Doing better business in Yorkshire

Today I had the absolute pleasure of going to a lunchtime event hosted by the Yorkshire Mafia for Leeds Business Week. Unlike other ‘networking’ meetings that I have attended, I always find anything that is arranged in association with the Group to be ‘different’ and often on a larger scale than anyone would expect.

I have seen the massive amount of work, attention to detail and general organisation that goes into anything that the Yorkshire Mafia arrange and this event was no exception.

The lunchtime meeting was held at Bibis Italian Restaurant in Leeds, a central location with the capacity to host a leading business event, which in this instance was attended by more than 200 people.

As Leeds Metropolitan University alumni, I was pleased to see that the event was supported by the recently rebranded Leeds Beckett. Not only is the University a success story for the city and wider region in its own right but I was pleased to see that the Associate Dean, Simon Jones, took to the stage to explain that a massive £500m contribution is made as a result of students choosing courses in Leeds each year.

I have to be honest, when attending some events as the first speaker takes to the stage you can feel yourself glaze over. I’m never one for rags to riches and ‘how clever was I to think up this idea’ or ‘well done me’ type talks. Don’t get me wrong, I am always interested in hearing about the obstacles that people have faced and how they have overcome them – that’s interesting – but the fact that someone has a posh car and a yacht doesn’t really appeal.

And so, Larry Gould of The Big Word took to the stage. He started the business along with a partner in 1980. With 2 people, a phone and big ambition they launched a fledgling company – suddenly this story was starting to sound very familiar!

Recognising that companies miss out on a shocking £48bn in revenue as a result of language barriers there is little doubt that a business focusing on helping you to communicate with your prospects and export clients is going to have a bright future.

Fast forward to 2014 and Gould has just reported the best quarter the business has ever had (which was celebrated in typical Yorkshire fashion, quietly) with the statistics about the company making for interesting reading:

–          International head office based in Leeds

–          400 people employed in Leeds from 39 countries

–          12,000 linguists in 37 countries

–          12th largest business in its sector

–          Aspirations to be top five

Impressive figures but what struck me most was how personable and funny – yes funny – Gould was. He broke down barriers immediately with his quick wit and refusal to drop a story because his time was up. And as for his success, he refers to a comment his father made: “Perhaps you’re getting above yourself lad”.

I can’t quite see that happening but needless to say his short time on stage was met with a huge round of applause and lots of smiles.

The starter was then served and was quickly followed by the second speaker, Adam Cope, former CEO of Zenith Provecta and current Executive Chairman of FMG who had a tough act to follow.

Andrew chose not to talk about the business but instead to focus on a vision for the North. He referenced the fact that our aspirations for Leeds and surrounding cities needs to be bigger and that taking a Northern approach, as opposed to concentrating on individual regional agendas, would allow us to develop a culture and lifestyle to appeal to those considering their future.

His next comment was particularly refreshing; he said that in order to attract the best talent from local universities we need to make the North a compelling option for those making the transition from student to professional. The two things they are interested in are sex and money; as students don’t have any problem with getting excited by sex we need to motivate them with money.

I’m not sure whether I completely agree with this, but it certainly got me thinking. We do need to look at the North and consider how we can package the benefits of all cities within a given geography before marketing it to the country and internationally.

London has long taken the glory and it is about time that we started to redress the balance. I remember very vividly being told when I was at university that to have a career in PR you had to go to London. I would like to think that I have challenged that and proved the theory wrong however we need to ensure that others have a choice and that lessons have been learnt and shared since my time in the lecture theatres at Becketts.

Cope finished with a strong closing statement: “We can do it, we will do it and it would be so much better if we had more money to enjoy it.”

Applause and then the final speaker of the day was invited to take the stage. Helen Beachell, General Manager from Simon on the Streets, is a real inspiration but far too modest to ever take that kind of compliment.

Helen as ever was poised, professional and didn’t stumble, mumble or flounder over a single word. You wouldn’t have known that she was addressing a room of more than 200 people as she recalled a recent story of a homeless man, Dave*, who approached a diner sitting outside of a local restaurant.

The man clearly wanted to be left alone but Dave was hungry and desperate for money to buy food. He asked for any loose change and the response was nothing short of a torrent of abuse. Helen rightly acknowledged that it can be difficult when you are approached by those sleeping rough as you are never sure what they are going to spend the money on or how genuine they are in their hour of need.

In this instance what was out of the ordinary was that the man in the restaurant continued to scream at Dave even when he had walked away. Shouting comments such as ‘Get to the job centre’ and ‘You’re nothing but a waste of space’.

These stories aren’t unusual for Helen, or her colleagues at Simon on the Streets, but that doesn’t make them right and my heart turns over every time I hear what they have been faced with.  We worked on a recent campaign which I think puts this attitude – that of those who are suited and booted and their reaction to the homeless – in to real context, read more here.

Next up was lunch, a delicious plate of slow cooked beef with a creamy mash. Needless to say it went down very well but the thought of those on the streets wasn’t far from anyone’s minds and I’m sure, like me, some people would rather have offered a hot meal to those who really needed it.

Then it was time to chat with some familiar faces and also an opportunity to meet with some new. I couldn’t quite believe that so much had been packed into a two and a half hour lunch but then as I said in the introduction to this blog, nothing the Mafia ever do is half-hearted.

What an excellent and insightful event; great speakers, great company and great food but most of all another event that championed the fantastic entrepreneurship of the region by those living and working within it.

There are business led activities and networking sessions taking place throughout the remainder of the week in celebration of Leeds Business Week so don’t miss out, for more information simply visit: http://leedsbizweek.com/