Login Register

Cheshire Business Award winners gather to talk about driving growth and success

Round table discussion in Chester about the value of retaining the best people for the job

Looking after and retaining your best people is one of the biggest drivers of business growth and success.

That was the view of leading business people and professionals who gathered in Chester for the Trinity Mirror Cheshire Business Awards winners’ lunch.

Andy Phelan, business development director for Chronicle publisher, Trinity Mirror Cheshire and North Wales, chaired a discussion on ‘what makes a successful business?’, with the panel comprising awards sponsors and winners.

Kaye Whitby, a partner at awards sponsors SAS Daniels LLP, said the economic recovery was now gathering pace and she was seeing clear signs of growth among the small and medium-sized businesses she deals with across Cheshire.

Cheshire Business Awards Round Table event at Oddfellows in Chester on March 19 2015: Kaye Whitby and Janice Atlay
Cheshire Business Awards Round Table event at Oddfellows in Chester on March 19 2015: Kaye Whitby and Janice Atlay

She told the group that this presented challenges for the firm in terms of having enough of the right personnel to give clients the kind of service they were now expecting.

Ms Whitby explained: “We have seen a real upturn in our business because businesses are wanting to invest in their infrastructure and legal services.

“We have to be more creative now. Clients don’t just want legal advice, they want business advice, too.

“We have had a young lady working with us as a paralegal and she is studying to become a solicitor. She has been with us for just over a year now and she has shown real acumen.

“She has gone the extra mile. She is exceptional and now she has secured a training contract with us. She now understands how we work, knows what the clients expect and knows the culture of the firm so she is miles ahead of someone that we may just recruit.”

All agreed that finding people who not only worked hard, but fitted in with the ethos of their businesses, was very important.

Michael Winstanley from the Greener Group, which installs renewal energy systems, said his firm was lucky with one employee.

He said: “We have an apprentice and we are now thinking about getting another one. He was someone that came to us with absolutely no skills, straight out of school. He knocked on our door and said ‘have you any jobs going?’.

“Our heating engineer looked at him and said ‘ok, we’ll give you a go’ and two years later he is still with us. I definitely think apprentices are value for money.”

Cheryl Quine, an executive with Weaver Vale Housing Trust, said her organisation also had an issue finding people locally with the right skills.

Cheshire Business Awards Round Table event at Oddfellows in Chester on March 19 2015: Patrick Brunt and Cheryl Quine
Cheshire Business Awards Round Table event at Oddfellows in Chester on March 19 2015: Patrick Brunt and Cheryl Quine

“At any one time we have around 24 apprentices,” she said. “Cuts in public spending meant we have to think about changing the services that we are delivering and make sure we have staff trained.

“We have an ageing workforce and so we recognised the skills locally are not necessarily able to meet our needs. So we have a plan ahead that we need as a business and make sure we slot in apprentice opportunities.

“We are taking on people right across the board - apprentices in trades, customers services, administration, health and social care. If there is a section that exists then there is usually an apprentice in that section.”

Lauren Tudor of Training Bytesize told how her firm had found the right people in the immediate locality. She said: “We do find the right skills among people we know and trust.

“Nantwich is a very small town and everyone seems to know everyone else so we tend to know who would fit well with us. We have a very, very tight team that does an excellent job and we know and trust them.

“Once we grow and get bigger we will have to look at a different strategy.”

Both Janice Atlay of designer children’s clothes business, Chateau de Sable, and Patrick Brunt, sales and marketing director of Delamere Dairy, said they had utilised talent from the region’s universities.

Ms Atlay said: “Last two to three years I have taken on a second-year university marketing student for a four-week placement. We give them a very meaty, hands-on role.

“My other relationship is with the retail course at West Cheshire College. The lecturer there I have got to know and she recommended her best student each year. That has been a solid approach that has worked.

“They tell me they get so much responsibility when they come to me so it is a win-win.”

And Mr Brunt added: “For the last three years we have had a year-out placement student from Liverpool John Moores University.

“Two of them have gone back and got Firsts and they say they wouldn’t have achieved that if it wasn’t for the experience they gained working for us.

“One is now heading up a department with Typhoo Tea. Another has a job with Kerry Foods. The first one we took on we re-employed him in the business.

“Our students told us that working in SMEs gives them that whole breadth of experience. Some of their fellow students who had gone on placements to bigger companies were just given one little job.

“The more rounded experiences they had during their time with us has helped push them forward.”

Neil Gazzard is operations director at the New Moon Pub Company. He said its rapid expansion meant people were attracted to come and work for the business.

He added: “Our staff turnover is quite good and that is down to how we recruit. People have to have a certain level of skills and then it is about their personality – how they fit into our business.

“We are growing rapidly so people we recruit can see opportunities. But if their personality doesn’t fit and they don’t get on with the directors then it isn’t going to work. That dynamic is important.”

Stephen Vickers of Lawyer Checker said that rather than just hiring people for the business who already had off-the-peg skills, they instead took raw talent and allowed them the freedom to develop.

He explained: “Our challenge has been building a team from a single person to a multi-disciplinary team in quite a short space of time and managing that growth,

“We found the best way of doing that was to enable people who started at an entry-level position to grow into a role – not necessarily hiring for the position. We have formed a really solid team.”

Andrew Giles, group director of ICT at Your Housing Group, said recruitment was a challenge, particularly around skills such as finance and IT.

Cheshire Business Awards Round Table event at Oddfellows in Chester on March 19 2015: Kaye Whitby and Andrew Giles
Cheshire Business Awards Round Table event at Oddfellows in Chester on March 19 2015: Kaye Whitby and Andrew Giles

“We have an aspiration to build 1,000 new homes a year. We have just launched our apprenticeship programme and I think that will be a big feature in terms of home-grown talent,” he said. “It is not just the recruitment, it is the retaining of people as well.”

Mr Giles said that Your Housing had now implemented a policy of flexible working. He added: “Our approach to retention is less focused on salary and more about value-added. We do a lot of additional benefits around salary sacrifice activities and giving people time out to do volunteering.

“Our big initiative, which has paid dividends this year, is our ‘Better Ways of Working’ programme which is a joint initiative between the people team, the ICT team and the facilities team.

“It is all about creating the ability for people to work from where they want to work. In our new head office we are totally open plan - even the chief executive sits in an open area.

“The majority of people work flexibly – either from home or the office. We are mobilising the workforce by giving them tablet devices. One of the real benefits is that it allows decision-making to happen much more quickly, better collaboration.

“The whole morale and the whole atmosphere and people’s enjoyment of coming to work has changed for the better.”


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
Contact Us
Full contact details