Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: A look at those celebrating the best of British business

This year marks the awards’ fiftieth anniversary, with 141 business winners (105 for International Trade, 24 for Innovation and 12 for Sustainable Development), with a further six awards for Enterprise Promotion, including one for lifetime achievement. Wavestore and Hallmarq Veterinary Imaging collected two awards apiece – for both innovation and international trade. 

Each category has a separate judging panel, which makes a recommendation to the prime minister’s advisory committee, a body that then makes a further recommendation to the Queen – who decides the final winners. Prime minister David Cameron has previously said of the award winners: “In recognising their outstanding and innovative achievements, and their contribution to our economy, I hope other businesses and entrepreneurs will be inspired to follow their lead.” 

Among the categories of awards, Company Shop picked up an honour for Sustainable Development. The business has changed a lot since its beginnings 40 years ago, when John Marren (still the current chairman), began buying surplus product from manufacturers and selling it on at a discounted price to people within the food sector and emergency services. Today, it has over 500 employees, 18 stores nationwide and redistributes over 30,000 tonnes of surplus stock every year. There’s evidently ambition for the foreseeable future too, as managing director Mark Game confirms it aims to double that in the next five years. 

What drew Game himself to the company was both its potential and its ethos. “It’s important to run a business commercially and profitably, but businesses have more of a responsibility than that. I saw that Company Shop could deliver against financial aims, while also doing something really good for the environment and local communities,” he told us.

Calling itself “the first social shop”, the business focuses on more than simply providing food. Its award comes after the company established its own social enterprise, Community Shop, which takes the process out into deprived communities, to those living on income support. Game believes this is an important ramping up of its initiatives. “We also facilitate professional, personal development programmes for all of our members to kickstart positive change in their lives. We’re stepping up to two of the biggest challenges we face as a country – food waste and food poverty,” he added The sale of the food supports the costs of the additional services Company Shop provides.

The business has also teamed up with big retailers and brands in an effort to extend sustainability elsewhere. Company Shop partnered with M&S to tackle waste at the store level in Sheffield’s Meadowhall Shopping Centre. “Previously, leftover baguettes at the end of the day might’ve ended up as waste, but now they get sent to Community Shop in Goldthorpe,” Game explained. A chef makes them into pizza baguettes in a cookery demonstration at the Community Shop cafe, showing members how to be resourceful in the kitchen on limited budgets. “They’re delicious, and I’m pleased to report not a crumb of them is ever wasted.” Game added.

While it’s an integral part of Company Shop’s day-to-day running, sustainability is still a work in progress for the UK, with an estimated 300,000 tonnes of food going to waste each year, which could have simply been redistributed. Game says that companies need to bump the issue up their list of priorities. “Don’t consider sustainability as an add-on, or tick box, but try and ingrain it in every business decision you make. It becomes part of the culture and then part of everyone’s job description,” he said.

Elsewhere, The ANVIL Group International collected an award for Innovation after developing an online traveller tracking tool, the Employee Travel Monitoring System (ETMS). It places employers alongside their corporate travellers as they do business – within a few clicks employers can see the location of individuals, view their full trip itineraries and access all emergency contact information.

The company itself was founded nearly thirty years ago in an effort to meet increasing demand for employers to ensure the safety of their employees while travelling under their care. Group managing director Matthew Judge said: “Major events of the 21st century, most notably the terrorist attacks of 9/11, have placed an even greater pressure on corporations to safeguard their travelling employees.” Anvil helps businesses with travel risk management programmes along with traveller tracking and on the ground medical or security support.

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Anvil launched ETMS after corporations provided feedback saying traveller tracking systems were not up to scratch. “The most common issues were that systems had been designed to a ‘one-size fits all’ standard, with limited functionality and no potential or adaptation,” said Judge. Anvil explored developing a framework for a system that could compile all the features of a traveller tracking product, but also offer clients the chance to dictate additional functionality requirements.

Clients range from FTSE 100 brands to small startups looking to ensure they meet duty of care obligations for their travelling employees. Judge pointed to the all-encompassing nature of the tool when considering where its innovation lies. “When something goes wrong overseas, responding quickly is imperative – from safeguarding the employee to notifying their family. The EMTS tool consolidates all these needs into one customised and unique application.”

For Anvil, a key benefit to the advancement of the product was that it was designed in-house, without need for any of the development work to be outsourced. When looking to make adjustments – the process is obviously much quicker as the team can make immediate amends in line with specific client feedback.

