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Entrepreneurs Of The Year inspire me with their grit and gumption

By Laurna Woods

I’ve had an inspiring few months as part of the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year programme, which came to an end last night at Billingsgate Market.

At each stage of the journey, I’ve met business people with grit, gumption and a focus on their customers – traits that were wonderfully exhibited by the UK’s new Entrepreneurs Of The Year Mohsin and Zuber Issa.

The brothers, whose business started out in Greater Manchester, illustrate that this isn’t an awards programme that exists within the London business bubble. It’s one that has its roots in the regions of Britain, and in traditional industries that are being reshaped by entrepreneurial ambition.

It also represents the whole scope of industry – where else would a business like our integrated communications agency have gone toe-to-toe with giants of refrigeration and a landscape gardening firm for a tilt at a prestigious award?

Building from one petrol station forecourt in Bury, the Issa brothers have turned EG Group into a multinational business. Seventeen years later, they operate 5000 petrol stations and convenience stores worldwide and employ 25,000 people.

Fuelled by desire to be the best

That is truly astonishing exponential growth, fuelled by the desire to be the best at what they do and built on an ethos that invests in people, infrastructure and communities, and which always aims to exceed its customers’ expectations.

The brothers ask themselves what their customers want, and what their business needs to achieve that and just go for it. It’s the kind of business story that I love to tell in public relations campaigns.

The “go for it” attitude exemplified by the Issa brothers was very prevalent. Talking to people at the ceremony in London, it was like Brexit doesn’t matter – there’s a determination to succeed, to get on with it, and to never give up.

I’d say that almost without exception, the people I’ve encountered throughout the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year process aren’t defined or driven by their successes, but by their failures. It’s the lessons they have learned in business that have spurred them on.

So much talent in UK business

I’ve also come away from the ceremony with the opinion that there is so much talent in UK business, at all ages and stages.

The winner of the Judges’ Special Award was an 80-year-old. David Bellis is chairman of Innovative Technology, who design and manufacture cash-handling technology. He’s still working, still generating ideas and inventions, and determined never to retire. That’s what I want to be doing when I’m 80.

Another of the winners was City Holdings’ founder Lord William Haughey, whose entrepreneurial lead has made him a mainstay of UK business for more than three decades.

And plaudits went to Timpson, winner of the Family Business Award of Excellence. The company, a feature on hundreds of high streets, has shown its innovative spirit by taking on supermarket concessions to run dry-cleaning, key-cutting and shoe-repair services.

Take a risk, make a success

Timpsons went looking for customers where it will find them – I admire the success the family is making of the risk it took.The category I was a Scottish finalist in, Transformational Leader, had two winners. One was Charles Hammond of Forth Ports. The other winners were Kim and Simon Morrish of landscape gardening firm Ground Control.

In that category, the judges just couldn’t split Charles and the Morrishes in the end. I’m surprised they could pick a winner in any category, to be honest, as the stories and achievements, the insights and abilities of everyone I encountered during the awards programme just blew me away – even with a quarter of a century in business behind me.

The good news for me is that I’m now considered an EY alumni – I’m part of the family, and will continue to be in the company of these kinds of inspirational people, picking up insights from the likes of Chris Stewart of property developers Chris Stewart Group.

It’s been a great opportunity for me to learn and grow and one that I’ll continue to use to help Beattie thrive.

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