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

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 M&E SERVICES LTD., 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. 

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:

Why Nic Hamilton?

Nic Hamilton and his brother Lewis Hamilton

Back in 2017, a young man arrived at the BigChange office in Leeds to give a Motivational Monday talk.

He wowed the team here with his story. Born with cerebral palsy, his parents were told he would never walk. But, even as a young boy, he displayed the resilience that marks him out as an exceptional human being. He went to a school for the able-bodied, and worked hard every day to manage his condition so that he could walk alongside his peers. 

When he got to secondary school, he had to carry a heavy school bag, and found himself struggling to keep up with classmates who ran between lessons, so he decided to try a wheelchair. 

Four years later, the muscles in his legs had wasted away and he was no longer able to walk. But he refused to give up. He taught himself to walk all over again, putting himself through a gruelling regime of stretches and exercises. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to stay inside stretching at break times while his friends had fun and chatted outside.  

All of this alone is enough to showcase this man’s indomitable spirit. But his story didn’t end there. 

Nic Hamilton has gone on to follow his brother Lewis into the world of racing. He has never let his condition stand in his way, and has competed in some of the industry’s most prestigious events, including the Renault Clio Cup series. He has to work harder than any other driver in the sport – a simple acceleration or use of the brake can cause him immense discomfort. “I think of myself as a Paralympian competing in the Olympics,” he once told me. “There is no one else like me in this sport, doing what I’m doing.” 

That chance meeting, four years ago, was the beginning of an amazing relationship between Nic and BigChange. I am proud to say Nic is now an ambassador for the business, and still engages with the team here on topics like resilience and the power of never giving up. He also goes out into the community and talks about our shared values: our commitment to road safety, the importance of building an inclusive society, and our passion for making a big change in the world. 

I wanted to talk about Nic today because I think that his story has never been more relevant and important. Many young people are feeling disenfranchised as a result of the global health crisis. Nic is an example of what can be achieved when you keep the faith and never give up. He wasn’t born into privilege: both he and Lewis are self-made men, who have worked hard to get where they are today. At BigChange, we prize that spirit and determination very highly.  

As a CEO, I think about the purpose behind this business every single day. I know that when people meet Nic, and hear about his extraordinary life, they will know exactly what we stand for as a company. As a Board Member of Business In The Community, I was delighted when Nic agreed to give a talk for the charity at a school in Bradford, in partnership with the Prince’s Trust. The kids were blown away by his strength, authenticity and humour.  

Nic has all the qualities I admire. At BigChange, we want to support the doers, give equal opportunities to all, reward hard work, consistently strive to be at the top of our game, and try and make the world a better and fairer place any way that we can. 

We recently pledged to continue supporting Nic’s career and upcoming races; it has been thrilling to see him compete in recent years. It has been an absolute privilege to be involved in his journey in some small way, and to watch his career unfold. I know that great things lie in store for Nic and I just wanted to express my gratitude to him for a wonderful partnership. Thanks, Nic. You are the best. 

We need more clarity on COVID rules, Boris

BigChange clarity on COVID rules cartoon

Last month, Boris Johnson told the nation that it was time to go back to work.

Public transport was now safe to use, he claimed, so go out and stimulate the economy.

If he expected a stampede of commuters on August 1, he was disappointed. Just a third of Britain’s workers have gone back to the office so far this month. This is the lowest figure in Europe. In France, that number is as high as 83%.

It can’t have helped that the same day the Prime Minister was trying to chivvy us all back to the office, his Chief Scientific Advisor, Patrick Vallance, was telling people to ignore the advice and stay home.

Schools will reopen and are perfectly safe, we are told. Pubs are breeding grounds for the virus and may be closed down again. Soft play areas are dangerous but nurseries are not. Clubs are bad but gyms are fine.

We have been receiving mixed messages from Government throughout this pandemic and we are tired of it.

