If you want to know how to successfully grow your business, then you need to listen to someone who has done it already.
So we asked Andrew Cope, executive chairman of Zenith. In the last eight years, under Andrew’s leadership, Zenith Intelligent Vehicle Solutions has gone from a £25 million turnover business to a £150 million business by organic and acquisition growth.
Andrew shared his experiences and learnings from that journey, and we’ve highlighted the best bits for you.
Firstly, Andrew said it’s important to understand there is neither a right nor a wrong way to manage growth; every business in every industry will be slightly different, but there are key things that will be the same in all.
Successful growth is an ever-evolving process, which means that what worked yesterday isn’t necessarily going to work tomorrow. That means propositions and relationships with customers might change, and that the people doing the job for you also have to evolve to meet the changes in the business.
Andrew said it’s also vital to recognise that the way you relate to people as a leader is going to change too, just because yesterday when the business was small you related to people one way, it’s going to be different when the business is large. In a smaller company you can have a personal relationship with employees, but as it gets bigger you do have less contact.
One of most important things about growing a successful business is managing to keep most of the people on board most of the time (it’s a given that you have got to be good and got to be competitive with a good proposition).
Assuming all of these are given, what will determine success is a clear message and understanding of how people are motivated. It could be very different from business to business, but at all times all of the people working for you need to understand why you are doing something, where they fit in and what’s in it for them.
Sometimes people are doing important work when you’re a small company but that’s not quite so important further down the line. When you’re smaller it might be a more personal relationship that’s important to them, but when you’re larger they might have to be remunerated in a different way, perhaps share options or status.
Essentially, keeping people on message is the most important element in delivering successful growth, rather than having a great product, said Andrew.
And you need to identify how you are going to get other people to take the lead going forward. If you look at strong growth businesses they have very clear people strategies. Rolls Royce, for example, or Apple, driven clear leadership and goals, bringing everybody with them. It doesn’t matter which successful business you look at, the people believe in the message and they value the message.
Andrew was CEO at Zenith for 13 years and has now stepped back a little, as executive chairman. “You can’t just spout the rhetoric and then say it doesn’t apply to me,” he said.
“Different styles of leadership are required in different times of growth. I was a war leader. When the business was smaller you rely less on structure either because you can’t justify it or it doesn’t really apply when there are only 20-30 people.
“You don’t want to lose that passion you have when you’re smaller, but as you grow you’ve got to have somebody more detail oriented.”
And he warns: ”A business that has one leader in total control for a very long time is a business likely to fail. A business has to evolve and you have to make that evolution wisely. “
Key tips from the evening
For John Anderson, who chaired the evening, there were many key learnings, but he highlighted his top
1. The need to constantly reinvent the company
2. The importance of humility and humanity – take an interest in people
3. That you need different leaders for different stages, eg war leaders & peace leaders.
And some key tips from attendees:
“Regardless of whether you have 5 staff or 5000 staff we often face the same issues. Every business goes through organic stages, just like the life cycle. Born, grow and dies. Never be afraid to re position, re start or re develop your business “
“My key tips – 1. Appreciate you will leave people behind. 2. Stop trying to force people to get my vision and take the time to understand their vision. 3. Do more of the Learning & Development myself “
“Key tip for me – growth is the easy bit, it’s the baggage that growth brings that takes time, effort and resource to sort “
“Key tips – culture is key – hire the best people and communicate”
“My tip from the evening – the culture and motivation of the core management team is crucial – not just their skills and experience, so entrepreneurs need to focus on the rewards and support they can provide to the most important people in the business – the ones they rely upon to deliver growth and profit”
“Key tips for me – tenacity and determination – not being ruled by the rules – people are key whatever the business”
Andrew Cope – biog
Andrew began his career in the fleet industry as a fleet sales executive and a founder member of Zenith Vehicle Contracts at its incorporation in 1989. He progressed through the ranks, to sales and marketing manager and then director, until his promotion to managing director in 1998.
Andrew led the acquisition of Provecta Car Plan in May 2008, turning Zenith into the UK’s largest independent fleet management company. He has guided the company through four MBOs, the most recent event being the 4th MBO in September 2010 with new partner Morgan Stanley Private Equity. In the last eight years, under Andrew’s leadership, Zenith has gone from a £25 million turnover business to a £150 million business by organic and acquisition growth.