Tom Lees: Putting in those miles to build a reputation

The Piece Hall by night
The Piece Hall by night
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Is it your new product? Your employees? Your prime location, perhaps? No. Your most valuable asset is your reputation. Without that, everything else comes crashing down around you like a house of cards.

According to Harvard Business School, the better your reputation the better people you can attract, your customers or visitors show you greater loyalty and are willing to pay a price premium with investors also willing to pay more for a stake in what you have to offer.

Many years of sagacious decision making, getting your triumphs and achievements recognised, great branding, contributing to industry debate can eventually result in the Holy Grail: a positive reputation.

Whether you are an individual, company or county, the process that you have gone through to become recognised is rather like getting a medal at the end of a marathon. Your friends, family and the cheering crowds see you triumphantly crossing the finishing line and collecting your finishers medal after 26.2 miles of determination. What they do not see and will never understand – unless they themselves have done it – are the weeks of early starts, late nights, blisters and dragging yourself around the local roads and parks in preparation for the big day. The day when you achieve your goal.

But if you fail to keep up that determined level of training, sensible eating and focus, your marathon running ability can quickly ebb away.

Your reputation is no different. What you do every day has real value. Your reputation needs to be carefully cultivated, managed and guarded. As Warren Buffet famously once said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it”.

If you look at any company balance sheet you will see a category referred to as ‘intangible assets’. A somewhat opaque catch-all term which covers everything from intellectual property, software and yes, reputation.

Over the last few decades, the amount of value placed on these intangibles has risen exponentially, with some research calculating that around half of the FTSE 100’s total value is made up of things which do not physically exist. If we looked at Yorkshire’s accounts I am certain that we would be no different.

It is easiest to understand the role that reputation plays, when you think about things going wrong. That is when things are brought into sharp focus. Whether it is TSB’s service being down for days on end, United Airlines dragging a doctor off an overbooked flight, or Sir Philip Green being raked over the coals for his part in the downfall of BHS. These instances had a material impact on the bottom line of the companies or how their executives are seen in the industry.

Now, I know that we are not normally known for our sunny disposition. But I feel optimistic. Over the last few years, Yorkshire has been putting in the hard miles and doing some fantastic work.

Thanks to Sir Gary Verity and others’ hard work, we secured a stage of the globally recognised Tour de France and put on our very own Tour de Yorkshire, showcasing the very best of Yorkshire countryside, heritage, and people.

In Halifax, we saw the grand re-opening of the precious Piece Hall. A unique and internationally significant part of our history that has been given a new life, under the leadership of Nicky Chance-Thompson, making it ready to take on this century.

Or the work that Roger Marsh, the chairman of the Leeds City Local Enterprise Partnership, has done to secure a £1bn investment through the Local Growth Deal.

We need to keep up this hard work.

Our county has the opportunity to transform itself into a global economic powerhouse and destination. Who else will be willing to step up, to help put in the hard work to build our reputation, and deliver the better future that is just over the horizon? A future that our children and grandchildren deserve.