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“Strategy is Key for SMEs”....
Vanda Murray OBE – the high profile independent company board director – last night advised an audience of North West business leaders that having a well thought out and targeted strategy that is focussed on growth is key if SMEs want to thrive in the long-term. Vanda was addressing the Odgers Interim Annual North West SME Dinner which this year took place at Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire, and was entitled “The SME Boardroom – Practical Solutions to Achieving Growth”.
Vanda told the assembled audience that “running a small business is the hardest job around” and that “it is not for the faint hearted” but that the process can be made easier if “careful thought is put into strategy”. However, she stated that it is essential any plans are stuck to and – most importantly implemented - otherwise all efforts, no matter how well intentioned - are wasted. According to Vanda, many organisations are “fearful of developing a cohesive strategy as they get bogged down with producing lots of models, plans and papers”. In reality, she believes, “it is about knowing the environment in which you operate, recognising opportunities and also understanding exactly where you are going”. Whilst on growth - she said - “it is about grabbing those opportunities, understanding your own strengths and how you can leverage them so you sell the right products to the right customers.”
Vanda commented: “You should be able to summarise your strategy on a single sheet of paper which everyone – including employees, suppliers, customers and investors – should be able to understand. Your strategy should be sufficiently clear that all stakeholders can buy into what you are trying to do. How you then do it is your competitive advantage.”
Vanda also passionately told the audience that ‘values’ should be central and not an afterthought for every company in the UK; no matter how big or small they are. She encouraged the room to regularly think about – and constantly re-evaluate - their core values; such as what a business stands for, what is special or unique about it, why customers would buy from it and what it is doing differently from its competitors.
Vanda then went on to talk about why it is so important to ensure that performance is managed effectively – especially when there are so many conflicting demands on time – and why employing the very best people with diverse and complementary skills is critical. She also discussed the various
kinds of risks that companies face including; preventable risks (arising from within the organisation that are controllable and ought to be eliminated or avoided), strategic risks (such as diversification) and external risks (events happening outside the company that you can do nothing about).
Vanda said: “For many, risk is an unpopular word. But I think this is because it is poorly understood. The Boards of every growing SME need to have a good understanding about how the decisions they make directly affect the risk within their given business.”
On what makes a good business leader, Vanda noted: “To create a strong commercial business, I believe you must be both values based, and numbers driven. You also need to build strong teams by caring for your people, the community you operate in and your impact on the environment. If you do this, people will be happy to work for you, and their loyalty will pay back. So, stand up for the values you believe in and be authentic. Above all, never stop learning as you can always do better, never stop asking questions and have humility. Finally, enjoy your role as leading a team or an organisation is a privilege.”
Vanda Murray OBE has over 25 years’ experience at a senior level across a range of industries in the UK, Europe, Asia and the USA. Since graduating with a BA (Hons) in European Business Administration and a French Business Diploma from Reims Management School, France, Vanda has held roles at GTE Inc, BET plc and Expamet plc. She has also been Managing Director of PAC International Ltd, Chief Executive Officer of Blick plc and UK Managing Director of Ultraframe plc. Vanda now holds various Non-Executive Directorships with Carillion plc, Chemring plc, Manchester Airport Group plc and Fenner plc. She also chairs an AIM listed technology business, VPhase plc, and is a Governor of Manchester Metropolitan University. Vanda was appointed OBE for services to Industry and to Export in 2002.
The event was co-hosted by PwC. Alison Lever, Partner at PwC, talked about why she believes confidence is slowly coming back into the marketplace.
Alex Lenihan, head of Odgers Interim SME (North West), said; “Vanda is one of the UK’s most celebrated businesswoman and it is fantastic that she is based right here in the North West. Her career to date has been diverse and her knowledge gave practical insight which everyone in the room could directly benefit from. The SME sector is the very backbone of the UK economy so our aim at Odgers Interim is to continue assisting its growth and development. Listening to Vanda provided real inspiration and motivation in what is still a challenging environment.”