BigChange, like many resilient British firms, has been operating throughout lockdown. It’s been ‘business as usual’ for us, with almost every member of the team working from home. We have pivoted to offer virtual meetings and support and we’ve been delighted by the response from customers. We’ve had many stellar reviews over the last few months, proving to me that the virtual model works for us.

But we do want to help support the economy. We recognise the plight of many local businesses, like coffee shops that rely on commuter trade. We also want to offer access to the office to colleagues who want to come in for some peace and quiet, or to see colleagues (albeit at a distance).

I recently asked my network for some help finding a health and safety expert to review our office facilities and check whether it would be possible to reopen. A customer put us in touch with a brilliant gentleman who came and did a recce last week.

We have 10,000 square feet of space at our Leeds office. More than 100 people usually work there. Yet, taking into consideration all the new social distancing rules, just 15 people can now be in our office at any one time.

This is because the social areas, such as loos and kitchen, are not set up for social distancing. If I’m honest, they were too small even before we had to keep staff 2m apart. That’s just how offices are designed these days.

If we have just 15 people in the office, they can easily stay more than 2m apart. But does that mean they will be completely safe? We don’t know. The Government doesn’t know.

We use air conditioning in our offices, like many organisations across the UK. Most modern office buildings don’t even have windows that open; air is recirculated between floors. Could the virus be spread through the vents? We are in discussions with the landlord to try and find a solution but shouldn’t this be a job for Government?

And if we ask people to wear masks into the office, what masks should we tell them to wear? We don’t know. There is still no British standard for masks. People can wear any old piece of cloth, even though it’s possible that anything less than surgical grade does little to protect others.

Some business owners are opting to leave all internal doors open to minimise the risk of spreading the virus on door handles. That’s not an option for us. Our internal doors are fire doors. Fire beats COVID-19 on my list of risks. So are we expected to hire someone to disinfect all our doors and stainless steel surfaces every half an hour? Will that mean just 14 people from BigChange can now return to the office?

This is just a taste of the complexity business leaders are facing right now. Government is issuing statements and practical guidance – but often these are conflicting or out of date. The threat of local lockdowns and second waves will be with us for months to come. This is why BigChange remains committed to working from home for the foreseeable.

However, we are setting up the office to enable limited use. Our employees will be able to book a slot if they need a better working environment or to work with new team members. Attendance will be completely voluntary. People can choose not to come to the office at all. In the meantime, we will continue to look for new and effective virtual approaches to developing company culture and building relationships between teams.

So my question to you, Prime Minister, is this:

How can you expect business leaders to reopen offices and get people back to work when regulations dictate that we can only have a fraction of the team in the building at one time? How can we reassure our staff we are prioritizing their safety when there is no definitive decision on all the risks they may face?

You may be able to chop and change and send out mixed messages, but I take the welfare of my people extremely seriously and I want them to know everything I tell them is correct, verifiable, and in their best interests.

So, come on, Boris. Sort out this mess.

Leeds United and the halo effect

BigChange Leeds United and the halo effect

The fortunes of local businesses have always been inextricably linked with football.

There’s a certain magic that happens when a city’s economy thrives and the local football team is at the top of its game. It’s as though the success of one magnifies the other.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. After 16 long years, Leeds was finally promoted back into the Premier League on July 17th. This was a momentous occasion for me, both as a lifelong Leeds fan, but also as an entrepreneur.

Throughout my whole career, Leeds United has been a partner in my success. When I was staying in a small hotel in Serenje District in Zambia, the gentleman at reception had not heard of Leeds – “But I know Leeds United,” he said. At meetings in Israel, saying that we were based in Leeds became a major advantage when everyone realised that our local team had featured sporting legends like Jack Charlton, Billy Bremner, Gary Speed and Norman Hunter.

BigChange Leeds United shirt

It’s a strange but powerful phenomenon: BigChange is all the richer from its association with Leeds United. Even during the darkest days at the club, when fans were chanting, ‘We’re not famous any more’, we were still trading on the longstanding value and currency generated by United. The name Leeds United is a form of free advertising, and a helping hand when doing deals with anyone who has a passing interest in football.

