Michelle Stott must be one of only a few on the Birmingham business scene to have made herself redundant from her own company.
As she says: “I have gone through a very turbulent two years.”
After several years of success, Michelle hit bottom last year when her company, Sportoptima, a business dedicated to developing community sports facilities with input from the commercial sector, ran headlong into the credit crunch.
In fact, says Michelle, aged 37, the downturn set in even before then.
Sportoptima’s financial partner, the banking group HBOS, which had previously been keen to demonstrate its credentials as a supporter of local sport as well as being a multi-million pound sponsor of the London Olympics, began turning off the money tap and projects dried up.
Michelle says that as early as February and March last year she realised the banking group – which is now part of Lloyd after having to be rescue at the height of the financial crisis – was developing other priorities.
Based in Broad Street, Birmingham, and with offices in Cheltenham, Glasgow and London, Sportoptima’s 15-strong workforce acted as a “swat team” taking on the development of community sports facilities for local authorities.
The company, whose board included high profile business people and sportsmen, offered a wide range of skills, including project planning and management, finance and marketing.
“I was asked if I was going to be Birmingham’s second lady of sport behind Karren Brady,” she said.
One of the company’s biggest West Midland projects was in Telford where it developed four sites providing facilities for nine sports.
It was helping to harness the surge in enthusiasm for sport following the decision to award the 2012 Olympics to London.
Writing in the May 2008 edition of the University of Birmingham Newsletter (she took an MSc in marketing in 2004) Michelle said: “Our purpose is to negotiate with commercial partners to secure sports funding for clubs, local authorities and schools with the aim of creating sports facilities that communities can use and enjoy for generations to come.
“We want to get up to two million people more active by 2012. Our goal is to make sure that the London Olympic and Paralympic games deliver a lasting sporting legacy for the UK.”
With the involvement of HBOS and its other commercial partners business boomed and, in Michelle’s words, “we were really flavour of the month”.
“But last summer we noticed that the wheels had started to come off and that sport was coming down the pecking order at HBOS.”
With sports facilities grinding to a halt as the credit crunch bit ever deeper, Sportsoptima was forced to retrench and lay off staff, including Michelle herself. “I had never had to make myself redundant before. We stripped out as much cost as we could, halved our pay and then halved it again,” she added.
Sportoptima survives in a much slimmed-down form and Michelle is still connected with it, although she now also runs a new company, Citydesk, that she set up in June last year as a one-woman business specialising in sports marketing and communications.
Ironically, the same recession that hit Michelle so hard in its early days has proved to have a silver lining. Organisations that have been forced to lay off their marketing staff are now outsourcing work to companies such as Citydesk.
Michelle has also drawn support from her involvement with the Institute of Directors’ Young Directors Forum where she regularly meets her peers who have been through similar experiences.
She was appointed vice-chairman of the group, which focuses more on the personal development of its members than business networking, last year.
Michelle said she is also picking up new ideas from her part-time role as a lecturer in marketing at Birmingham Business School.
Looking back on her experiences, she said: “My confidence last summer was hit. Now I am beginning to expand again but I am being really cautious having gone through all that has happened.
“Having saved the business I am really proud and I think Sportoptima will grow into something very significant.”
Michelle is still keen to see that Birmingham establish a real stake in the Olympics.