Chairman’s Spotlight: the couple helping protect our access to clean water

The best businesses are borne out of necessity. Perhaps there’s a customer need that cannot be ignored, or it could be a personal imperative. 

The latter was true for Kirsty and Neil Scott, the husband-and-wife team behind Veriflo. 

In 2015, they sat at their dining room table and tried to imagine a better future. Parents to two children under two – the youngest was just four months old – they saw a gap in the market and took a leap of faith with a new business.

Together, they thrashed out a plan for Veriflo, building on their skills and experience. “We started the business in June, and I kept my job going,” Kirsty tells me. “By December, we were both working full-time for the business.”

Neil, whose background was in the water industry, provided the technical expertise, while Kirsty, the problem solver, and a fast learner, would manage the business and its culture.  Eight years on, their strategic and technical clean water consultancy is the trusted partner for some of the UK’s largest water companies, serving London and the South. 

From major complex infrastructure programmes to everyday maintenance of the water network, Kirsty, Neil, and their 34-strong team ensure that people’s access to clean water supply remains uninterrupted. 

This is a niche industry and skills are hard to come by, so Kirsty and Neil have come up with their own solutions for creating a talent pipeline. Their apprenticeship scheme welcomes cohorts of up to five young people at a time, while their sister company, Gold Tap Training (www.goldtaptrainig.co.uk ), helps to upskill and develop both their own staff and technicians working in the wider industry. 

“We have invested in skills by building our own custom-made above-ground water rig, so that technicians can learn the practical skills they will need on the job,” Kirsty explains. 

At Veriflo (veriflo.co.uk), the team is dedicated to ensuring their clients get an unbeatable service, while maintaining a first-class safety record and preserving essential skills. Kirsty and Neil brought on BigChange to help support fleet management and planning, so that they can concentrate on complex projects while our platform takes care of the paperwork. 

Kirsty says: “BigChange gave us the practical support we needed to ensure our fleet is as efficient as it can be, and as our business grows and evolves, we know that BigChange’s wide range of features will continue to support our future requirements.”

Kirsty and Neil, who have been together 22 years, have carefully carved out their responsibilities within the business, which helps to avoid friction. “We had two rules when we started out,” says Kirsty. “We’ll never use our house as collateral, and we won’t let the business get in the way of our marriage. That first rule has been easy to follow but the second is sometimes a challenge. Having very clear roles within the business helps us to support each other and avoid friction.”

Veriflo has evolved into a strategic expert, both from a desktop and field aspect, taking on the jobs that require skills that the water sector really needs. “In the early days, we said yes to everything,” says Kirsty. “But these days, we have learned to be more selective, and only take on the projects that really fit our skills and company ethos, as well as providing our clients with reassurance of our delivery.” 

They are confident about the future, and the impact Veriflo can make on the industry. “When we think about the future of this business, we aren’t trying to hit a number, in terms of people or turnover. Instead, we are focused on performance, developing industry skills, and ensuring that Veriflo remains a great place to work for our people.”

Chairman’s spotlight: the man championing Britain’s gardeners

One of the reasons I so enjoy meeting BigChange customers is that the conversations we have always expand my mind and show me new perspectives.

This week, I had the privilege of catching up with David Newman, the founder and CEO of Newman Landscapes. He started the business in 2006, building it from the ground up (pun intended), from domestic gardening to commercial maintenance and prestige contracts.

Today, he employs 33 people, but he has big ambitions to become a medium-sized national player with his own academy, training people up in the craft and lobbying on behalf of the gardening sector.

When he said this and explained his vision for championing gardeners in the UK, he blew my mind.

“My ambition is to change the perception of gardening,” he tells me. “A lot of people think that gardening is easy – anyone can mow a lawn or trim a hedge. You put a quote in, and the reply is, ‘That’s expensive – for a gardener’. The truth is that experienced gardeners are skilled professionals, who deserve to be recognised for their work.

“We have done some extraordinary projects at Newman Landscapes, from celebrity gardens to the creation of incredible lakes, which takes careful design, planning, and execution. Gardeners handle invasive species, help maintain ancient trees, and work across huge sites for complex clients.

“Someone could lose their job today and decide to offer gardening services, and they may quote tiny prices to get started, but I want to educate people that undervaluing our profession ruins the industry and perpetuates the myth that gardening is easy, and anyone can do it. It’s time to stop taking this sector for granted.”

