National Business Awards 1 - Transformative leaders for changing times

15 November 2011

The National Business Awards celebrates outstanding business achievement across public and private sector organisations.

A new breed of leader has emerged from the flux of the global downturn. Amid continued uncertainty about a double-dip recession, all spheres of enterprise have needed leaders with clear vision to guide them to success - creating their own fortune as others have been paralysed by indecision.

While each of the five finalists for Orange Leader of the Year have demonstrated a different style of leadership, and how it has been successfully applied in a variety of business environments, they all have something in common: they have been transformative, whether it's in the context of their organisation or the sector they operate in.

"The Orange Leader of the Year Award is unique in that it incorporates a broadly democratic element."

"This year's exemplary finalists have been chosen because they are champions of change, proving that any organisation can prosper in challenging times with the right leadership," says Alex Evans, editorial director of the National Business Awards in partnership with Orange. "Drawn from a range of sectors, they are all challenging long-held assumptions and conventions with disruptive and transformational models - and they are achieving exceptional performance as a result."

The Orange Leader of the Year Award is unique in that it incorporates a broadly democratic element, with 50% of the overall score for each of the five finalists coming from a public vote and the remaining 50% from a CEO panel.

"This democratisation of our most prestigious accolade, in tandem with a ballot of peers, highlights the country's increasing preoccupation with business and entrepreneurial spirit," explains Evans. "After a long period of job insecurity, people are inspired by those who have seized control of their own destiny - and our finalists each demonstrate the potential of the individual to rise to the greatest heights with little more than an enterprising attitude and the determination to succeed."

Leading label

Julian Dunkerton, SuperGroup CEO, characterises these key traits.

"I have an obsessive desire to improve," he says. "I have a strong vision of how to achieve the major big wins as opposed to lots of small wins."

"SuperGroup made it to the stock market, and was valued at £400m on flotation in March 2010."

While the founders of Matalan, New Look and SuperGroup all started their businesses on market stalls, only Dunkerton's debt-free, internationally expanding SuperGroup made it to the stock market, and was valued at £400m on flotation in March 2010. Pitched against labels such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Jack Wills, his iconic Superdry brand is an affordable label that crosses class, sex and status.

Having lived and breathed the rag trade since he was 19, Dunkerton built and sold his stake in a market stall business before developing an even bigger indoor market enterprise into a nationwide chain with an annual turnover of £17m. After joining forces with designer James Holder (founder of the Bench brand) to develop and create new in-house brand Superdry, the turning point came from a research trip to Japan and the idea of reinterpreting vintage British and American classics with the design motifs of Japanese street wear.

Superdry is sold in over 40 countries across Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. Since its flotation on the LSE in March 2010, its group revenue has grown by 71% and its profit before tax has risen by 110%.

While Superdry has taken a crowded and competitive retail industry by storm, Dunkerton attributes his success to the triumph of British design excellence.

"British design is world-class and our achievement is to prove that a British entrepreneur can create a global brand," says Julian.

Software pioneer

"Constantly challenging assumptions, Lynch is a risk-taker who believes in a meritocracy and always rewarding good ideas."

Another entrepreneurial leader that has had a major global impact is Mike Lynch, founder and CEO of Autonomy, which he developed from start-up to the UK's largest software company by market capitalisation and recently sold to HP for $11bn. A pioneer in meaning-based computing, enabling businesses to interpret unstructured data like emails, Autonomy technology can sift through thousands of hours of content and abstract only the most relevant information, which has hundreds of transformative applications across all sectors.

Celebrated as a global leader in infrastructure software, Autonomy has over 20,000 customers including 87 of the Fortune 100, ten of the top ten financial services firms, 75% of the global 100 law firms, and nine of the top ten pharmaceutical companies. Over 400 of the world's leading companies, including Adobe, EMC, HP and Oracle, have chosen to embed

Autonomy's technology in their products to enable them to extract value from unstructured information. But what drives the leader of a business that is at the forefront of technological innovation in the UK?

