20 minute read

Thought Leaders

Leading by example, one opinion, one idea, one lesson at a time, our thought leaders are significant in the Leicester and Leicestershire business scene.

With authority in their field of expertise, passion for sharing ideas, and commitment to helping others, they’ve been asked to express their most current brainwaves in print.

Selected organisations and individuals share how and why they go about their business, reveal their ambitions, provide clarity on matters within their industry, educate on complex or novel subjects, inspire with their forwardthinking and progressive perspectives, or look backwards to evaluate what’s been learnt.

Got something you’d like to see our team of thought leaders cover? Send your topics of interest to kerry@crossproductions.co.uk.

Darren Willoughby

Managing Director at 2XL Commercial Finance

Making the argument

Having just come off the phone with yet another lender that operates on a ‘computer says no’ model, I found myself questioning myself as to whether I had presented the case correctly or whether the bank was just being stubborn in their approach to this particular client.

This then got me thinking about whether the ability to argue or make a case in what is becoming an increasingly regimented and automated world is waning?

Sometimes I find myself banging my head against a brick wall when people can’t see the facts as I have presented them. Questions arise here: have I presented correctly? Is the person I’m having the argument or discussion with not capable of seeing the point? Or do they just not want to see it?

Another question could be: are we picking the right argument after all? As writer and comedian WC Fields once said: “I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to”.

Or perhaps I am just disputant and love to have an argument or debate; a key skill in my opinion.

Jonathan Herring’s book How to Argue lists the ten golden rules of arguing. It closely related to critical thinking and reasoning. Argument skills belong among the essential 21st-century cognitive skills, especially when we face complex issues that require careful, balanced reasoning to resolve. This is particularly important when presenting lending cases to banks, but also in everyday life, particularly if you are a parent. I relate to this as I spend much of my time persuading my seven-yearold why he should brush his teeth properly, why he should go to bed earlier as opposed to watching his iPad, or why he should focus on tackling more than trying to score at football.

Sometimes though, arguing (or persuading) is not what we want to spend our time doing. But avoiding those topics won’t help. This can actually have a deeper impact on a working or personal relationship in that it can cause bitterness further down the line.

My advice, talk it out. Whether that’s in a professional or personal capacity. After all, as philosopher Karl Popper stated: “The aim of an argument, or discussion, should not be victory, but progress”. Let’s hope my seven-year-old can see that reasoning soon!

Jennifer Thomas

Development Manager for Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, and Rutland at Federation of Small Businesses

Government action is needed to tackle the cost of doing business crisis

The cost of living crisis starts with a cost of doing business crisis. The prices that small firms pay for inputs are running well ahead of consumer prices. Businesses are trying to absorb the difference, but many are being left with no choice but to pass costs on. Only by tackling the cost of living crisis at its root – that is, the surging operating costs faced by firms – can the Government bring it to bear.

In terms of measures policymakers should consider, cutting VAT across the board would stimulate growth and consumer confidence without adding to inflation.

At the local level, the very smallest firms are now reporting unmanageable energy bills, even before the autumn rise hits them. The energy support issued through the council tax system to households should therefore be matched for micro businesses via the business rates system, alongside discretionary financial support, issued through local authorities, for firms which do not pay business rates.

The smallest firms are defenceless against manyfold rises in electricity and gas bills, not benefitting from the protection of the consumer price cap, nor the leverage that big corporates can harness to get the best deals.

Equally, with fuel prices at record highs, government should look again at fuel duty rates. For those who have to travel for business, especially in remote areas, the surging price of petrol and diesel is putting livelihoods at risk.

At the same time, firms are also dealing with surging staff costs and the old scourge of late payment. We recently won a concession from government with the Employment Allowance being raised, but more can be done to tackle employment costs. As new audit reform legislation is being drawn up, the key to success in tackling late payment for small businesses will be making corporate Audit Committees directly responsible for reporting on payment and wider supply chain practice.

If you would like to support these asks, contact your local MP who will receive regular updates from FSBs lobbying team and who is responsible for their constituents’ concerns.

Bhavin Gandhi

Director at Paradigm Wills and Legal Services

Delays for Lasting Power of Attorney documents

Over the last few months, we have had queries from people enquiring about making a Lasting Power of Attorney to allow family members to make decisions on health and finances, wanting them to be able to take over the assets as soon as possible.

