The EADT’s Director of the Year, Ian White, offers his three top tips for business success
Entering Ian White’s office, visitors are struck by a large, colourful picture on his wall of a cartoon bus with quirky animated passengers who are journeying through a number of key words that sum up the values of the business he helps to run.
I find myself thinking that this is not the type of wall hanging you would typically find in a managing director’s office.
But, then again, I discover quickly, Ian is no ordinary boss.
Growing from the back-front
In fact, he is the reigning Director of the Year, as selected by the judging panel for the recent EADT Business Awards, who were struck by his focus on employee engagement and customer satisfaction.
An accountant by training who previously has worked mostly in the healthcare sector, Ian has been at Beckett Investment Management Group in Bury St Edmunds for five years. The business specialises in wealth management, personal financial planning and employee benefits, and employs around 50 staff at its Suffolk HQ.
Ian tells me that in the past three years the business has grown by a third each year, both in terms of turnover and profitability, but that the company has been able to accommodate the extra business because he spent the first two to three years of his tenure re-engineering the back office support functions.”
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“We have grown from the back-front,” he said.
“We know we can grow at the rate we have been growing because we have the systems and people, and processes in place that are scalable.”
‘The whispering talent’
But for Ian another key ingredient of this success is Beckett’s focus on employee engagement, something, he says, the company “lives and breathes”.
And this journey, he says starts with recruiting the right people for the business.
“We are not necessarily looking for the captain of the football team, the A-star student who has flown through education and life has been really quite a positive experience for them,” he continued.
“We are looking for what we call ‘the whispering talent’.
“It’s those people who, despite some barriers, have done a good job in previous jobs – and given the right environment they could excel.
“They are not the captain of the football team, but maybe the people who turned up every week, perhaps were substitute, and showed commitment. We are very inclusive and it’s about the team. There’s no room for peacocks.”
But recruitment is one thing, what about retention?
Ian says one area the business takes seriously is supporting people through their professional qualifications, which are important in the regulated environment that Beckett operates.
This support comes in many forms: providing mentors and study buddies, holding mock exams to build confidence and allowing people to spend time on their studies during work hours.
It’s a formula that obviously works with staff at Beckett having passed 30 professional qualifications in the past 12 months.
“It becomes a virtuous circle – people who come here know that gaining professional qualifications are essential to progress but if everyone else is taking exams it’s not exceptional,” added Ian.
Employee engagement pays
Another way that Ian works to make sure his people feel valued is through an appraisal system that is “genuinely a good exchange of views”.
He said: “How many people can say they have an appraisal system that actually works?
“If you work hard at it, listen to people, and act upon it- and it’s seen as a good discussion, then it works.”
But this approach is not entirely altruistic – it is a strategy that also brings results.
Ian continued: “There’s a direct link between how engaged and happy our staff feel and the way they treat clients. My argument has always been that employee engagement always pays.”
But it’s not just boosting staff engagement that has been a focus for Ian. He has also introduced an innovative approach to engaging more closely with customers by trying to make the sometimes mysterious world of personal finance more accessible.
He said: “We are very conscious that financial services is dull to most people, made up of middle-aged men wearing ties and white shirts - and we have thought long and hard about how to break the mould, and to make it different and engaging.”
This particular journey started about a year and a half ago with a corporate video that featured the Beckett’s team, as well as some subliminal messages
Ian added: “We had 50 people on the video – but not one is wearing a tie or a white shirt. It was just a way of starting the journey of lightening the message.”
This has been followed up with a number of animated videos that are used to communicate potentially complicated and uninteresting messages around subjects such as ethical investments.
These are e-mailed out to people and shared on social media.
“We are big on education and giving access to information to everyone,” Ian continued.
“Animations and videos are much more accessible than an e-mail or brochure made up of words that most people are unlikely to read.
“They take the veil off a dull subject and make it engaging – we know how many people get the e-mail, how many open it, and importantly for us they forward it onto their friends. It’s gets way beyond a small company in Bury St Edmunds with 50 staff.
“We can’t determine when someone needs us but what we can determine is when they speak to their friends or colleagues and ask ‘who do you use?’. If that person who has seen an e-mail or video there’s a likelihood they might recommend us.”
This quest to simplify their message has gone as far as doing away with all paper-based corporate literature except for a bound book that features every single response to Beckett’s customer survey.
Ian says customers find this more interesting that the standard company flyer.
He added: “Every corporate brochure in the world tells clients they are going to do a good job. And if you work in financial services you have to have a picture of the City and the Gherkin building and someone with a fountain pen.
“But do you really engage with a company because of that brochure? Probably not. But you might engage with a company if you see how much other people trust them.”