Gerry Creedon highlights his experience of working with successful British serial entrepreneurs. He worked for Lord Hamlyn of Edgdeworth (deceased) for 18 years. Gerry also worked for Lawrie Lewis, the founder of the Blenheim Group for 2 years. During this time he worked on various internal business projects. Both the serial entrepreneurs had a keen interest in Innovation. For instance, Lord Hamlyn built businesses in the construction, publishing and the hospitality sectors. He was also a renowned Philanthropist. Lawrie Lewis developed a business model for exhibition organisers. He is seen as the father of the modern trade exhibition industry. We intend to focus on Gerry’s time with Lord Hamlyn in this blog post.
Lord Hamlyn CBE spent the Second World War as a Bevin Boy . Here he served Britain by working in the coal mines along with the likes of Eric Morecambe OBE - the comedian. Gerry highlights how he was proud of his service and kept his tin hat in his office. Lord Hamlyn owned and managed several businesses as a portfolio. He would cross utilise resources from the various organisations he owned. In other words, Lord Hamlyn would build cross functional teams per project. After his death this changed. Each business in the portfolio focused on their own businesses and no longer worked on new projects together.
Lord Hamlyn’s example highlights how a loose portfolio of businesses can be managed to generate new businesses. For example, the Building Project where Sainsbury’s HQ is currently based today was a new venture for Lord Hamlyn. He did not list his successful businesses on the stock exchange. This gave him a high degree of control in all the businesses. Which in turn allowed him to leverage resources from all of them to generate new ventures.
From a business management perspective this is a complex way of building businesses. Some of the potential concerns Lord Hamlyn would have to face would have been measuring the performance of the existing businesses. Deciding which businesses to keep? Which to sell off? When to sell? Who to sell the business to? How to organise a pipeline of new projects? Measuring the the impact on the performance when resources are cross utilised. For example, how do you ensure existing businesses are not put in danger when taking resources.
Gerry started work with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation initially on a short term contract in 1990. Yet, two decades later he was still working with them. Officially he was always a staff member of the foundation. But, he was seconded to various internal business projects. The three projects that stand out during Gerry’s were Chateau de Bagnols. A publishing venture in Australia, which was unsuccessful. And, the Sainsbury Plc HQ building project. Focusing on the Sainsbury’s HQ building project now.
Sainsbury Plc HQ Building Project
After divesting part of his investment portfolio Lord Hamlyn was looking for a new project to invest in. He came across a new building being built where the old Mirror Group Newspapers HQ used to stand. The HQ was being torn down and being rebuilt as Arthur Anderson Consulting UK HQ building. He bought the project from the developer. Here the Hamlyn Group of businesses were building this project without sector/ industry experience. The project was nearing completion when Arthur Andersen as a corporation went into liquidation as a result of the Enron collapse. So they were building a custom designed building where the tenants were no longer around. This created a high degree of uncertainty. They eventually housed Sainsbury HQ in the building on better terms. This meant a higher rental rate than those agreed with Arthur Andersen !
Gerry's thoughts on Internal Innovation
Gerry feels that an Entrepreneur’s core skill set is to commercially innovate an idea or a concept. He feels this core skills set is unique to each entrepreneur. In other words, they may see the same opportunity but how they will go about commercialising it will be different. This difference is based on their approach, their world view, etc. For example, he feels one of the features of Lord Hamlyn success was that he was the investor and the entrepreneur both at the same time. Yet, he also feels this only works in very rare cases.
In his experience, Lord Hamlyn was both the decision maker and the investor. Because of this he could take advantage of opportunities instantly. He feels if Lord Hamlyn had used a structure with an Advisory Board the speed, the flexibility and insight embedded in him would have been diluted. This in turn would have lowered his ability to respond to events and capitalise on new opportunities quickly.
Another Entrepreneurial trait Gerry highlights is their ability to read the situation. He feels this is one of the fundamental traits that separates an employee from a decision maker. As an employee your technical skills to deliver an activity will be nurtured. But, as an entrepreneur your ability to read the situation will be nurtured. For example, when dealing with Arthur Andersen’s liquidators. Gerry had calculated a 'X' + plus % based figure to offer them based on intrinsic value. Yet, when Lord Hamlyn went over the figures he changed the figure to 25% of 'X' and the liquidators accepted this. Here Lord Hamlyn better understood the liquidators interest in the project. He offered a price accordingly.
By retaining his Sole Trader mindset Lord Hamlyn was able to leverage resources. Pursue opportunities and maintain ownership. This ensured he could remain agile and flexible. He could also call on the scale he had successfully built up like Paul Hamlyn Publishing and Octopus Publishing.
One of the major recurrent problems Gerry feels is finding the right kind of people for innovative projects. The problem tends to be that employees by definition are not entrepreneurial. When companies hire employees they tend to focus on their technical ability. They also prefer those people who fit well into a pre existing system. But, innovation projects need agile, self motivated, self drivers who are open to taking risks. This tends to be less available in large companies. A cross functional team approach can help because the pool of staff being used to select from is broader and deeper.
He feels Innovation as a skill can be nurtured in larger companies in ways that develop staff as well. In other words, it does not have to be an either or choice. For instance, he feels Innovation projects can be a good way to develop Senior Management skills. This can also be part of the company’s Strategic Human Resource Development . Here the innovation projects help to reduce opportunity gaps within firms. It also helps the staff nurture the insight needed to deal with concerns they will be facing in the same positions they are being groomed for.
Larger companies need to appreciate innovative projects cannot simply be bolted on/ added to their existing performance engines.( the core business operations ). Vijay Govindarajan - author of the other side of innovation - also highlights this point in his book. They need to be streamlined into the daily activities of the Business.
Some of the key concerns Gerry feels companies should address are -
Gerry has earned his MBA since leaving the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. He has also set up his own Business Support Service - Gerry Creedon Associates. Here he supports other entrepreneurs build successful businesses. He is also the co founder of Stairs And Shares - a sharing economy solution for entrepreneurs.