The perfect is the enemy of the good

Kirsty Davies reports on the launch of a new Business Awards scheme for Wales that highlights the benefits of taking risks

Perfect is the enemy of the good said David Stevens, Chief Operating Officer at Admiral at the launch of the IWA/Western Mail Business Awards for Wales in association with PwC at Media Wales in Cardiff yesterday. To risk doing things badly first time is better than nothing at all was the message from one of the leading minds behind Admiral’s success.

David Stevens said the beauty of the imperfect was that it was a step on the road to success which was quick, cheap and, most importantly, reversible. Giving three key messages to the 150-strong business audience that attended the launch, he said Wales should develop a private sector that wasn’t afraid to take risks and didn’t fire employees who made mistakes on the way to success.

The IWA / Western Mail 2011 Business Awards
The IWA / Western Mail 2011 Business Awards scheme launched yesterday in association with PwC, is designed to recognise the achievements of Welsh businesses in all their variety. Sponsors include KLM, Cardiff Airport, Cardiff Business School, Go Compare, and Orchard. Sponsorship is still available for the following categories: Go Green Environmental, Excellence in eCommerce and Young Achiever. If you or your organisation are interested in sponsoring any of these categories please contact [email protected]

Stevens’ second message was for businesses to spread success around.  As a result of a venture capital buyout in the early 2000s the online insurance company Admiral opted to share a 6 per cent profit amongst their employees. Companies that are bought by venture capitalists tend to get sold by venture capitalists and in the process employees often lost their jobs. Not wanting to see this happen to its employees Admiral chose to share its profits with some surprising and profitable results.

Admiral found that when employees have a stake in the business they are glad to come to work. When they see the results of their efforts, they are more likely to work conscientiously, have an interest in their customers, and respond to them with a degree of warmth.

Stevens’ third message was not to be afraid of change.  Admiral has developed from being a 100 per cent telephone business to 92 per cent online and 8 per cent telephone. Admiral employees have had to learn to deal with this change; Stevens credited a lot of the success to the company’s chief executive Henry Engelhardt who believes in work being fun and regularly rewarding staff.  Admiral has its own rewards and recognition schemes.

Stevens said Admiral came to Cardiff for two reasons. First, it was within two hours of London and, second, it came with a £1 million cheque from the Welsh Development Agency. Cardiff’s castle, its Victorian Arcades and the beauty of its surrounding countryside also played a large part in the decision, but the £1 million cheque was critical.

Asked whether Admiral would make the same decision today he replied sadly, probably not.  Though Cardiff has come a long way in the last 20 years with the Millennium Stadium, the Millennium Centre, and the developments in Cardiff Bay, the increase in commuting time to London from 1 hour 50 minutes to 2 hours 10  minutes would probably make all the difference.

Launch chair Eurfyl ap Gwilym, a trustee of the IWA and deputy chairman of the Principality Building Society, added that, paradoxically, Wales suffers from it’s proximity to London.  Heathrow is too close for Cardiff to need an international airport. On the other hand, it is too far away in terms of commuting to be an attractive proposition for relocating businesses.

He said Wales should take greater advantage of its proximity to London to have a presence in Mayfair. We should not be ashamed to establish a Welsh embassy in London to attract businesses. This would be one way of turning a weakness, our proximity to London, into an advantage.

Asked whether Cardiff had grown its professional services to accommodate Admiral, David Stevens conceded that although some services such as printing are sourced locally, most of their professional services are still come from London.

The value of the IWA/Western Mail Business Awards is to profile where Wales is getting it right. They will signpost the achievements of Welsh entrepreneurs and the business community and demonstrate that people are glad to do business in Wales. Many of the most talented of our young people have never imagined that they could make a business work in Wales and gain recognition for it. The aim of IWA/Western Mail Business Awards is to show that they can.

Kirsty Davies is Deputy Director of the IWA

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