Anglian Business Awards: Triple win for Ipswich Building Society

In the latest in a series of Q&A features on the winners from this year’s Anglia Business Awards, sponsored by EDF Energy and Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, the spotlight falls on Paul Winter, chief executive of Ipswich Building Society, who collected the Business Leader and Business Personality awards while the society also picked up the award for Community Involvement.

Q) Many congratulations. You must be thrilled at this haul of awards – what does this recognition mean to you and your company?

A) We appreciate greatly the support of the local community and the regional press, at a time when some larger financial services organisation are under fire, we have tried to differentiate ourselves. To be acknowledged in this way is very rewarding for me, and a testament to the hard work of our staff who always try to deliver the best possible service.

Q) How long has Ipswich Building Society been trading and how has your business evolved? How long have you been with the society?

A) The Society originated as the Ipswich and Suffolk Freehold Land Society in 1849 and the various estates that were developed such as California and Rosehill helped shape the town, as well as building homes in towns such as Framlingham, Felixstowe and Hadleigh. Being established for over 160 years it’s almost impossible to explain how much we have changed as a business, particularly as technology has advanced so quickly in the last couple of decades. However, I believe although the way in which we deliver our services have changed, at heart we have the same values as we always have; we want to provide local people the opportunity to save with an independent mutual and to help them buy their own home.

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As for the amount of time I have been with the Society, I can’t quite believe it has been over 30 years. And I am not even the longest serving member of staff!

Q) IBS won the Community Award. Explain what measures you have built into your business model that seek to embed you into the community.

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A) I am not a big fan of doing something for a local community group or charity purely to generate publicity. Most people see through that pretty quickly, so what we try and do is make it part of our day to day operations. For example, we do the vast majority of our fundraising for local charities rather than large national organisations. We allow each member of staff a half day per month to volunteer for a local charity of their choice, and we also carry out financial education days to local schools. I think the key to getting staff committed to community activities is to give them the opportunity to say which organisations they want to be involved in and how.

We also have three savings accounts linked to local charities so that the more that is saved the more we give to the charity.

Building societies were originally set up to make a difference to local communities and I like to think we demonstrate this.

Q) Has an awareness of the community and your company’s contribution to it always been a consideration for you? Why is it important?

A) As we have been a part of the Suffolk business landscape for so long we have had a good amount of time to build up the links with local businesses, charities and people so I like to think we understand them and vice versa. Being a locally based independent mutual it is difficult to draw a line in where looking after our members and staff should stop; we are all part of the same communities, so to me it makes sense to help them as in the long term you are really helping yourself and each other in making your town or community a nicer place to be.

Q) Ipswich Building Society has been very successful at the Anglian Business Awards in the past and was named Business of the year in 2009.What’s the secret to your ongoing success?

A) I believe it is having a clear and simple idea of what you want to achieve, and getting the right people on board to help you do that. The Society is focussed on helping people have a safe place for their savings and giving them the opportunity to buy their own home, we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel or come up with fly-by- night ideas. The Society employs some exceptional members of staff who have a great deal of knowledge and experience, without whom the Society couldn’t achieve the success it has.

Q) Let’s turn to your personal awards. How does it feel to be named Business Leader of the Year?

A) It is a great thing to win as I do believe I have helped the Society achieve consistent performance since becoming the Chief Executive, and that really was my goal - to consistently grow the business and make it much stronger and stable. Being acknowledged for that is very rewarding.

Q) You also won the Business Personality of the Year award. What do you think attracted the judges’ attention?

A) I hope it was because I am always looking for new opportunities and ways to get involved with other people and put something back into the community. I am involved in many business groups - Eastern Enterprise Hub, Suffolk Institute of Directors and Healthy Ambitions Suffolk are just some of the organisations I am involved in.

I also have a belief that as we spend a great deal of our lives at work we should be able to enjoy it. I want all of my staff to feel valued and to take pride in what they do. Those are the things that I am most proud of, because if you pay attention to those things the results will follow.

Q) Do you intend to use this recognition for the benefit of IBS and business community at large? And if so how?

A) I hope that the awards help give the staff even more pride in what they do. To have achieved the success that we have in such a difficult economic climate is something that we should be really pleased with. It’s all too easy to be humble and say ‘oh it was nothing’ when actually it has involved a lot of hard work from everyone.

In terms of the business community I hope it demonstrates that you can do the right thing for the right reasons and be successful at the same time, and that it might give food for thought to other organisations. Also, I think a part of our success is from the support there is within the Suffolk business community. It is quite closely knit and businesses do support each other.

Q) Your recognition in the Anglian Business Awards came just days after being named as HRH The Prince of Wales’s Prince’s Ambassador for Responsible Business in the East of England, another amazing achievement. What will this role involve?

A) I am passionate about helping businesses to see the benefits of helping staff look after their health and wellbeing. Reducing absenteeism and staff turnover can add real value to the bottom line and help to support staff in having better overall health- it is a win-win situation. I will be working with Business Action on Public Health to provide evidence to support the business case for getting involved, and I have an aim of getting as many businesses as possible to sign up to what we are doing. I am also part of a team comprised of the other Ambassadors and the Prince of Wales that can be convened in times of crisis which requires help from business leaders.

Q) Finally, how did the process of entering the awards help you take stock of your business and would you recommend others to enter next year?

A) Most businesses spend a lot of time looking forward at the next challenge or next quarters results, so it is good to be able to look back at the progress you have made and evaluate what your have done.

It has given the Society a real sense of pride that its success has been recognised by other people, so I would recommend entering. Also, I think that confidence in the local economy is vital, so if you have a positive story about your business then make sure you share it.

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