I love understanding the things that really matter to my customers. I really want to help David on his mission, and it’s great that BigChange is helping him to scale faster so that he can reach his goal sooner. “BigChange will revolutionise this business over time,” he says. “We have more than 1,000 sites in our ground maintenance business and now I know, at every minute of the day, how jobs are going and where we are as a business. This used to take up hours of my week and now I get an instant snapshot, which will help us grow.”

David lives and breathes horticulture; it’s in his blood. His great grandfather owned a floristry business, and his father is a Royal Horticultural Society certificate holder. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” he says. “Even today, I’m happy to get my hands dirty and jump in a digger or help out the team.”

A true advocate for his industry, and a skilled and passionate gardener, I can’t wait to see what David does next.  

Chairman’s Spotlight on Andy Patterson, founder of Automotive Group

“I can’t sit still. I’m always on the go and constantly coming up with new ideas.”

Does this sound familiar?

When I sat down with Andy Patterson, the extraordinarily successful serial entrepreneur behind Automotive Group, he talked about his drive – “I really enjoy working,” he told me. “My ideas may not always be perfect, and they aren’t always executed flawlessly but I do it anyway, and that’s how you get somewhere in life.”

I think most entrepreneurs would identify with this statement. I certainly do. According to Andy, success comes as a result of three things: ambition, being open to new opportunities, and embracing change.

Spotting opportunities

Andy’s story is seriously impressive. He spent his younger years working in bars and pubs on behalf of a major brewery. But even then, he had an entrepreneurial flair. “I have always liked cars and I’m good with my hands so when a friend started working for a dent repair company, I decided to try it out.” He wanted to be his own boss, he told me. “I wanted to be in a position whereby if I worked hard, I got rewarded. If I was lazy, I wasn’t. As an employee, it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference how much effort you put in, you get the same result. As my own boss, I was in control.”

He started his first company, Automotive Repair Systems, in 1997. “I was a man in a van, travelling around selling myself to car dealers, leasing firms and the like, taking small dents out of vehicles.” However, it wasn’t long before he spotted the opportunity to diversify. “Customers wanted bumper repairs and alloy wheel replacements,” he said. “I didn’t offer them at the time, but I decided to give it a try.”

The power of ambition

Today, Andy’s company is one of the most successful independent firms in SMART repair, serving customers across England. SMART, which stands for Small and Medium Area Repair Techniques, which means most of this work can take place in under an hour. As a group, Andy’s companies has over 178 vehicles out on the road, with mobile technicians providing services as well as implanted technicians in major car dealerships. The business head office is in Orpington, Kent with a Northern office in Liverpool.

Ambition has been key to Andy’s success, helping him over bumps in the road. “When we started employing people, that was hard,” he recalled. “At one point, we had 10 people, which meant ten times the responsibility and headaches, but I was no better off financially. At that point, I found myself wondering, ‘Why am I doing this?’” He persevered, and today the business employs over 200 people, and Andy’s talented management team have allowed him to step into a strategic role and found other ventures.

Change is crucial

As the business became more successful, the admin piled up. “Our lady in accounts was spending an entire day each week inputting paper invoices into our accounts software,” Andy says. “Our technicians were using carbon copy invoice pads, which were not only producing ridiculous amounts of paper, but they were also creating too many errors.” Incorrect VAT calculations, illegible handwriting, and other human errors meant that 5% of invoices had to be reviewed. It was time to make a big change and modernise the business.

“Since implementing BigChange, our accounts teams no longer spend one in five days on admin input,” says Andy. “There are now rarely any human errors, and we have access to a phenomenal wealth of data that helps us make business decisions based on facts rather than gut feel.”

BigChange has had a big impact on the business, especially when customers have a query. “We no longer have to go to the archive room and sift through hundreds of paper files. We have it all at the click of a button.” The only downside of BigChange? “When you have people on the team who have been using paper processes for 20 years and don’t want to change, that’s a challenge. We tried to downplay the scale of the transition but that’s a little difficult when you’re working with a company called BigChange – thanks for that, Martin!”

