To paraphrase Paul Krugman, growth isn’t everything, but in the long run it’s almost everything. Unfortunately, scaling a business comes with challenges serious enough to trip the vast majority of company founders, not least because running a big business is completely different from building a small one.
Rod Aldridge is one who managed to stay on his feet, growing outsourcing pioneer Capita from a micro-business to a FTSE 100 giant over a quarter century, before resigning over a political loan in 2006. Here’s what he learned along the way.
"A lot of people have a fear of growing. There’s a comfort factor in being a certain size. We set out to grow, and did so at 20% per annum for a long time. You’ve got to be honest with key people about whether they’re still right for the team as you grow. Over my 22 years I built three major teams; not many of the people who started with us continued on that journey.
"It gets more difficult to avoid bureaucracy as you get larger. A lot comes from the way the directors operate, whether they’re really in the business and know people. We tried to create a very open culture where anyone could come and talk with anyone else. People were encouraged to tell us if they had problems, not to hide it.
"Then we made sure we hired and promoted people who were refreshing and open minded: if they came to us asking for an org chart and where they’d sit in it, they probably weren’t right for us.
"As you get larger, you’ve also got to work more on your communication, both inward and outward, because your profile goes up in the City and the press. You get to a point where you’re no longer in the business pages, you’re on the front pages. That happened to us with the London congestion charge for example, which we implemented.
"I like working with people, but I found I had to spend more and more time with shareholders and analysts. I took the line that I wanted people to know about me and what I stood for than to see me as a faceless boss. Some of those things aren’t comfortable. But if you’re not growing, you’re going backwards."
For more information
Read how Generator’s Alastair Thomann smoothed his hostel company’s rapid growth by introducing professional standards from the hotel industry. Face up to the fact that you might be the one holding your business back here, or if you want to explore the changing role of professional managers – on whom your growing business will depend – this article from BCG has some valuable insights. For the 2003 Management Today interview with Rod Alridge, click here.
You’re Better Than They Think You Are by Sir Rod Aldridge (John Blake publishing) is out now.
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