Meet the York-based adviser for the Alternative Board who will help firms fight back after the lockdown

Elliot RichElliot Rich
Elliot Rich
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of seeking wise counsel from your peers, according to Elliot Rich. He spoke to Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.

SELF pity is never an attractive quality and now is not the time for leaders to adopt a bunker mentality.

Just ask Elliot Rich, who revived and sold a famous Yorkshire corporate name, and now acts as a business coach and adviser for the Alternative Board in York.

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In his role with the Alternative Board, Mr Rich is working with more than 25 business owners to ensure they will not just survive the pandemic, but prosper afterwards. TAB members share expertise and challenge each other to think critically.

The TAB Peer advisory board provides an opportunity for leaders to talk openly about the challenges and opportunities they face when running their business.

Each board meeting is chaired by a local TAB facilitator and every month, members can bring a burning business issue to a friendly, confidential forum.

“People will remember how your business handled the lockdown,’’ said Mr Rich. “In the middle of March, some people were panicking and others wanted to check what others were doing.

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“Those who took a few more days to consider their options, and consulted with their TAB board to sound out their position made much more considered decisions during the first few weeks of lockdown.

“You have to make sure the heart of the business is still pumping.

“None of my TAB members have sat down and felt sorry for themselves,’’ he said. “Constant communication means you are not allowed to sit and dwell on the past. We are constantly discussing and reviewing the changing goalposts and making rational decisions to suit every business owner.”

“Most owner managed businesses can feel quite isolated,” Mr Rich said. “What they are looking for is somebody they can talk to on a very confidential level.

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“The thing that resonates is that I’ve been there myself. I understand about employing people, changing the culture of a business and running and exiting a business. What they are looking for is a confidential sounding board.”

“It’s like holding up an honest mirror without judging them or questioning their capability.

“I encourage people to identify what they really want from life. Life is like a bicycle. The only part you can steer is the front wheel - the personal vision.

“The business itself is the rear wheel where the energy comes from.”

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Mr Rich’s fascination with people and business began when he studied for a BSc Hons degree in management science at UMIST in 1995.

“After that I joined the management training scheme with United Biscuits (McVities) and took CIPD qualifications whilst working for them in London because I wanted to understand how people worked and how they were motivated.’’ he said.

In 1999 at the age of just 24, he returned home to Leeds to join the board of James Heal (Halifax), which was owned by his father in law, the managing director David Repper.

The company had been formed in 1872. It had carved out a formidable reputation, manufacturing testing equipment, predominantly for the textile industry.

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Over the years it had built up an impressive list of customers which included garment manufacturers who supplied the likes of M&S and NEXT.

Mr Rich recalled: “I brought new energy to a board of 50-year olds and helped to steer the company in a new direction.

“The most daunting prospect was not letting my father in law down. But my confidence was there from a very young age. If you connect with people you get the best out of them.”

Using his human resources background and blue chip management training, Mr Rich concluded that the company’s culture needed to change.

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He added: “We reformed the senior management team with new blood and new thinking.

“There were a series of redundancies. We invested heavily in our infrastructure and we grew our capability in areas where we needed to grow and skills were missing.

“We were 90 per cent export and we needed to hire people with language skills and international sales people with textile expertise e for both local and global support.

“Customer service and product quality were at the heart of our core values. We had great confidence in the ability of the new management to invest in new production. What would have taken a week was now being done in minutes and hours.”

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The global financial crash did not force the company to break its stride.

He added: “We took bold decisions during the recession in 2009 and re-branded the company which I project managed with the Leeds-based branding agency, Thompson Brand Partners.”

Turnover at James Heal doubled to £10m in three years and the company expanded into new global markets, including Bangladesh.

“It’s not just about spotting the opportunity,’’ said Mr Rich.”It’s about having the credibility to do something about it. By the time I was approaching my 40th birthday we had become quite cash healthy and we were coming on people’s radar.

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“We questioned whether it was the right time to sell,’’ he recalled. “My father in law had done 40 years in the business and I had done 17 years. We both wanted to look at opportunities to do something differen. I fancied another challenge. In September 2014, we sold the business to the American venture capitalists, Battery Ventures.”

Mr Rich stayed with the business until 2015 and then took a few months off.

He added: “I did a lot of thinking about what I wanted from life. I joined the Stephenson Group in Leeds and took on a consultancy role.”

The group were members of the Alternative Board (TAB), which led to the connection that changed Mr Rich’s life.

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Mr Rich added: “It seemed an interesting business model which combined business advising and coaching with facilitating board meetings of non-competing business owners.

Above all, he believes successful entrepreneurs must become masters of the art of reinvention to stay ahead of the game.

“I have reinvented myself several times over the last 25 years, Mr Rich said.

Name: Elliot Rich

Business coach and adviser, The Alternative Board, York,

Date of birth: 26th April 1974

Education: UMIST, BSc Hons Management Science

First job: United Biscuits (McVities) Management Training Programme

Favourite song: Love Changes (Everything) Climie Fisher

Favourite film: Shawshank Redemption

Last book read: Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

Car driven: Range Rover Sport

Favourite holiday destination: Thailand

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Thing you are most proud of: A successful career in Leeds with my family around me

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