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Reinvigorating the business energy market

7 Mins

Name:

James Constant

Role and company:

MD of Business Juice and Chair of EnergyForecaster.co.uk

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric): 

2010 – 2012 five fold increase in turnover

Employee numbers:

40

Growth forecast for the next three years:

We confidently anticipate a growth of 30 per cent per annum through to 2015.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

A business energy broker with a twist, our mission is to reinvigorate the business energy market with a fresh approach, making sorting out a better business energy contract painless. To do this, we’ve launched EnergyForecaster.co.uk, an online community to engage and educate UK businesses about the importance of energy.

What’s the big vision for your business?

Simply to be the business energy broker for the UK, to do for business energy what uSwitch has achieved for domestic energy – making it an unavoidable political and social issue for the true benefit of the consumer. Business is the backbone of Britain. SMEs are the forgotten businesses, and this is what we aim to change.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations: 

None, there is too much to do to get the UK into shape before we focus our attentions elsewhere.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it: 

Placing what was a £180m turnover business with 220 employees and the largest business energy supplier in the UK, BizzEnergy, into administration in 2008. This was a terrible time but two things shone. First, the resilience, enthusiasm and passion of the people of the organisation, and second, if it smells wrong, it is – don’t allow the question to go unanswered.

What makes you mad in business today?

Not mad but frustrated… Businesses who “think” they are in control of their energy because they’ve got a better deal from their existing supplier when, in truth, they have got a poor deal in terms of the general market. It frustrates and amazes me in equal measure, the time and money businesses waste on energy without seemingly being aware of the impact energy bills can have on their bottom line.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

Hopefully our calls for changes in legislation, to provide a similar level of protection for businesses on their energy contracts as domestic consumers get, will see results. We sometimes stand as a lone voice for sanity in the market with our demand for simplicity and transparency but, happily, our lead in demanding contract end dates on all business energy invoices is now being followed. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of change needed and not a laurel on which the industry and its participants can rest.

We also want to see a total ban on rollover contracts, the axing of termination periods, and a mandation of communication standards around suppliers’ customer transfer objection practices.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

If you talk to the banks, yes. However, if you are a business and talk to the banks then the answer is far less certain. In fact, there is a big disconnect between what the banks say and do, but businesses play their part too. Understandably it is not just about availability of credit it is also about the appetite for debt, and many UK businesses do not have the confidence in the economy or the attitude of the banks, to take the risk.

How would others describe your leadership style?

Recently one of the team commented on whether the stack of paper with ideas and analysis (pen on paper, not a computer screen) were the work of a madman or a genius. I’m not sure which I liked more! Regardless I believe my passion and smile are my most recognised traits.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

Books. I love to learn and love to be inspired; whether it is Fangio or Aristotle, people of achievement drive my spirit. I’m a true book person and though the convenience of e-books is undeniable, a well stocked shelf will always win for me.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

The government needs to be sure not to interfere in a way that doesn’t allow markets to operate effectively, such as with the recent attempt to remove the excesses of energy suppliers. We live in a world of private enterprise and competition, otherwise known as capitalism. In keeping with this principle it is businesses, in this case, the energy companies reason for being, as with any other business, to recover the costs of their investments and to return value to their shareholders. 

The capitalist system is “designed” to reward winners and deprive losers. The fact that the government is proposing what it is tells us that the energy market is not working and that the concept of choosing winners and losers is impaired.

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