However, it’s not just about making the Lasting Power of Attorney document, it also needs to be registered with the Office of Public Guardian and currently, registration is taking between five and six months, which has been caused by the pandemic.

The Office of Public Guardian is also asking people not to contact them if it has not yet been 20 weeks since they received the documents as these queries are inundating call handlers and adding to the delays.

When getting your affairs in order and making a will, some people say they would rather wait to make their Lasting Power of Attorneys at a later date in the future, but who knows what the future holds?

My advice is that whilst you are on the subject and thinking about later life planning, get your Lasting Power of Attorneys made so that the process is simple for the people who are close to you and so that they are able to take control of matters as soon as they need to. Otherwise, you are leaving them a huge headache that takes a lot of time, effort, and energy to get this sorted.

Don’t wait, don’t delay, take action and put things in place.

Andrea Gray

Managing Director at PPL PRS

Mental health should not be treated as a tick box

Iwas lucky enough to be asked to be the guest speaker at a LAMP Business Club event recently, to talk to its members and guests about how my business is approaching and supporting mental health within the workplace and beyond.

One thing that really struck me about all the fantastic local business people around the tables, chatting and eating lunch, was just how open and honest everyone was about their own struggles. It was so completely refreshing to hear leaders talk about their childhoods and their adult life experiences that have affected them, without fear of judgement or ridicule.

Mental health has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds and agendas recently, with Stress Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Week happening in short succession of each other – but what happens when the next hot topic takes its place? Is it just a tick box for some businesses to say they support their colleagues who may be struggling?

I believe mental health support should be a part of the values and company policy that is as ingrained and a part of the business just as much as training, working hours and benefits.

Building a culture where mental health support is easily accessible, confidential and most of all, recognised by senior management, is essential to supporting our people.

And it starts with open, honest conversations, and listening.

George Oliver

Director at 1284

Leading innovation in Leicestershire

Productivity growth in the UK has been sliding for about 15 years. East Midlands rates are lower than the national average.

Economists partly attribute the problem to small businesses, reports the Financial Times. Uncertainty around the financial crisis, Brexit and the pandemic has understandably left companies cautious about investment in innovation and development.

It’s a challenge addressed in Leicestershire County Council’s Strategic Plan for 2022-26. It matters because almost nine out of 10 of our businesses employ fewer than nine people.

The number of Leicestershire microbusinesses grew by 18% between 2014 and 2019. But businesses need to remain productive as they grow. And it is innovation which is regularly suggested as the solution.

To innovate, as we have seen, requires investment of time and money. But R&D spend in Leicestershire is 1.5% GVA - below the UK average (1.7%) and well below the Government’s target of 3%.

The LLEP recognised this some years ago and has been working on Innovation as one of four core pillars in its own Economic Growth Strategy. Productivity is another. Read more about that at llep.org.uk.

Meanwhile, the County Council wants investment in R&D to increase by 2026 – along with the number of businesses in the county. Essentially, that means more new (and more productive) SMEs underpinning regional growth.

It plans to work with the LLEP Innovation Board to drive forward innovation priorities. Meanwhile, the strategy adds, it will support links between our three universities and businesses to transfer knowledge and turn research into innovation.

I’m fortunate to have worked with De Montfort, Leicester and Loughborough universities on innovation projects over the years. And I can recommend – from one SME to another – the various tools they have for engaging with business through their respective innovation hubs.

There is much on offer and much of it is free. Free help to make your small business more productive. On your doorstep.

Now there’s a good idea.

This is an incredibly exciting time for Leicester. With so many varied and unique projects in progress

James Coningsby

Partner and solicitor at Nelsons

‘A place of opportunity’ City lawyer comments on the future of Leicester

After being one of the worst hit areas in the country during the Covid-19 pandemic, Leicester has bounced back and has been named the best positioned city for economic growth in the East Midlands, according to research by PwC.

The Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index ranks 50 of the UK’s largest towns and cities using a series of 12 indicators including safety, income, work-life balance and more. Leicester ranked at 14, compared to Derby, Nottingham and Lincoln, which ranked at position 23, 34 and 35 respectively.

Twelve months ago, Leicester residents would have been forgiven for being concerned about the future of the city, after 2020 saw its economy shrink by 12.2% and the Covid-19 pandemic not showing any signs of alleviating.

However, if there was ever an example of the city’s resilience and dedication to rejuvenation, then the sheer amount of development that is currently in progress or planned is just that.