Over the years, the business has been through tough times – like when a dealership went bust, owing Automotive Group £35,000; “That really hurt us. I took the hit personally to make sure our people got paid” – but every day, there are little wins that make it all worthwhile. “It’s so satisfying when people are blown away by your service,” Andy says. “When their car looks brand new, and it only cost them £100 when they thought it would cost them 10 times that amount.” 

And with other businesses currently achieving great exponential growth and acclaim across F1 Hospitality, Wine business in Monaco, Other Automotive businesses, along with an extensive property portfolio and more, Andy is proving that his recipe for success can be applied to businesses in all sectors. We wish him well!

Chairman’s spotlight on: Jamie Sanders, Director of Barwick Facilities Maintenance

“Just 14 years ago I was an electrician on the tools. Now, here I am, running a company and employing 30 people.”

This week, I’d like to talk about Jamie Sanders. He is someone who embodies all the qualities I respect in a leader: ambition, integrity, and determination. He is a true self-made man, and has created a culture of honesty, hard work, and empathy at Leeds-based facilities maintenance firm Barwick.

Jamie didn’t have the easiest start in life but, through hard work and skill, he has built a successful career, recently rising through the ranks to become the boss of Barwick, which boasts some seriously impressive clients, from Pandora to Stonegate to B&Q. Here’s his story.

“I was the middle child in a family of five. We grew up with nothing, living in a council house. I don’t remember having aspirations back then. No one in the family had ever been to university. I came out of school with poor results, but I wanted to earn so decided to work on site. When I found out that the highest paid trade was an electrician, that’s what I decided to become.

“I was 19 when my first child was born. I was an apprentice, on minimum wage. Then my second daughter was born 18 months later. Becoming a father gave me the drive to better myself, and really knuckle down.

“In the third year of my apprenticeship, the company I was working for went bust. Luckily, the boss there was great friends with Dave Costello, the founder of Barwick, so I got a job there. There was no interview. I just left my old company on the Friday and started at Barwick on the Monday. When I came out of my time, I was soon running teams of eight electricians, helping on major fitouts for the likes of Comet.

“I was there for seven years when I decided to set up my own company. Things went well for a while. I had my own team and was building up a client base. Then an unscrupulous customer failed to pay me £20,000, leaving me and my business high and dry.

“In 2010 I spoke to Dave at Barwick, and he offered me a job as an engineer. Six months later, he offered me the contracts manager position. He told me then that he had always hoped I would take over the business and, today, I am the boss and retain the majority shareholding.

“When I rejoined the business in 2010, all the jobs were handwritten in a book, and highlighted in green or red if they were complete. It was horrendous. I implemented Excel but soon we were juggling four spreadsheets. It was a real struggle to stay on top of everything. When I saw the BigChange platform, I was blown away.

“We started using BigChange in 2021 and now we use almost every feature. It’s got everything we need in one place. Now that we have automated so many processes, I have more time to work on my strategy for the business. Historically, we have always been reactive, and it’s been hard to plan, and we were always chasing cashflow. Now, I have more control over how I want to grow.

“When it comes to being a leader, I’ve had no formal training. I have figured things out on my own and I’m always trying to improve and learn better ways of doing things. I like to support my team, and to give people a chance. I have often taken individuals on when they are going through a bad time. I have had tough times in my life and know the impact that a little financial help – even just a small loan – and emotional support can have. 

“I’m glad that I had the experience of starting my own business – I learned some important lessons during those years. It was an itch I needed to scratch. And I’m incredibly grateful to my wife, Malisa, who has been by my side for 27 years now. 

“I am really looking forward to all we can achieve with Barwick. We have the right people and technology in place, and I’m confident we have a great future ahead.”

Chairman’s spotlight on… Paul Clark, Founder & MD of Paul Clark Services

What does it take to build a successful business? It takes ambition, the ability to spot an opportunity, and the presence of mind to keep investing back into your people, product, and customer success.

When I met Paul Clark, I saw an entrepreneur who ticked all three boxes. His company, Paul Clark Services, has become the go-to partner for the UK’s biggest coach and bus companies, from Stagecoach to First Group and Arriva, maintaining and repairing these hard-wearing vehicles 364 days a year.

Last year, PCS celebrated 25 years in business – a testament to the enduring appeal and continued growth of this company.

