Pensions – just the tip of the business growth iceberg!

Growth in your business

I have spent a lot of my time over the past 23 years looking at how to help businesses grow and get better, primarily through changes to their pension strategies.  Fixing pensions can have a huge impact on a business’s profits, particularly where Defined Benefit schemes are involved. However I’ve always been aware that pensions is just one part of the machine and that there are many other facets to making a business work, many of which are related.

Not having had the opportunity to scratch the itch before and delve into the world of proper “management consulting”, an opportunity presented itself recently and I decided to take the plunge, widen my skill base and learn about what other things can help businesses grow.  So far it’s proving to be a fascinating journey.

There are a plethora of Business Growth methods and coaches available on the internet. However, my starting point was a friend’s answer to the business growth problem, the Pendleton Business Waterwheel™.  Developed by another Cornish based University of Warwick Maths graduate and PwC Alumni, Rob Pendleton, his model appealed to me as it is tangible and easy to follow, plus I’m a sucker for a pretty diagram.

The good news is, having spent some time studying the Business Waterwheel™, it seems that whilst there may be hundreds of different business coaches out there, there are only so many ways you can grow a business – it’s simply a matter of finding your strengths and weaknesses and then applying a strategy that makes the most of the good stuff and improves the bad.  Simple, so far.  The Pendleton model focusses on 4 easy steps – KNOW your business, GROW your customer base and profits, improve the efficient FLOW of the business and then achieve the ultimate nirvana of OVERFLOW, described by Pendleton as “a state where the business generates income, whether the owner works there or not.”  So that’s the theory.  I wanted to test this, however, and so went to look at some real-life examples.

In partnership with Pendleton, I undertook a study into every business in Cornwall (turnover over £250k) to establish which are the fastest growing businesses in Cornwall over the past 12 months and how they have achieved their growth.  The results were fascinating and started to give me a real practical insight into how business growth works. Oh, and to avoid suspense, here’s the Cornwall Top 10 fastest growing companies, by increase in turnover, for last year.

  1. Absolute Interiors (Cornwall Ltd) (Interior design)
  2. Eliquo Hydrok Limited (Water services)
  3. Fred Champion Groundworks Limited (Groundworks)
  4. Teagle Holdings Limited (Farm machinery)
  5. H R Jasper & Son Limited (Supplier of lamb)
  6. Seasalt Limited (Clothing company)
  7. WH Bond & Sons Limited (Farming and timber)
  8. A. Grigg (Agricultural) Limited (Retailer)
  9. Digital Peninsula Network Limited (IT sector members network)
  10. Mitchell & Webber Limited (Heating oil supplier)

The interesting thing was that absolutely all of the main growth strategies championed by Pendleton were present in the top ten.  So, the Business Waterwheel™ works.  Here are some examples below.

The winner, Absolute Interiors, achieved over 300% growth from strong leadership and brand. When these two go hand in hand, they are a powerful force as there’s clearly buy-in at the top of a firm for promoting, living and demonstrating the values of an organisation.  This is an example of a business making its FLOW as efficient as possible, step 3 of the Business Waterwheel ™ process.

In 2nd place, Eliquo Hydrock grew through being acquired.  I caught up with MD, Dave Armstrong recently who explained that the acquisition, by a German parent, scaled their operations, allowing them to drive efficiency and invest on a larger scale.  Whilst some control has been lost day-to-day, they are ultimately a bigger company.  Going back to the Pendleton theory this is OVERFLOW working in practice, exiting via sale with the owners continuing to be involved day-to-day after the deal.

Diversification is another strategy that has helped one of the top 10. M.A. Griggs has benefitted hugely from this.  Initially a farming business that moved into retail, M.A Griggs now has a successful restaurant and last year spent time to focus on their online capability which has helped them target customers outside of the local area.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Michael Grigg and his daughter Fiona this week and we talked about their success.  Michael explained that “giving people what they want at the quality they want, and the right price is fundamental”, however as a business they are always moving and looking for new opportunities.  This is an example of Pendleton’s “GROW your customer base” step working its magic.  M.A Griggs is a great success story, and as Michael proudly showed me around his premises many things struck me as working well.  There are always challenges to face, but M.A Griggs seems to be in a good place to tackle these head-on.

So, what have I learned through my flirtation with real management consultancy?  That fixing pensions is just the tip of the iceberg?  I knew that already.  I’m by no means an expert in business growth, but what I have found is an easy-to-follow model that I understand and makes sense to me.  I suppose I’m becoming my own example of diversification and how to expand my services and customer base. I will always love pensions and have a deep affinity with the technical intricacies of them, but I’m also interested in learning more and applying my consulting skills to other parts of a business.

If any of the above resonates with you and you’d like to test your thinking, then please give me a call and I’d be happy to chat.

Oh, and there is another study to come – this time Bristol – published this Friday! To sign up visit