Forum Chairman Issues Rallying Cry

Posted on the 21 September 2010

Forum Chairman Issues Rallying Cry

A rallying call has gone out to entrepreneurs across the North East to use their talent and innovation to lead the region strongly out of the recession.

Three high profile business leaders each offered inspiring messages of encouragement to the private sector saying entrepreneurs must step forward and show their true mettle.

There was also agreement for greater understanding of business needs at government level and for entrepreneurs to be allowed the freedom to act.

The calls came at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum’s annual Chairman’s Dinner hosted at the BALTIC, Gateshead, by current chairman Tom Maxfield.

He called for “a seismic shift” in the way government related to business and promoted an entrepreneurial culture.

He said the Forum itself was having to readjust to the new economic climate where additional funding sources were disappearing.

Mr Maxfield added: “As an organisation founded by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs we are blessed with talent and experience that will enable us to devise a strategy to ensure the Forum continues to provide support, motivation and inspiration to entrepreneurs throughout the region. We are up for the challenge.”

Lord Bates of Langbaurgh gave a fascinating insight into the workings of government and the personality of the new Prime Minister.

“David Cameron is obsessed about doing the right thing and trying to govern in the national interest,” he explained.

Lord Bates, who also owns his own business Walton Bates Associates, highlighted the parallels between running a company and running the country and outlined the task faced by the government to balance the books.

He said it was taking a variety of measures, just as business would, to close the deficit, including encouraging growth, cutting overheads, controlling costs and being innovative in its use of technology and efficient practices.

“By showing they are serious about tackling the deficit the currency remains stable, interest rates remain low and you can start building the economy going forward,” he said.

He added that cuts in the public sector would not affect the North East as much as predicted because of continued demand on the welfare benefits administered in the region.

“The idea of 25 per cent being ripped out of the North East economy is not going to happen. But there will be a move from big government issuing dictates and large blank cheques. There is a change from top down control to something that’s more bottom up.”

He said the private sector would be encouraged by incentives and support from the new Regional Growth Fund, Enterprise Partnerships and the Green Investment Bank.

He concluded: “This region has placed way too much confidence in government and had way too little confidence it itself.

“It’s the region that produced Armstrong, Parsons, Barratt, Sir John Hall and the Metro Centre, Sage, Barbour, Vardy and Greggs. It’s a phenomenal and vibrant place to do business.

“The North East is more than capable of standing on its own two feet and competing with any region in the country – all that is required is greater self-belief.

“I have no doubt in this new environment entrepreneurship will be required to step to the fore. You deserve a coalition government on your side, not on your back and that is what you will get.”

Guest speaker Richard Harpin, a highly successful entrepreneur and the man behind HomeServe, gave a warts and all insight into the drive and commitment needed to build a business now worth £1.6bn and which made £100m profit before tax last year.

Richard, who grew up in Newcastle and started his first businesses on Tyneside, built experience at Procter & Gamble and Deloitte while trying to pinpoint “the big idea”.

It came while he was advising South Staffs Water on setting up a customer plumbing service. Success came in turning the concept into a consumer membership service linked to water and utility companies and promoted via direct mail.

Richard founded HomeServe in 1993. It now has 10.5 million policies providing a repair service for home emergencies.

Innovative developments, like covering water supply pipe replacement and selling a free policy with each call-out, have kept the company growing.

Major growth came with expansion into France, one of the hardest markets to crack, and now the United States, where the £10m acquisition of National Grid’s home services business grew HomeServe in the US by 50 per cent overnight.

He said: “It’s no longer about proving I can run a business. I still get up at 5am every day with more passion than ever. Because the business is bigger and we’ve got more great people, now I get out of bed thinking we can take over the world.

“I used to only think a couple of years ahead; it was about survival and if we could make a million. Now it’s about how we can help a real consumer need and be a global business. I feel we have only just started.”

Passionate about encouraging young people into business, this summer he led the introduction of the first entrepreneurs badge to the Scouts Association.

He said: “There is a big responsibility on us as business leaders to help with encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs especially here in the North East.”