When Paul started out, it was just him in a second-hand van. Today, PCS manages 125 engineers. “I come from a humble background and, if I’m honest, I never dreamed my company would become so successful,” he tells me. “It’s taken a lot of hard graft to get us here.”

He created the business when he was 29, after working in the industry for over a decade. “I started working on buses through an apprenticeship,” he explains. “First, I worked for a local bus and coach company. When I was 21 and had finished that apprenticeship, I started working at Thamesdown Transport, the local municipal bus company – I was their youngest skilled engineer.” 

But Paul had big dreams. He rose to become assistant engineer manager but that’s where his prospects ended – “I couldn’t go any higher because there were no more openings,” he says. “That’s when I decided to give it a go on my own. I was single and had a small mortgage. If I was ever going to give it a shot, I knew that was my chance.”

Paul spotted a gap in the market for a self-employed engineer specialising in the bus and coach industry. There was a talent shortage in this sector and, if you had the experience and were happy to travel, the work was there. “The minute I started working for myself, the phone started to ring,” he says. “There were no websites back then, just word of mouth recommendations, but I was always busy.”

When the workload became too much for one man, Paul persuaded an old colleague, Michael Kerslake, to leave Thamesdown and join him as an equal partner in PCS. The business thrived, and more engineers came on board.

Over the years, Paul has deftly adapted the business to stay relevant to the modern trading environment. Whether it was diversifying into ambulances or moving into electric and hydrogen vehicles ahead of the market, he has consistently reinvested into PCS.

One of his smartest investments, he tells me, was BigChange. “We wanted to move away from our paper scheduling system,” he says. “BigChange has transformed the business. When our schedules were ready, we used to call and text every single engineer. Now that’s all automated, which saves so much time.

“Our customers love it too. We track all the information for each job, and I’ve been told we stand out from our competitors because of the detailed reporting we offer.”

There have been tough times over the years. “The biggest challenges arise when customers have financial difficulties,” he explains. “One company owed us £50,000 and went into administration – we never saw a penny.” The pandemic also took its toll: “For 12 weeks, buses stopped running,” he says. “Our engineers are mostly self-employed, so my job was to keep the guys from starving.”

The very talent shortage that helped Paul establish PCS has also become a challenge. “We bring on one apprentice a year and pay the highest rates to tempt engineers in.”

Paul has the three entrepreneurial qualities – ambition, vision, and resilience – in spades. Now, like me, he’s thinking about legacy, and helping create new leaders within his business.

“I’m 56 now, and my son is a second-year apprentice in the workshop,” he says. “I’ve started talking to the managers here about the future – perhaps a management buyout? My ambitions have shifted and evolved. It’s all about having a healthy business for my ambitious management team.”

Chairman’s spotlight on… Graham Nixon, CEO of Nixon Hire

In life, patience is a virtue. In business, impatience can be even more valuable.

When you want your company to grow, to modernise, and to evolve, you can’t sit back and wait for things to happen. You have to drive that change. You must motivate your people and inspire them to be their best. It is your energy and sheer force of will that catalyse to bring new ideas to life.

When I met Graham Nixon 15 years ago, I recognised a kindred spirit. Graham is a self-confessed “impatient man”. “I embrace change,” he tells me. “I believe in action first – perfection will follow. Change is what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Graham became CEO of his family business 12 years ago. Nixon Hire was founded by his father John in 1967. “He sold my mum’s car to raise the collateral to start the business,” he explains. “He used to be a sales representative for a company selling vibrating pokers and he saw an opportunity to offer rental too.” Nixon Hire grew to a single depot offering plant and vehicle hire. Today, Nixon Hire offers plant rentals, site accommodation, toilets, welfare cabins and more, serving the whole UK from 13 depots and employing 520 people.

Graham wasn’t just parachuted into the CEO job; he started as a fitter and worked his way up. During that time, he founded a bunch of other companies which taught him all about entrepreneurship – the highs and lows. Impatient to prove his mettle, he and his siblings even started a site services business, which became so successful that it was bought by Nixon Hire.

Nixon Hire became a BigChange customer in 2014, and I have watched the business grow and flourish. “I’m always trying to modernise and improve the business,” he says. “When we started using BigChange, it had a massive impact. No more paper. All our reporting is real-time. Who would have thought that a fitter in a workshop would be using software like this? But now they can’t imagine life without it.