Innovation can sometimes seem to be a rather woolly concept, so from a company that has excelled in this space, just what is necessary for successful innovation? Judge said that for Anvil, the focus lies with the developers understanding the ins and outs of what those implementing the tool would see. “The more the developers understand the user experience, the more innovative they become,” he commented.

Airborne Systems was a recipient of the International Trade award. The Welsh-based major manufacturing employer was recognised for its increasing overseas sales during the last three years, as well as exporting more than 50 per cent of turnover. The company, which specialises in the design, manufacture and support of military parachutes and aerial delivery equipment, has long been a go-to in its field. Its offerings are primarily developed initially for the UK’s Ministry of Defence, but also seeks to build on its international military customer base.

President and managing director Chris Rowe points to the impressive repeat business sales as an area of particular pride for the company. “Typically 80 per cent of sales for the same or similar products remain year-to-year. Our monthly reporting cycle includes measures of on-time delivery, value of overdues and quality.” He added that a fundamental principle of his business is that “we cannot get a premium price from our customers” unless it is a top performer.

The company has been growing steadily over the past nine years, with a compound annual growth rate of about eight per cent, which Rowe credits to a general improvement in its business processes, and a value-based operating strategy focused on three core value drivers – generating profitable new business, making steady improvement to its cost structure and providing real value to customers (and pricing products to reflect this value).

There’s also an important stability to the workforce – Rowe stated that Airborne has generations of families in the business, and among the 360 employees, over 20 per cent have worked for Airborne for over 15 years.

When considering the fruitfulness of long-term employees in a wider sense, Chris Pichon, chairman of Hertfordshire-based Enterprise Agency Wenta, is a great example. He collected the only lifetime achievement award – reflecting not just his role in promoting the growth of business enterprise, but doing so for nearly twenty years.

Pichon worked in HR for 18 years, before opting to start his own business. He came across Wenta during this process, and Pichon credits the company and CEO at the time, Ken Hards, as being “the only help we got”. 

“Ken mentored me in the early years too, and when I sold the business to my partner, Ken was on hand to advise me again in 1995 when I joined Wenta,” he explained.

Despite only intending to stay for a couple of years, Pichon admitted that he found the role of CEO one that “that just kept on challenging me”. He ended up remaining in the position for eighteen years. The company has flourished from its status as a “one-man band”, as Pichon put it, when founded in 1983, growing steadily into a multi-million pound company with four separate divisions.

The business focuses on encouraging business startups and supporting small businesses, with one-to-one advice, business training and education programmes. The scope of support available is reflected in the sprawling range of places Wenta occupies – the business centre premises offer workshops and offices with a combined space of over 100,000 square feet. It also operates six business incubation centres designed to help prospective entrepreneurs.

Stephanie Adams had two young children when she decided that she needed greater flexibility in her work, and started exploring the possibility of self-employment. While researching her options she noticed many other local mothers in a similar position to her, as well as the organisation Motivating Mum – which supports mothers looking to set up their own businesses.

After deciding to launch a franchise in East Hertfordshire, Adams attended a Wenta training course, discovered My Incubator along with its one-to-one support. She said that the resources available have been important for a number of reasons. “I’ve benefited from being able to use the shared office space, and from networking with other businesses that are using the facility,” she said.

When considering the ongoing development of Wenta however, Pichon said that the involvement of the whole team has been crucial. “It’s their contributions across the wide areas of activity that Wenta engages in, at the very heart of local communities.” Pichon’s position at the helm though, has enabled the lively company to thrive, and his HR background provided a useful understanding of people in the workplace, and their motivation. “The trick is to know when to let go and hand over responsibilities and decision-making to other people,” he advised.

The main impact that Pichon has tried to instil with Wenta is encouraging “more of a ‘can-do’ society, and not so much a ‘hand-out’ one”. He thinks less red tape regulation, better access to early stage finance and longer-term vision from government rather than less short-term initiatives with no legacy would boost UK SMEs further, but ultimately says that the outlook is increasingly rosy for small businesses.

Pichon offered once piece of guidance for those hoping to develop their business further. “Don’t be to too busy to take advice. Look for the local support that’s there either through the enterprise agency networks, the FSB or local Chambers of Commerce. Be part of your local business networks and don’t try to do everything yourself.”

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