The challenge of running a growth businesses is one thing – sustaining a high performance company over decades is another.
Management books are full of case histories on the businesses that got it wrong - who established leadership in their markets only to lose their way, either from new market entrants with a disruptive approach or a failure to spot or respond to fundamental risks and structural changes. Kodak, Compaq, Blockbuster, Woolworths...the list goes on.
Meanwhile, the list of the world’s 100 largest corporations by market capitalisation includes names that have been there for decades – GE, Nike, Johnson & Johnson, Walt Disney, McDonald’s, Vodafone and BP.
So what are the values and characteristics that build longevity, and how do management teams stay alive and alert to the challenges that lie ahead?
We spoke to a collection of business leaders running successful, growth companies within LDC’s portfolio for their thoughts. “People are the key” says Debbie Bestwick MBE, CEO of Team17, The market leading Games Label and Games Creator.
“Our business has flourished over time built on great foundations starting with our Worms franchise in the 90’s, which established Team17 as a player in our Industry. But we didn’t rest on our laurels. We’ve continued to disrupt and innovate in our Industry with digital distribution channels, the launch of our Games Label and our Incubation Programme which supports games creators around the globe. In our market more than most, you have to stay right on the competitive edge. That requires great people, innovation and a kind of restlessness when it comes to new product development.”View Team17 in our portfolio
Stuart Miller, CEO of international technology company ByBox, agrees.
The business was founded in 2000 – making it a relative newcomer – but its journey to date is characterised by that same relentless focus on solving customer problems by inventing new products and services.
“Last year, we launched Stockonnect, which combines a smartphone app and our App Box – a Bluetooth enabled locker that can receive, store and dispense parts to engineers. The whole idea was to simplify the delivery of parts to problem sites, and it came from listening to customers’ problems."
Today, 21 months after inventing the product, it’s been successfully deployed in 21 countries.”
“It’s the same approach we’ve taken over the last 17 years – innovation after innovation, keeping ahead of the competitors and continually serving up something new to the market.”
“In our market more than most, you have to stay right on the competitive edge. That requires great people, innovation and a kind of restlessness when it comes to new product development.”View ByBox in our portfolio
Paul Thandi, CEO of The NEC Group, places a greater emphasis on adaptability, and the importance of speed when responding to market opportunities.
“The NEC was founded in the 70s as an exhibition space. Today, the group comprises the UK’s leading live exhibition, arena and conference venues, from the National Exhibition Centre itself to the Genting Arena, the Barclaycard Arena and the International Convention Centre."
We’ve built out other commercial activities including The Ticket Factory, specialist catering business, Amadeus and the NEC’s third party venue management operations.
“We’ve also got three international projects that we’re looking at.
“It’s all about adaptability and pace. For us, bringing an external investor on board helped to catalyse that, bringing the energy you need to stay sharp.”View NEC Group in our portfolio
For many business leaders, a more literal approach to expanding horizons is the key. Nigel Wilson is the Managing Director of Mini-Cam, the Warrington-based pipeline inspection equipment specialist. The business, which was recently recognised for exceptional international growth in The Sunday Times SME Export Track 100, has grown international sales by 53 per cent over the last two years following its expansion into new markets, including Central and South America. Exports now contribute over a third of total sales.
“There’s strength in diversity,” says Nigel. “The UK market is a fantastic place to be – but it’s less than 4 per cent of global GDP.
“There’s an enormous opportunity beyond our borders, and a business that generates income from over 40 markets worldwide and growing is inherently more sustainable.”
Another key characteristic of business resilience is perhaps best described as a mindset, rather than a model.View Mini-Cam in our portfolio
Des Gunewardena, CEO of D&D London – the restaurant group whose portfolio includes Coq d’Argent in the City, Quaglino’s in Mayfair and the Bluebird in Chelsea – explains.
“Of course, you need to execute better than everybody else – better product, better service – but long-term success comes from a long-term approach to investment, and that requires confidence.
“For us, although we’re growing by reinvesting profits, having an investor of LDC’s calibre as our major shareholder has given us that confidence to execute our expansion plan. You don’t have to constantly look over your shoulder, because you know you have the backing of a major investor that will stick with the business.”View D&D in our portfolio