“I am a great believer in getting from A to B in the most efficient way,” he continues. “Today, we integrate many parts of the business on the BigChange platform. 

“My ultimate business objective is to have perfect assets, always available for hire, and BigChange lets me deliver on that goal.”

Graham’s strength of character has shone through as the business has become increasingly adept at targeting individual sectors, such as events or retail. He introduced the innovative welfare cabin – an all-in-one product offering a generator, cabin and toilet in a single unit. The response has been incredible.

Graham never stands still; he’s always thinking about the next big thing. “Right now, we’re building up our renewables business,” Graham tells me. “Our solar pod, which allows customers to use the power of the sun to replace a diesel generator, has been hugely popular.”

Under Graham’s stewardship, the business has gone from £27m in revenue to £85m. “We have added more divisions, and pushed to get maximum utilisation out of every depot,” he says. “This industry is fiercely competitive, with people fighting over the price of a sandwich on kit, so efficiency is key.” 

Graham has created a model that can be replicated anywhere. “We are currently supplying to most parts of the UK right now but need to strengthen our depot presence to make us more efficient and better placed to serve our customers.” This year, the business will hit another milestone: £100m in turnover.

This is the power of impatience

Chairman’s spotlight on: Nathan Wood, Managing Director of Farmwood

Chairman’s spotlight on: Nathan Wood, Managing Director of Farmwood

One of the advantages of doing the right thing in business is that, even if it takes a while for the market to catch up, you know that one day customers and partners will truly value your approach and offering. 

This has been my experience in all my ventures. Whether I was encouraging people to slow down on the roads to save lives, or to eliminate paper and slash emissions with BigChange, sooner or later, the world catches on and your service becomes indispensable.

Nathan Wood is a fellow entrepreneur on a mission. His goal: to improve the air quality inside buildings. He is the managing director of Farmwood, a ventilation specialist serving customers nationwide. The business has been going for 20 years and is an industry pioneer. 

“People tend to take it for granted that the air they breathe inside buildings is safe,” Nathan explains. “But the issue is that you can’t see, smell or taste some of the bad stuff. It’s not like turning on the tap and seeing brown, smelly water coming out – you wouldn’t drink that. But in some buildings, people are breathing in carbon dioxide that has been inside other people four times over.”

The global pandemic brought this issue into the mainstream as businesses began investigating the issue of ventilation. “Most buildings have a co2 monitor today because it’s a proxy for Covid risk,” Nathan says. “And most people know now that the office afternoon slump, which people used to think was caffeine wearing off or the effect of a late night, is actually due to the amount of co2 concentration in the building.”

Farmwood was set up by Nathan’s father Dave Wood in 2002 – Farmwood is an amalgam of Farmer, Nathan’s mother’s maiden name, and his own surname. Nathan, whose background is in heavy industry and machinery, joined the business nine months in, starting at the bottom. “I went on the road as a technician,” he says. “People didn’t know I was related to Dave – I didn’t want to be seen as the snotty-nosed governor’s son.” As the company grew, so did Dave’s responsibilities. “We were in the right place at the right time with the right mindset and culture, so customers found us,” he says. He became Managing Director in 2017.

Farmwood is one of the UK’s few ventilation specialists – most rivals offer it as a bolt-on service. This has given it real clout in the marketplace. “We had a look at our key searches and found that people aren’t searching for ‘ventilation services’ when they come to our website. They are looking specifically for Farmwood, which is a testament to our brand awareness,” says Nathan.

Farmwood recently implemented BigChange. “Every year, we have a new mission statement – last year it was ‘own it’ and this year it is ‘go beyond’,” says Nathan. “BigChange is helping us deliver on that promise. Our engineers have said it makes their lives so much easier and we see the platform as a real springboard for success.”

“They were spending a lot of time on the admin for each job but with BigChange it’s so much more efficient, more professional and easier to use on the go.”

Farmwood is at the forefront of a movement to modernise the UK’s ageing housing stock to help the nation meet its net zero commitments. Nathan is working with the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) to help spread awareness of the Building Safety Act 2022. “It’s the biggest reform to building safety standards in a generation,” he says. “It changes the way buildings are designed, built, and maintained in the wake of Grenfell.” With Cop27 currently underway, the issue of how we design the buildings of the future to meet our climate goals is front of mind for many.