Take the recently opened Gresham Aparthotel, located in the former Fenwick store, that Nelsons was proud to work on. Not only does the £17m refurbishment boast 133 beds and its own restaurant, Black Iron Social, but it has also provided more than 11,000 sq ft of co-working space. Combined with the impending opening of the 191-bed Hotel Brooklyn Leicester in June, another significant addition to the area, it is clear that people’s hunger to visit and spend time in the city has returned.

We’re also making great strides when it comes to expanding the city, which has traditionally been bound by a concrete moat in the form of our inner ring road. Keepmoat’s Waterside development has bridged this gap to provide 288 residential homes and apartments, as well as an area of build to rent. It will also be home to brand-new office space, hospitality and entertainment venues, making it the first development in the city to seamlessly link residential and commercial elements.

This is an incredibly exciting time for Leicester. With so many varied and unique projects in progress or in the pipeline, there’s no doubting that the city is a place of opportunity that’s on the cusp of entering a new era, and we’re all fortunate enough to be at the heart of it.

As a demerger can be quite a complex area, it is important to ensure you have the correct advice

Rik Pancholi

Managing Director at Pattersons Commercial Law

Shareholders’ Agreements and Demergers

As a corporate lawyer, there are often times when I am asked to put in place a shareholder’s agreement between two or more individuals to regulate the way they control a company.

Shareholders’ agreements cover a range of different areas in relation to the management of the company and the one I am going to focus on today is dispute resolution.

You may have come across a scenario in which two or more owners have a slight disagreement as to the way they operate their company. Sometimes this slight disagreement escalates into quite a significant disagreement, which could be a difference in opinion on the future direction of the company, or it could simply be words spoken – which cannot be taken back. If the relationship breaks down, then the company can be torn apart, and the value of the company can disappear.

Solutions for getting out of this scenario can vary and if the shareholder’s agreement contains a dispute resolution mechanism, then the method in which the shareholders are to resolve their dispute is often already laid out.

On occasion, however, shareholders – when setting up their company – may not want to incur the expense of putting a shareholder’s agreement in place and therefore, there is no such agreement and more importantly, no method or mechanism in which to resolve any disputes.

There is a number of options available for consideration and this column is going to focus on one method which may not be available to every company, but is one of my favourite options and shouldn’t be overlooked. The demerger option is useful for companies which hold multiple asset classes.

We are often instructed to advise on demergers where there may be a difference of opinion and the future direction or simply a great commercial reason for splitting a company into more than one business unit.

Over the last few years, the transactions we have been involved with include everything from separating multiple businesses owned by one company in order to ready specific business units for sale (or investment), separating residential properties from commercial properties and separating a trading company from its physical commercial property.

As a demerger can be quite a complex area, it is important to ensure you have the correct advice and to ensure it is structured in a tax-efficient manner.

Transactions of this nature will often include me working alongside a tax advisor and an accountant. It is the combination of skills which ensures longevity in a business and maximises value for all parties concerned.

The moral of the story is, that whilst the demerger can be used for multiple reasons, it can also be a very effective tool to help resolve a dispute.

Kevan Liles MBE

Chief Executive at Voluntary Action LeicesterShire

What is community spirit and how do you build it?

We have just celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with pomp and ceremony as well as bunting and cake. Reports suggest that about 25% of the population engaged in some celebration of the Jubilee and, on a neighbourhood level, this will have been manifested as a street party. But not all streets had a party…

I am not suggesting this is a problem because 25% of people getting involved is a huge proportion of the population. For most of my working life, however, I have tried to encourage people to work together in their neighbourhoods for the general community good.

I first came across effective community action when working on St Matthews Estate in the city. Here in one of the most deprived areas in the UK, there were residents working hard to improve the community and support those around them who needed it. I was inspired by the energy and inventiveness of people who worked hard to provide for themselves and their families – and then, in their ‘spare time’, committed to collective community improvement.

There are tremendous examples of this all across the city and county in neighbourhoods and villages. Across Leicestershire for example, communities came together in recent years to take on the running of their local library – keeping a vital service going. This is without any reference to the massive upswell of community support we witnessed through the pandemic.

When I have been asked over the years for help to build community endeavour (also called social capital), my answer is always to give people real things to do. Community spirit blossoms and grows when there are pressing practical issues to be resolved. This provides a focus and rallying point for individuals and populations, meaning people will cheerfully get engaged in doing things for their ‘collective’ selves. A bit like gardening – what we need is for the authorities to provide the resources and then step back and let communities cultivate.

