Leadership at speed gains its reward

The speed of change being driven by Lancashire business leaders in the face of the Covid-19 crisis is opening up new opportunities and markets for many.

Projects which might have taken years to plan and implement were up and running in days and weeks. Enormously difficult decisions have been made quickly and decisively.

A range of business leaders spoke of their experience in meeting the challenges of the pandemic head on – and the need to move at pace - at today’s Lancashire Business Week Breakfast Blast, focusing on leadership and change.

CG Professional was the headline sponsor of the event, hosted by Lancashire Business View. A series of Breakfasts Blasts have been taking place every morning this week looking at a range of issues of importance to the county’s business community.

Ian Steel, ‘Keeper of the Flame’ at Lancaster-based family business Atkinsons Coffee Roasters highlighted how it had pivoted at pace during the first lockdown to become an online business.

He said the need to change quickly was forced on the company by the fact it lost 90 per cent of its revenue overnight.

Ian told the online audience: “We were prepared to switch to a more digital economy. This really ignited that fire.”

He said the business had seen a 600 per cent rise in its online sales. Profits had also risen as a result, with the lower costs of a web-based operation having an impact.

Ian said the business was still committed to its shop and cafes, but he believed that the online operation would continue to develop and grow.

He said: “We have picked up a lot of new business outside the region. If we can get them to fall in love with the brand and experience of shopping with use, we will retain that.”

He added: “We had to dig deep and dig in. I’m an eternal optimist and that’s a really important quality in leadership.”

Annette Weekes, managing director of PDS Engineering in Nelson, said the business had also needed to move at speed as the coronavirus crisis hit the aerospace sector hard.

She explained: “We did what we have done before and innovated and jumped into other sectors, such as medical and food.”

Annette said other manufacturing businesses in the county had taken the same flexible approach and repurposed their operations, many to meet the demands of the health sector during the pandemic.

She also revealed that the Covid-19 Manufacturing Cluster she helped set up with Lancaster University now had around 80 members, businesses that had come forward to support the NHS by offering to deliver essential equipment.

Annette said: “It was an impressive feat, to see these companies come together to try and solve the crisis.

“The best thing that has come out of the coronavirus situation is the amount of collaboration we are seeing. It is breathtaking.”

She said traditional competitors were having conversations and supply chains were coming together with customers and academia to deliver solutions.

And she added: “If we can harness this spirit of collaboration going forward that will put us in a good place.”

Melissa Conlon, commercial director of AMRC North West, said the speed of change had also been seen in the acceleration around digitalisation during the pandemic.

Companies had moved to adopt technology and implement change at “a pace no-one has ever done before.”

She added: “Manufacturing has been able to play a pivotal role, with industries being able to keep going through the pandemic, keeping us supplied.

“We’ve seen some great examples of initiative in Lancashire, with companies stepping up to produce PPE.”

However, she said the pandemic had also exposed some deficiencies in manufacturing and the supply chain. Melissa added: “Countries like Turkey and China have been able to move quicker than us because their supply chains are not as complex.”

The pandemic was also forcing professional services to move at a faster pace, said Iain Round, partner at Beever and Struthers.

Decisions were being made quickly, with the practice rolling out a new service to its clients in just 48 hours recently. He added: “We are working better as a team.”

However, Iain warned there was a danger of people “hiding behind technology.” He said: “It is a massive risk, we have to phone our clients, make regular contact with them. Communication is key, whether that is internally or externally.”

John Morrissy, director of change and organisational development at Lancashire County Council, highlighted the speed of change also forced on the public sector.

He said County Hall had “refocused really quickly” with around 3,000 staff sent home almost overnight and he added: “Within a week we had set up all the kit and infrastructure they needed to work from home.”

John said the challenge now, months into the pandemic, was keeping those people motivated through the winter months.

Looking further ahead he said he believed the council would probably need fewer buildings, which meant fewer overheads.

He added that communication was vital when people were working remotely, “making sure they still feel part of the big picture.”

Speaking about how the pandemic had changed his approach to leadership, he said: “It’s about relying on instinct more. This is about pace and not being paralysed by fear and indecision.”

Yasemin Sunbul, Lancashire and Cumbria area manager at Openreach, said her leadership and management style had also had to change to adapt to the new ways of working.

She had to find new ways to communicate effectively with her team and looking after people’s wellbeing was more important than ever.

And she added: “I’ve learned that not everything needs an answer and a solution. People just sometimes need someone there to listen to them.”

To watch this event in full, click here.

Lancashire Business Week is also backed by patrons AMRC North West, Beever and Struthers, Burnley.co.uk, Burnley College, Community Foundation for Lancashire, FW Capital, IN4.0 Group, Lancashire 2025 and PDS Engineering. Utiligroup is a supporter. The media partners are Downtown in Business, Lancaster and District Chamber of Commerce and lovelocalnetworking.

For full details and line-up, visit: https://bit.ly/LBW2020