Ventilation has a big part to play in the evolution of building safety: “More people in Grenfell died of smoke inhalation than the fire itself.” It is estimated that 80% of the UK’s existing housing stock will still be in use by 2050, the UK’s net zero deadline. It will cost between £30bn and £50bn to bring public buildings in line with modern standards and compliance.

Farmwood’s dedication to improving air quality puts it in prime position to help the UK make this transition. After 20 years of solidly banging the drum to raise awareness about co2 and air quality, they are poised for extraordinary growth – and this team really deserves it. Remember: do the right thing and the rewards will come. 

Chairman’s spotlight on… Michael Taylor, founder and CEO of Contego

Chairman’s spotlight on… Michael Taylor, founder and CEO of Contego

Sometimes, I think the character trait that has helped me most in my life is my single mindedness. I refuse to give up, even when times are tough. I never listen to those who tell me that an idea can’t work. I stick by my principles no matter what.

When I met Michael Taylor, an extraordinary entrepreneur, I saw that same single mindedness in him too. How else could he have started a business aged just 18 years old and grown it into a national disruptor?

How could he have created a business empire spanning three companies by the time he reached his thirties? What other characteristic could be more valuable as he attempts to transform and modernise an entire industry?

Here’s Michael’s story, in his own words.

Starting out in business

“I started my business, Contego, back in 2004. I was just 18 years old at the time, but I knew I could make it work. There were plenty of people who doubted me but I’m the kind of person who is galvanised by criticism – I just work twice as hard to prove them wrong.

I got into the pest control industry by accident. When I was a kid, a neighbour had falcons and hawks. I was mesmerised by these incredible birds and started working with them. From there I ended working as an animal trainer in London on the Harry Potter films! Someone I met on set also had a pest control business, doing falconry for bird prevention, so I decided to give it a go when I left the film industry and moved back up North.

The Prince’s Trust gave me my start-up capital – a £500 grant and a £1500 loan – and that was enough to establish my company.

Now, 18 years later, we do all kinds of pest control all over the country for some of the nation’s biggest brands. Contego employs around 120 people in the group, and I am the CEO of a fast-growth, dynamic business.

Contego is very different to rival pest control companies. We are a large company in the industry now yet remain very agile, capable of making changes quickly, and always listening.

The industry is built on annual contracts and site visits every six weeks. Instead, we evaluate the risk and adjust site visit frequency around that risk, visiting heavily impacted sites more often and booking fewer visits to low-risk sites.

We introduced smart traps to our service four years ago too, so we get text message alerts when traps are triggered. It sounds logical but you’d be surprised by how few pest control companies work this way.

We also send pest control technicians straight to a site and aim for first-time fixes whenever we can. Customers who go to some of the big companies have to speak to the sales exec, who then books a surveyor who will then finally send the technician. It’s a slow and inefficient process.

We are unusual in this market because we aim to prevent pests returning – we want to fix the problem. Rivals base their entire business models around keeping pests down without eradicating them entirely. The way I see it, if we fix problems, a customer will always come back to us or recommend us to their networks. We get a lot of inbound enquiries from word-of-mouth recommendations.

BigChange customer

We first started using BigChange seven years ago. We pride ourselves on being adaptable and giving customers the solutions they need, and BigChange has become integral to that approach.

We see it as the engine behind our business, and we build lots of products and services on top of the platform.

BigChange allows us to show customers the data they need to make informed decisions – we can give them any numbers in any format they want.

When I acquired another pest control business, the first thing I did was get it onto BigChange. It was the fastest way to get rid of paper processes and find efficiencies.

Plus, with BigChange, you can run multiple service businesses from anywhere in the world, which is a must for a sole founder like me.

The pest control industry needs modernising. It’s historically such a closed and opaque sector. With Contego, I have aimed for absolute transparency and professionalism.

From private healthcare for all my teammates to professional development, training, giving our team a real voice, driving our climate impact down and introducing the real living wage as a minimum, we go against the grain.

I don’t want to stop there; I joined the British Pest Control Association as an executive board member to help other companies in this industry make similar changes and support the association’s mission to professionalise the industry.

