Don’t let ambition get the better of you
Letting raw enthusiasm run wild can be damaging if you haven’t spent time building your business capability first, says Beard Construction’s Mark Beard.
I am often quizzed about my business. In particular, how we have been able to increase the quality of our offering, while growing the business eight-fold over the past 17 years. For me, growth is dependent on quality.
Relentlessly focusing on delivering for today’s customers and improving the effectiveness of your business offering drives growth in both turnover and profitability. While ambition is important, developing a reputation as a business that delivers projects safely, on time, to a high standard and with a smile is, in my view, the best sales tool you can have.
What’s more, if you can position yourself so customers are chasing you to do their work, because they believe that you are their best option, you will save the cost of very expensive marketing and business development staff.
This is a lot easier said than done. Beard has won a number of projects over the years where our ambition overtook our capability. One high-profile college project set our development back two years, and recovering from our mistakes took much of the fun out of work during that period. However, these experiences are central to developing a feel for how far and how fast you can grow your business. Very few business leaders have got to the top without a little scarring.
Some are born with personal ambition which is then nurtured in our early years by family, friends and personal experiences. Organisational ambition is usually a reflection of a leader’s own ambition encouraged or checked by key lieutenants and what is possible at any one time.
The years between 2009 and 2013 were a difficult trading period for the construction industry, which contracted sharply and then struggled to cope with rising demand. It feels like supply and demand are now broadly in balance. While it’s up to every business to create their own success, building capability and reputation, which drive this success, is a long-term exercise.
“Don’t be afraid to employ people who are more talented and knowledgeable than you. Not only will they help drive business success, they will make the journey and your life a lot more fun.”
In my view, it is the companies that invested in their people and systems, and did the right thing for their customers and suppliers during the most challenging trading years, which will be the winners over the next few years. I’m sure a top business analyst, with full visibility of how a company has operated over the past three years, would be able to give a very good steer on who the winners and losers in our industry will be over the next few years.
Doing the right thing is easy enough when the customer’s eyes are focused on us, but the reality is that most customers can sense how you treat your staff, your suppliers and the wider community. The way a customer behaves towards you often reflects their perception of you and your team.
We have a saying at Beard that “each project must make a deposit in each of our bank accounts, our financial bank account and our reputational bank account”. Delivering our best service and being fair to our supply chain partners has become central to our ethos and building of our long-term reputation.
Building business capability is a long, difficult process. It requires foresight and commitment to a limited number of transformational business improvements over many years. It also requires the willingness to make small improvements every day.
Improvements in working environment and business systems sometimes require large capital investment and shareholders foregoing dividends today to create a better business tomorrow. Many, however, don’t require any capital investment, just time, energy and commitment. For me, there are three key themes which are central to the development of a successful resilient business. These are:
- A very clear vision, which is backed up by business objectives which can be understood at all levels of the business;
- Consistent business leadership which all stakeholders trust and can rely upon;
- A strong business culture which everyone embraces and supports the business objectives. This culture is often difficult to describe, but can be felt from the minute you walk onto a building site or office and is rooted in real down to earth values.
And most importantly, don’t be afraid to employ people who are more talented and knowledgeable than you. Not only will they help drive business success, they will make the journey and your life a lot more fun.
Mark Beard is executive chairman of Beard Construction