Constantly challenging assumptions, Lynch is a risk-taker who believes in a meritocracy and always rewarding good ideas. "We're prepared to take a risk with people and reward them," he says. "It's good for the UK industry to experiment with ideas and see where they can go."

People power

Another transformative CEO among this year's Orange Leader finalists is Ruby McGregor-Smith, CEO of strategic outsourcing and energy services company MITIE Group. The first Asian woman to be appointed CEO of the FTSE 250 company, McGregor-Smith has transformed the fortunes of MITIE, growing the business from £5m in revenues to nearly £2bn and achieving profits in excess of £100m.

Evolving the business beyond the provision of single services - such as cleaning and security - to become one of the largest integrated facilities management providers in the UK, McGregor-Smith is introducing energy management across all of MITIE's services and creating bespoke social media sites for clients to help them communicate better with staff.

Measuring growth by the number of people employed in her 'people business', and having already tripled the workforce to 60,000, McGregor-Smith attributes her success to an investment in training, development, culture and motivation.

"Being very aspirational for your business, absolutely never accepting second best and delivering great service should be recognised," she says.

Constructive knowledge

Steering Balfour Beatty to hugely impressive pre-tax profits in 2010 against a decline in UK construction, CEO Ian Tyler has transformed the UK's most forward-thinking construction business into a major global infrastructure company - with innovation driven by the client's need to achieve more with less.

"Our job is to bring everything together and innovate through our suppliers," he explains. "Some of that is driven by us but it's also part of our role to support the innovation that is being driven by the SMEs we work with."

Charitable success

"In 2009, Whitbread doubled income from companies, major donors and trusts, and in 2010."

Our fifth finalist, Jasmine Whitbread, international CEO of Save the Children, must also embed a vision and culture throughout a global organisation. Tasked with transforming a loose federation of 29 charities into a business-like global operation fit for the 21st century, Whitbread's challenges include a 14-way merger, forging corporate partnerships, maintaining core income in the downturn and keeping children high on the political agenda.

Building a new structure from scratch - recruiting a senior management team and support staff in free-flowing open plan offices she co-designed - Whitbread is engaging 14,000 multicultural staff in 120 countries through "fostering situational leadership, a 'can do' culture and a clear vision". As a media spokesperson, blogger for the Financial Times and a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on new models of leadership, Whitbread has focused on visible leadership and differentiation.

Realising that Save the Children needed a new image and a clear message to distinguish it from other international development charities, she realigned resources behind fewer, more ambitious goals such as a global campaign to ensure no child under the age of five years dies from preventable causes.

Combining her business training with a passion to make a difference at Save the Children, Whitbread believes that "Our not-for-profit business is still a business - but one where the bottom line is saving children's lives".

Proving that an enterprising approach to running a charity can make it more effective, Whitbread doubled revenue and quadrupled its reach and impact during her tenure as CEO of Save the Children UK. In 2009, she doubled income from companies, major donors and trusts, and in 2010 Save the Children helped three million children through its health and hunger work, managed 39 emergency responses and kept one million children safe.

From safeguarding the UK's USP as a global centre of innovation and design excellence to protecting the rights and lives of children all over the world, this year's Orange Leader of the Year finalists have proved that being a CEO isn't the pinnacle of someone's career - it's merely a platform for achieving greater and more ambitious goals.

The National Business Awards, in partnership with Orange, was held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on 8 November 2011. The awards will host over 1,000 of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs and business leaders to celebrate outstanding business achievement across public and private sector organisations.
Julian Dunkerton is CEO of SuperGroup.
Mike Lynch is founder and CEO of Autonomy.
Ruby McGregor-Smith is CEO of strategic outsourcing and energy services company MITIE.
Ian Tyler is CEO of Balfour Beatty.
Jasmine Whitbread is international CEO of Save the Children.