We need to embrace technology, analytics and risk reduction and promote the positive career paths the industry offers to make pest control more attractive to a modern workforce.

I’m very ambitious about Contego’s future. I believe we will reach a turnover of £10m by 2025. Most of our rivals are now owned by foreign investment companies so we are determined to be the British challenger that revolutionises the industry.”

What an incredible business built by an inspiring individual. I wouldn’t bet against him. Would you? 

Here’s why you need a Chief Customer Officer

Chief Customer Officer

Customer service. That’s been my number one focus throughout my career. My ability to listen to customers and help them overcome challenges is the ultimate secret to my success.

If you had asked me 10 years ago whether I needed a chief customer officer, I would have said: “Absolutely not. That’s my job.” Actually, I probably would have asked: “What’s a chief customer officer?”

A chief customer officer’s job is to understand the customer. They are responsible for managing a company’s relationship with all its clients, working out what’s going well and what’s not working. The position is relatively new: in 2010, there were only 450 CCOs worldwide.

But the CCO has fast become a vital part of the modern C-Suite. We are living in the ‘age of the customer’ and understanding our interactions with customers is as important as, say, understanding our balance sheet.

Who better to take on the role of CCO than the founder? Well, I have learned a lot over the years and understand that there are people out there who are just as capable as I am – dare I say it, a few may even be better.

When I moved to become chairman of BigChange, I knew I could no longer be the point person for colleagues and customers looking to solve problems or request changes. I had to pass that responsibility – and privilege – to someone else.

That’s when I met Ian.

Ian Burgess has spent 20 years navigating the complex world of customer service and corporate communications within the technology space. He’s a people person; everyone he works with likes and respects him. When he joined BigChange as Chief Customer Officer, I noticed that 350 people left well wishes on his LinkedIn, with almost 450 hitting the ‘Like’ button. 

He shared some of his plans for BigChange here a few months ago.

What I liked most about Ian was his approach to customer service. In a world where most software providers rely on bots and endless ticketing systems, leaving customers desperate to interact with a human being, he wanted to keep things personal. “I don’t believe in hiding behind technology,” he says. “I never want BigChange to become some faceless corporation. The human touch has never been more important.”

I may be a dab hand at customer service but he’s a true specialist. I’d like to talk about two approaches he has introduced at BigChange and their impact on the business.

1. No more kneejerk solutions

When a customer comes to you with a request or a problem, the temptation is to come up with a solution as quickly as possible. The issue with that approach is that you often fail to address the root cause of the problem, and the fix you build is unlikely to be scalable. Ian explains it better than I can:

“My role as CCO is to understand my customers’ customers and walk in their shoes. That’s the only way to ensure that we are building the right tech. If a customer wants a change, I first understand the problem statement, which means that I can not only solve the immediate challenge but perhaps prevent any need for future changes, and ensure the development is useful for as many customers as possible.

2. Transparency and openness

“No company is perfect and the only way to keep improving is to create a vehicle to channel feedback,” Ian explains.

“We do that via two means: our Net Promoter Score (NPS) and our Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) ratings. The NPS relationship survey goes out twice a year. I introduced that so that we had a pulse check of what all our customers are thinking. It’s the single most important measure of customer experience. Then our CSAT surveys go out every time a transaction is completed across Sales, Onboarding and our RoadCrew support desk.

“Those are five-star ratings and show how happy our customers are at every stage of the customer journey and enable us to make sure we are reacting in real time when changes need to be made.

“Most importantly, we take all that feedback, digest it, and create measurable action plans, which we can share with all our customers. We then actually deliver on that plan. There’s no point in receiving feedback if you don’t close the loop and take action.”

It can be hard to an entrepreneur to delegate responsibilities, especially when like me – you love talking to your customers. But making way for Ian has been a revelation. He’s just as obsessed with customer service as I am – and takes it personally. I’m not the only one who is impressed with Ian. We have received so many messages from happy customers praising his empathy, his accessibility, and his ability to find great solutions.

So, if you have a question, or an issue, Ian’s your man. He’s at the end of the phone – or on email:

Ian Burgess

Chief Customer Officer

Mobile. 0787 969 8697

Email. [email protected]

Chairman’s spotlight on… Steve Cardwell, founder of Generator Power

Generator Power

Last year, I introduced the “Chairman’s spotlight on” series to celebrate some of the incredible people I have met on the BigChange journey. There are too many unsung heroes in British industry: people with fantastic stories to tell who are too busy building their businesses to shout about their experiences. That’s where I come in.

