Role and company:Co-founder of ?What If!
Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric):£30m+ turnover
Employee numbers:Altogether we have 250 people based in: London, Manchester, New York, Shanghai, Singapore.
Growth forecast for the next three years:A company like ours needs organic growth of about 20 per cent pa. If there is any less then there are too few opportunities; any more, our innovators start to burn out.
In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:We have 20 years of experience and more than 5000 client engagements. This has seen us work with leaders in large companies to help innovate a new product or service and/or help them develop their innovation capability.
What’s the big vision for your business?Our vision is to unlock the promise of innovation within large organisations. It’s relatively easy for entrepreneurs to innovate but it is a completely different ball game if you try innovating in a big company where the cards are stacked against you. This is where the real heroes of innovation live.
Current level of international business, and future aspirations:Our work is global and we need to be able to respond quickly and with great local knowledge – wherever our clients are. This is what guides our international aspirations.
Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:The biggest mistake we have made is to congratulate ourselves on the longevity of our colleagues rather than work out together how and where their careers would be optimised. What have I learned? That honesty, frank conversation and seeing things though another’s eyes always pays off.
What makes you mad in business today?People who don’t listen and instead fill the room with the sound of their own voice. Almost always the innovation answer exists under your nose – but you have to look and listen hard.
What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?The biggest change will be innovation coming from the developing world. Ironically these economies are actually better placed to succeed than the West. They have the hunger, the lack of conventional wisdom and a focus on simple and low priced products. For the most part this is where market incumbents get attacked from. You can’t offer clients true global innovation advice without first hand understanding of places like Brazil or China – this wasn’t the case ten years ago.
Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?Access to finance can be important but the most significant resource we have is the talented people who are attracted to our culture. Money definitely helps but culture is based on how human beings behave together and that shouldn’t cost.
How would others describe your leadership style?Enthusiastic, big picture, short attention span, operationally challenged.
Your biggest personal extravagance?Not sure I have got one – I find it incredibly hard to treat myself and fortunately have a lovely wife who recognises this.
You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:Tax breaks for organisations of any size engaging with young people. What if we had a revolution in the way we offered work experience for 16-year-olds and most company executives taught in schools. Actually, this can be hugely pleasurable and my belief is it could really power the nation. Think of this idea as a sort of “national service” for execs.
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