This is why I’m so proud that BigChange is now a Gold Digital Partner at Elland Road. Our logo is projected onto the field, and we will be back in the box supporting our team as soon as lockdown rules permit. Customers are already getting in touch, asking to come and watch games with us later in the year or in 2021. It’s an unrivalled opportunity to network; everyone in the room is united by their love of the beautiful game.

The Premier League creates an enormous amount of value for the UK economy. Each year, the League brings in an estimated £7.6bn through ticket sales, jobs, brand value and taxes. No one has analysed the economic impact of Leeds United in recent years but it is estimated that Manchester United generated £330m a year for Manchester.

Andrea Radrizzani’s full takeover of Leeds United in May 2017 brought a real buzz back to the game, and the city. Leeds United has pulled off an extraordinary turnaround to be back in the top flight. Right now, I can feel the renewed hope and enthusiasm in my bones.

It gives all of us Yorkshire leaders a boost, and a feeling that we too can achieve anything. Amidst all the gloom, it’s a shot in the arm.

Let’s keep marching on together.

CEO’s Blog – “I want my freedom, and I like to drive fast.”

Drive fast

Over the years, I’ve met lots of senior executives who want tracking technology installed in the commercial vehicles driven by their employees – but refuse to have it in their own car.

They want to slash fuel bills and insurance premiums by ensuring their drivers and engineers are tracked but they see themselves as above it all. It’s terrible.

I have been working with Brake, the road safety charity, for over 12 years. First at Masternaut, the company I sold a few years ago, and now at BigChange. I’m proud to be a corporate member, and raise money for the charity through initiatives like Drive for Life, the world’s largest safe driving competition, which I created eight years ago. It monitored the driving habits of 50,000 drivers – a world first.

I recently attended a Brake charity event at the Houses of Parliament. It was an incredibly moving evening. We heard about the special officers who are despatched by the police to inform families that their loved one has died in a road traffic accident. They have to comfort the bereaved, it’s a tough job.

Jesse Norman, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Transport, spoke at the dinner. As he finished his speech, I raised my hand and said I wanted to ask an important question. He asked if it could wait but I just keep on going, and said, “Why aren’t you or the health and safety executive making sure that company bosses fit tracking devices to their vehicles to set an example to the rest of their employees, and promote better driver behaviour?”

Direct Line Presentation

He took me by surprise when he agreed with me. He said, “You’re exactly right, we need to start at the top.”

At BigChange, we track the driving habits of 20,000 drivers across the UK. I’m acutely aware of my responsibility, as the founder of this business, to make a difference. I have it in my hands to promote safe driving and save lives.

At least a third of road deaths and a quarter of serious injuries are from crashes involving someone driving for work – whether it’s a company car driver, a professional driver of a commercial vehicle, or someone driving their own vehicle on company business. This is why every single one of our company vehicles has a tracker, and every person who claims mileage as an expense has to be tracked by our system. I’m on the system, even when I’m driving my wife’s car, and my profile is open to view – you can watch me driving around later today.

Each month, we name and shame the worst driving member of the team, and encourage them to improve. We also have an award for the best – and most improved – driver. Next month, launching Driving BigChange, and hope to have around 25,000 customers signed up to the initiative. We’ll measure their driving for six months and announce the winner in December.

Campaigners to slow down
I’m also planning to launch the BigChange “Leaders for Life” Campaign, company directors and bosses who will compete to beat their peers at being the safest boss on the road. It’s about creating a group of ambassadors who can set an example. Unlike the executives who just want to reap the financial benefits of a tracker, these enlightened leaders want to help save lives.

I can’t stress enough how important this cause is to me. If we get this right, there is the potential to make the roads so much safer. Thanks for reading and get in touch if you’d like any more information about Brake or the work we do with the charity.

All the best

Martin Port Signature
Martin Port
Founder & CEO