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The management system from the US that’s going to boost UK SMEs

As an experienced entrepreneur who has built three multi-million pound retail businesses in three European countries, Julia Langkraehr has an impressive CV by any standards – and she shares with Real Business how a management system in the US could benefit British SMEs.
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American born, Langkraehr arrived in the UK in 1999 and began her career working for a property company by developing new revenue streams in shopping centres across Europe. When she was made redundant, instead of looking for another job in the corporate world she set up her own company. She built Retail Profile Europe into a multi-million pound business and, after 14 years, exited it in June 2014.

“I’ve experienced all the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur,” she said. “After Retail Profile Europe failed at one point, we rebuilt it and expanded to two more European countries. It then merged with the largest competitor in the sector.”

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Langkraehr now shares her commercial experience working with entrepreneurial leadership teams to help them grow their businesses. She has coached and trained over 1,500 business owners in 20 countries worldwide, and works with UK based firms that range in size from £3m to £4m, right up to £35m enterprises.

“Very often whatever thee size, companies are facing similar challenges,” she said. “Bosses come to me because they’ve hit a ceiling.”

In 2014, Langkraehr founded Bold Clarity, a company which provides facilitation, coaching and training to entrepreneurial leaders, CEOs and their leadership teams – as well as for peer groups.

She also became the first professional implementer of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) in the UK. EOS aims to transform the way that a business is run and to help it grow faster by using a set of tools that make it more efficient.

According to EOS, entrepreneurs have to wrestle with 136 issues at the same time. How well you can manage all these issues determines your success as an entrepreneur. “Keeping so many balls in the air isn’t easy, so we look at what we call the six key components of any company – vision, people, data, issues, process and traction. Focus on these and you’ll align your company around a common vision, gain more traction and build a healthy cohesive leadership team.”

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To do this EOS focuses on three key elements. First, vision – are all employees, and the management in particular, on the same page? Are they coordinated? The second is traction – how they can become more disciplined and accountable and make the vision a reality and third, healthy. This involves looking at ways in which the company can develop a functional, cohesive leadership team.

One of the most significant challenges for many SMEs is commercialisation. “Firms have created a product or developed the service but are not sure how to make it commercially viable and so EOS offers some fundamental tools to help do just that,” Langkraehr said. “Companies can customise these tools to make them their own.”

Finding the right people to grow the company is one of the biggest challenges, for SMEs in particular, she claimed. Profitability is another problem. “Companies sometimes find as they grow that turnover is going up but profitability is not and it’s even shrinking in some situations.”

Control is also frequently a difficult issue. “SME owners need to find people they can trust so that they can delegate,” she said. “But they also need to be able put accountability tools in place to make sure that the people they’re delegating to are delivering. The EOS principles help small business owners with transparency so that they can see what their growing team are doing and how well they’re doing it.”

Sales are often another difficult area. Startups and small, fast growing businesses are sometimes so focussed on making sales that they haven’t thought sufficiently about follow through. This could include actually delivering what they’ve sold properly and the provision of proper customer support.

The EOS system also helps SMEs deal with that perennial problem – cash flow. “With a business I ran we were constantly being faced with big VAT bills and demands from suppliers which were very difficult to manage,” said Langkraehr. “EOS offers measurables and a score card so that you can predict cash flow. You can see things are shaping up each month and measure trends.”

Although it’s well established in the US, EOS is just beginning to spread here in the UK. “In the US there are people who will only work for an SME if it’s implementing EOS because they know that the company will be well managed,” she said. “There are also lots of investors who are only interested in putting their money into EOS companies.”

With SMEs looking for anything that can help them manage cash, flow, scale up and develop EOS should find a ready market in the UK.

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