This week, I’d like to introduce you to Steve Cardwell. Steve founded Normanton-based Generator Power back in 1997 and has taken the business from nothing to a £50m turnover and is working towards being a truly national player – he currently serves customers from Inverness down to Reading.

Like so many BigChange customers, he founded his business because he had worked for other people in the sector, learned all he could (the good stuff and the stuff to avoid) and realised he could do it better on his own. “I had a real drive to build a business for myself rather than keep working for other people,” he tells me. “But the problem with generator rental is that it’s very capital-intensive. You don’t have a business if you have just a handful of generators. So I had to jump in with both feet. It took me two years to raise the funding to buy a fleet of generators.”

This is something I so admire about entrepreneurs like Steve: their ability to be “all in”. Steve left no margin for error. He put everything on the line to make his business work. Not many people have the courage and tenacity to make a call like that.

Once Generator Power was up and running, he didn’t sit back and hope the business would roll in. He knew he had to deliver a better service than the competition. This is one of the reasons Steve and I hit it off immediately: we are both obsessed with customer service. “If I have to rely on my wit, charm and boyish good looks, I won’t get far,” he jokes. “We have always focused on delivering something to the customer beyond what our rivals are capable of. That edge is what convinces the customers to write our name on the order, rather than someone else’s.”

He won’t say it about himself, but Steve is an absolute visionary; Generator Power was the first hire company to introduce a “power safe” product, where the fuel tank and generator are housed inside a secure and super-silent container. These were an absolute hit, as fuel couldn’t be siphoned out and the generators couldn’t be vandalised. The entire industry has since embraced Steve’s design and his rivals all now offer similar products.

Right now, Generator Power is at the forefront of innovation once again. “Dirty” diesel may be out of favour, but the company has been investing in renewables and hybrid alternatives for years. “We’re leading the field on this,” he says. “We have battery storage technology, solar arrays, you name it. If we see ourselves as a diesel generator provider today, we’ll soon be out of business. So we have evolved to become a provider of temporary power solutions.”

Markets move so fast these days: no business can stay still, or it will be left behind. After our recent investment round, BigChange earmarked a significant tranche of funding for innovation. “That’s the thing about having a “unique selling point”,” Steve tells me. “People copy you and pretty soon you need a new USP!”

One of the other ways that Steve stays ahead of the competition is through Generator Power’s partnership with BigChange. “We became aware of BigChange a few years ago,” he explains. “We had always used traditional paper-based systems. Our engineers would stand out in the cold filling in job sheets in duplicate – we had real issues with efficiency. The beauty of BigChange is that now we have ditched the paper, and our processes are instantaneous and reliable. If you do lots of work for your customer but don’t charge them enough because the paperwork isn’t there, your business grows but profits stagnate. Now, we make sure the right person is sent to the right job and we charge the right amount for that work in a timely manner.”

As Generator Power continues its journey with greener solutions, BigChange has also helped to bolster its environmental credentials. “Our engineers drive fewer miles and go to the right jobs with the right gear, which has delivered a significant reduction in our carbon footprint,” he says.

Steve has been in business 25 years and still has the same energy and ambition he did when he first started. “This is the best job in the world,” he says. “There’s a new challenge every day and I love it.” As an entrepreneur, you must embrace the high points and stay resilient through the tough times. “When we win industry awards for our innovation, and win contracts with blue chips companies, I’m on a high. But managing people is the biggest challenge. Ask me to deal with a generator, that’s easy, but when you have 284 people on your team, being a leader becomes a lot more complex.”

His philosophy in life is simple. “It doesn’t matter what you do in life but, whatever you do, you should do it with all your might. That’s the philosophy that’s worked for me all my life. Do what you do with enthusiasm. People who are driven, get on. And people who cruise, don’t. I’ve seen people sit in front of a fire and demand heat. If you get up and put wood on the fire, you’ll get heat. But you can’t sit back and expect the fire to light itself.”

If you missed my last “Chairman’s spotlight” you can find it here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/chairmans-spotlight-michael-cairns-director-celsius-plumbing-port/