Pivots can change communities as well as businesses

Posted on the 30 November 2017

Pivots can change communities as well as businesses

By Nigel Mills, Chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum

A key element of evolution, in business as much as in nature, is the ability to adapt to survive and prosper in a changing environment. 

For entrepreneurs and business leaders, this has become known as the ‘pivot’ – a change in strategy, without a change in vision.

Eric Ries, author of the book, The Lean Startup, compares a pivoting business to a car journey using a Sat-Nav.  The driver can’t ask the Sat-Nav where to go, that is the decision of the driver and if on the journey they face an obstacle, they don’t keep driving into it, the route is adapted with the help of the GPS system to reach the destination.

In the case of an entrepreneurial business, the destination is the vision and the route adaptation is the pivot.  Of course, this is not a new phenomenon, the UK has a long history of businesses that have pivoted to remain relevant and successful; however, there are many that don’t, which should have considered a strategic change of direction.

These pivoting businesses are becoming increasingly important in our ever-changing and turbulent economy.  At the recent Entrepreneurs’ Forum conference, held in County Durham, more than 200 North East business people heard from some leading entrepreneurs who pivoted their lives and businesses to deliver success. 

Among them was Teesside-based Andy Preston who made a personal pivot from being a city trader to become a philanthropist and social entrepreneur who established the Fork in the Road restaurant in Middlesbrough, which employs long-term unemployed, recovering addicts and ex-offenders, and the CEO Sleepout charity, which works incredibly closely with the business community.

Using business to deliver the social objectives of entrepreneurs like Andy is becoming more and more prevalent with the use of the pivot principle to focus their skills and drive to help others in society.

I was particularly impressed by CEO of Belu Water, Karen Lynch who told the conference how she became obsessed with waste and the desire to make a difference beyond satisfying shareholders in a traditional way. Exploring the third sector transformed Belu, which provides the hotel and restaurant sector with ethical bottled water and filtration systems with profits going to WaterAid. So far, the business has donated £2.2million to the charity.

Her endeavours have also inspired me to install a filtration system at the Lakes Distillery so we can charge customers for filtered tap water with all the money going to Belu to support WaterAid.

Karen’s ability to use business for social good was shared by another of our speakers, Amar Latif, who lost his sight at 19. A trained accountant, Amar struggled to book holidays that accommodated his disability, which led him to establish Traveleyes, to help blind and partially sighted people experience the world through guided vacations.

Entrepreneurial success can also deliver collateral benefits to society through the social awareness and charitable endeavours of business leaders.  Mike Welch, founder of online tyre distributor Blackcircles, which he sold to Michelin for $100m, spoke the conference about how his business achievements enabled him to establish the Welch Trust in 2015, which supports children and young people in need of critical care.

A similar path has been taken by North East success story Nas Khan, who has also pivoted to diversify the impressive Jennings Motor Group to also sell motorbikes, through a Harley Davidson franchise, and sandwiches with a Subway concession in one of his dealerships.  Nas established the Emaan Foundation, which raised £120,000 to rebuild an entire village in Pakistan, following the devastating floods in 2010.  He has also used the size and reach of Jennings to raise tens of thousands for local charities including Teesside Hospice and the Great North Air Ambulance.

Pivoting to achieve commercial stability and success is vital for most businesses, pivoting to also have a positive social impact has to be one of the most admirable achievements for entrepreneurs.  As Karen Lynch told our conference, if you do something well, something good can be done with it.