Jay Webb

Managing Director at Jay Webb Consultancy Services

Should I stay or should I go?

Or so the song goes… Sometimes in business, you reach a milestone and maybe ask yourself ‘what do I do with the business?’ Is it time to sell, retire or expand by buying an established business?

Reaching business milestones made me think about this recently when asked by a local solicitor to support a client selling their business.

TUPE (Transfer of Undertaking, Protection of Employment) may or may not apply when an organisation is selling a business, it depends on whether the business or shares are being sold.

There are processes here that you must follow.

You must ensure that your contracts of employment and processes are all in place. If you don’t have contracts, get them drawn up and implemented well ahead of any sale. Remember, if you are buying a business, you need to make sure these are in place as any outstanding liability or failure to have proper contracts in place transfers to the new owner.

As the seller, you must provide key employment information generally called ‘employee liability information’ to the prospective buyer no later than 28 days before the transfer.

There is a legal duty to consult with your staff about the takeover both as the seller and the buyer. However, consultation shouldn’t be seen as a duty. Getting staff on board is key. Don’t forget, if you are a unionised business, you must consult with the trade union. At the end of the day, people are your business, and engineering a happy and successful sale of the business is key to its future success.

You must write to the employees who will be transferring to notify them of the change.

There are so many dos and don’ts relating to the sale or purchase of a business, so above all, talk to your accountant and your solicitor to make sure everything is in place well ahead of any decision to buy or sell.

Phil Nassau

Managing Director at ActionCOACH Leicester

A story others connect with

As we get older, our gathered experience builds a natural resilience. Those of us who ran businesses in our youth are likely to have done so with a naïve, youthful exuberance – trying everything to see what works, blissfully unaware of other’s best practice.

The more time we invest in our industries, the more our expertise grows. Lessons learnt from past mistakes make us bulletproof. What would’ve once been considered a crisis is now just a bump in the road.

I recently read an article on inc.com by Frank Wazeter that got me thinking about this subject. To paraphrase, no one starts a business because they think the world is perfect as it is. We all found something that we believed could be better – it may have come from a place of irritation or disappointment, but we knew it had to be improved.

Those of us who were lucky enough to find and produce that solution early in life may get blown away by the hurricane of running a business. Having the idea is one skill, managing the idea is another. You must learn how to stay tethered.

Write down a clear vision for your business. What is your key objective? What have you set it up to achieve? What is your end goal? Once this is established, re-read it every day to ensure you don’t lose sight of why you’re there.

A clear vision helps you tell a clear narrative. It makes you stand out from the crowd of other businesses, enables others to invest in your story, and helps you to attract the right people, be they staff, customers, or mentors.

A good story is the best way to connect with others – give yours power through its precision.

Sally Smith

Marketing Director at Cross Productions

Emotional connection in a digital world

Picture this… you’ve bought a new cabinet for the office and now you need to build it. There is a lovely picture book of instructions. Do you read it, or do you watch a ‘how to’ video, or do you just use your instincts and build it without instructions?

Pose this question to someone younger than you. As Gen Z become the new-age entrepreneurs, the digital world is an essential structure of organisational marketing strategies. If this question didn’t get your buy-in let me try another… The last recipe you cooked; was it from a physical cookbook or a recipe you found online? Or possibly even something you saw on TikTok?

We’re increasingly hearing about social media users buying into a product or idea having just seen one video from a TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook creator they trust.

And why do people trust them? Because they feel like they know them. These content creators have shared information about themselves or their businesses proving that they’re real people with opinions, ideas, and emotions.

TikTok is the number one video platform, but the other channels soon joined in with YouTube now showing ‘shorts’ for DIY clips and Facebook and Instagram offering Reels. Even LinkedIn is trailing new video features with some of their leading content creators.

You can create a graphic with words to tell others what your business does, or you can show them with a video.

Here are some video ideas for businesses to build trust and rapport with online users: ◆ A tour of your office ◆ DIY and ‘How to’s ◆ Behind the scenes ◆ Before and after ◆ The customer journey ◆ Meet the team ◆ Everyday processes ◆ Favourite tools or services ◆ Top tips and benefits

Don’t get left behind in the ever-changing trends of marketing. Give the gift of emotional connection and raise your digital profile.