The Birmingham Post has joined forces with Bournville College and Incisive Edge to run a series of events to help small and medium-sized businesses make the transition to sustainable high growth firms. Here we report on the latest round-table hosted by Nailcote Hall and chaired by Birmingham Post editor Alun Thorne, where the discussion was around the attributes of a high growth business and the barriers holding companies back

Alun Thorne: “What are the barriers that hold back a potential high growth business – what are the big challenges?”

Paul Bramwell (Brilliant Media): “We started four years ago, and one the things we find now is staff recruitment.

“One of the opportunities we found very early on was to be something different in the region, a service that wasn’t really there before, but when you do that, how do you get the staff in to the region – how do you attract those good people in to the area to keep growing?

“That’s one of the biggest barriers for us.

“Also how do you manage that growth, how do you forecast? If you come off the back of a year of 40 to 50 per cent growth, what do you do next year?

“Do you go for another year of 40 to 50 per cent growth or do you say ‘now’s the time to consolidate and keep on board the people that you’ve got, the clients we’ve got and keep true to the service levels and the principles we’ve got’.

“Where do you set your targeting because it can be a bit of a run away train you know you might have a spectacular year and you might think well lets keep it going but you can’t keep growing exponentially.”

Richard Carter: “We’re an IT service business, and while its always been an interesting business area for not only recruiting but retaining staff, its probably much easier to retain people rather than recruit people but with today’s economic climate the good people are just keeping there head down and getting on with and hoping the downturn becomes an upturn.

“From a commercial point of view, in a 16-year history in the industry I’ve never found it harder to recruit people who deliver what they promise in an interview.”

Alun Thorne: “Is that because there aren’t people out there in the market place?”

Richard Carter: “I think there are people out there in the market place but I think, in the nicest possible way, the big fat corporate organisations have carried people almost as journeymen and they are now falling out of the tree and hitting the ground and these people will have big long impressive CVs but no actual substance behind them.”

Dean Walton (Alumet): “A year ago we diversified in to renewable energy, and the problem we faced was trying to recruit people with experience in that industry because these things weren’t around 10 years ago.

“So there’s no-one with 10 years experience and the fact that we re out in Sothham, in the sticks a little bit doesn’t help either, we are expanding rapidly but we really are struggling to recruit the expertise we need to take it to the next level.”

Rose Rees (Bournville College): “Out of interest, we’ve had a considerable increase in the last couple of months on different levels of recruitment, one is from apprentices with companies wanting to home-grow talent and get them to level they want and its cost effective, and also mid management people have been put in positions that they don’t have experience in but they do have experience in the company so they are using us to train and give them managerial training and people skills but there’s certainly a gap there.”

Paul Wright (Wright Solutions): “Two points, one is are educational institutions providing the right skills and the right courses which allows people to get the right jobs?

“And also the big question is Generation Y, in that people want instant success and instant cash but aren’t willing to put in the work.”

Alun Thorne: “Do we have a fundamental problem here in terms of young people coming through the educational system without the necessary skills?”

Richard Carter: “I don’t think they don’t have the skills, I think they are coming out with wrong attitude.

“In the last 10-20 years I think the attitude in the UK has declined.

“There’s a lot of programmes and schemes and apprenticeships going around where they get off school or collage or off the street and these educate these people to write CVs and to go through technical training and practice interviews and that’s what we’ve done.

“But you have to kiss a lot of frogs because as the gentlemen over there said, and a lot of them expect to be earning £30-50,000 straight away and then their bored almost straight away unless they are doing something glamorous and exciting.”

Alun Thorne: “Is this a new problem? Are we looking at this slightly unfairly?”

James Holden (Leader PR): “I don’t think it is an new phenomenon, I’ve been to several meetings like this and a lack of good people has always been an issue.

“I agree with colleagues who say its an issue but I certainly don’t think its a new one.”

David Bowler (Incisive Edge): “There is really good point about people buying in to brand values. For a business to prosper you need every one employed needs to buy in to this.

“Obviously there’s a place for employees to give to society but there’s also the commercial objectives like increased market share, can only be achieved with no dead wood employees and young people who should be excited that they are involved in a fast growing business.”

Rose Rees: “I do believe that its every body’s responsibility (to train young people) I believe its also the Government’s responsibilty and the employer’s responsibility.

“We have to be careful with the courses we provide and the sort of training that we give.

“They do have a culture of ‘millionaires’ so we have to bring them back to Earth and train them, but in the needs that the trainer needs to give.”

Michael Martin (ThinkMore): “I think it’s down to the key people involved to recognise the skills involved and its down to the people to get skills that are above and beyond the traditional technical skills that they come out of collage or university with.”

Alun Thorne: “So getting recruitment right is a major barrier to growth, what other problems to bosses of fast growing companies face?”

Tim Andrews (Hollywood Monster): “I do sit here feeling quite guilty as most of my day I spend doing the hands on side rather than the strategy or working on the business and I think the majority of the businesses in our situation are doing the same.

“However I recognise that is the next step we need to take.”

Alun Thorne: “It’s a family business to all intents and purposes, but I would imagine there’s a lot of advantages with that because you know the people and it has a secure base?

Tim Andrews: “It certainly ticks the box of enthusiasm, we’re all sort of entrepreneurs and we re all quite strong willed but I think the next step for our business is sorting out a clear path because that’s what we’ve been lacking. Our biggest threat, obviously the recession has caused us to diversify which means we now have the same product but in a different market which causes its own problems.

“But I think we put two businesses together but its just all the extra responsibilities and it all being crammed into one building.

“I think we need to have roles and responsibilities and we also are too far down on the strategy side so we need to concentrate on that before we move on and that’s were the leadership comes from.”

Michael Martin: “I think the use of the family as a metaphor for a growing business is a very good one in that you expect a fairly traditional hierarchy as its very rare three parents works well together.

“Steve Jobs, the guy who just died, was a square peg, a brilliant square peg so what the management did was to take him out of the round hole and put him out side the business and this worked because then the business began to evolve and change so the metaphor of a family works because it is a family or a herd rather than an individual.”

Julia Payne (Incisive Edge): “Three things that may or may not be helpful to you, to conclude would be that owners/managers talk in apples and pears rather than talking about fruit so the employees should be concentrating on the individual apple or pear while the owner concentrates on the overall picture.

“The second point is that the owner should be the stupidest person in the room as they should employ people who are smarter than them and work well as a team.

“The third point is that the owner should be the person with the thinnest brief case. Instead of doing all the work your self, share the work load. I found those three points very helpful over the years.”