of leadership development consultancy Blue Edge.
20. Keeping the faith
When I bought housing maintenance provider Mears in the mid-1990s it cost me very little, but I had the faith to do something with it and take it onwards and upwards. Early on, we hired good-quality people who we couldn’t afford, convincing them to join and wait for a serious upside. We were one of the most successful companies on AIM and have now moved to the Full List. Those people who joined and stayed in the business – many of them for longer than ten years – have done very well.