Turning Ambition into Results

Turning Ambition into Results

An ambitious young business services group is rapidly building a big domestic and international reputation from its North East base. Brian Nicholls speaks to Alastair MacColl to uncover what is driving the BE Group’s emerging success.

A cleverly designed prospectus currently being picked up across the country carries a five star promise of experience, established infrastructure and a commitment to developing innovative products.

Copies of the publication are going to local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), local authorities and a range of strategic public and private sector partnerships. it sets out a portfolio of services designed to help businesses succeed and grow.

The services are being offered by a group which has quickly carved out a strong track record in fostering business success. It carries with it bags of expertise - in commercial development procurement, supply chain development, investment programmes, business advice and business to business publishing and events. its methodology is to generate very specific results for particular customers operating in their chosen markets. it’s an approach that has helped the group expand its reach, enabling it to now work with businesses and organisations of all sizes and that cut across a range of sectors.

Launched in February 2007, the Be group’s client list now includes the likes of marks & Spencer, Gatwick Airport, BT, BAe Systems, Santander, Lockheed martin, Skanska and network rail, with more equally big corporate names expected to come on board in the coming months. Since its inception it has invested heavily in talent, infrastructure and systems - a strategy which chief executive Alastair MacColl says has given the group the ability to make tangible, genuine differences to the businesses they are involved in. in the public sector, meanwhile, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Scottish Development international and Scottish Enterprise are among its clients, along with local authorities in places like Westminster, Croydon, Derby and Durham.

Further afield, the company is also working with Sydney rail infrastructure in Australia – one of several examples of the group’s increasingly global presence. the business is now well established across the UK - with offices in Glasgow, County Durham, London and Yorkshire. Since being commissioned to work on behalf of UKTI in England (the UK government department strengthening the foothold of UK businesses in foreign markets) some years ago, BE Group has been running inward and outward international trade missions, operating in about 31 countries during the last 18 months. the group also works globally with Scottish Development international.

BQ meets MacColl as the BE group is preparing for imminent trade missions in Brazil, China, South Korea, Ghana and turkey. Some missions are sector focused, some centred on specific marketing opportunities, while others are more general. Increasingly though, the BE Group is taking its own services into international markets, recently working on projects in the USA, Australia and France.

MacColl summarises: “We operate what is essentially a comprehensive portfolio of business services designed to help businesses of all shapes and sizes to succeed and grow. We do this partly through business to business information and events. The business information is distributed via magazines (BQ magazine for example is part of the group), and also via websites, emails and through all of the other communication channels people now use to get the information they want when they want it. We like to think our information and content is unique and adds real value to those that use it. Increasingly we are also producing a great deal of highly specialised sector specific information in the form of commissioned reports. “Our events activity complements our approach to information with the ability to get your message across online, in print and face to face. We run everything from large conferences and targeted exhibitions to intimate consultation events and everything in between. We specialise in helping businesses get in touch with other businesses to uncover opportunities and build commercial relationships.”

His assured approach to understanding how businesses want to communicate is understandable, given the way the group has chosen to specialise and the fact that before this role at the BE Group, he worked in newspapers and media related businesses across the UK for almost two decades, leading publishing businesses for Trinity Mirror plc, the Daily Mail and General Trust group.  The BE group also helps develop and manage domestic and global supply chains. “We focus largely on major infrastructure projects and optimising the impact of particular sectoral, market or event specific opportunities,” he says. “We make sure that supply chains are working as effectively as possible, that they are efficient and sustainable. “Again it’s about bringing businesses together in a way that provides commercial benefit for all those involved.”

It is on this sort of assignment the group has worked with organisations like Heathrow Airport and Westminster council, and with big construction firms like Skanska (which Swedish students have recently voted a better place to work than Google, Ikea or Volvo). “We’re working with businesses all over the UK and elsewhere now to ensure they’re properly equipped to seize advantage of supply chain opportunities on particular projects or in particular areas,” says MacColl. one of the companies in the group, Action Sustainability, operates a supply school for the construction industry training Board and a group of influential construction contractors.

MacColl explains: “We’ve created an online resource to help train and develop a number of key individuals within construction firms to help them to operate sustainably. Top tier contractors can ensure through this their supply chains are as sustainable as possible. “Procuring large projects is complex and demanding. to supply, say, Skanska, contractors will need to have demonstrated that they can establish how much water they’ll use on a project, how much power, whether or not those working on the project understand how they must behave and operate towards it, and use certain materials. “When companies pitch for the next major job, like a big football stadium in rio, or the London olympics, they need to be able to say with authority that they have an effective and sustainable supply chain that is as carbon efficient as possible and as commercially efficient as possible. “We also bring together big contractors and small businesses with great products and services that can add value to both new and established supply chains. “It’s a feature common with other businesses grow and create more jobs. In the north east of England, for example, the group operates the Let’s grow programme, with Trinity Mirror and unW, Newcastle based chartered accountants. This involves £30m of regional growth Fund grants being made available in the form of a competitive process to firms with capital or research and development projects that look likely to spur growth and encourage investment.

Another programme in the same region, investment for growth, is a £12.5m ERDF funded programme, helping smaller businesses to expand with european support. And in Yorkshire, the Be group is helping to roll out superfast broadband on behalf of nY net, working with a couple of thousand businesses to maximise their potential through the way in which they make the most of the new superfast broadband technology. Innvisage is another group company that helps clients (mainly private sector) to make best use of data. “our portfolio is a complementary blend of products and services that are designed to help businesses to succeed and grow, that’s the golden thread that runs through our business information, events and commercial development activity,” MacColl says. “We strive to make everything we do uncomplicated and it’s all designed to produce the very best results. There are lots of things that make our business special including our people, products and the level of service we offer. But if I had to pick out one thing that makes us really stand out from the crowd it’s our relentless effort to deliver exceptional results.” he agrees the transformation of the BE Group has been “remarkable”.

Exactly four years after start-up in 2007 it developed from a regional to a national operation almost overnight, buying London headquartered Business-to-Business. he suggests: “We’re still quite young, still developing, still maturing and still experimenting. And we’re still trying new and different things to make us better at what we do, to deliver even better results for our customers.” competition in all areas that the group has an interest in is “ferocious”. “In business information, publishing and events I doubt competition has ever been more acute,” he ventures. “It has sharpened even further in what is still a challenging market place.

Businesses are fighting to develop new products and new services that will sustain their market position in an economy less predictable and more volatile, than probably at any time in the last 25 years. “New technology also means that you need to always be thinking a few moves ahead of a fast paced market. “We’ve some very accomplished competitors who keep us on our toes, and we constantly and relentlessly re-assess and develop our own products and services. We welcome the competition. We like to think our investment in time, energy and money ensures our products and services, and our people, anticipate where the market’s going, rather than just catching up. “Our customers are sophisticated. They know what they want. Again, we welcome that. We think we’re very good at understanding our customers, and we differentiate ourselves as a business by providing exceptional service. We want to provide such good value that we represent the go-to business for those things that we specialise in.”

The group also has another competitive advantage. “Unlike many competitors, we don’t have shareholders demanding shortterm results. our business is co owned by trusts that have our employees as their beneficiaries. that means that we can choose to prioritise over the longer term and invest accordingly. We’re trying to develop a business that will be great in five, 10 and 15 years’ time. that’s very good news for our employees and our customers”. So what is Be’s market share? “it’s very difficult to judge in the service sector, much harder than in manufacturing for instance, since it’s difficult to measure the absolute output. i think it fair to say that as a relatively young business our market share is significant and growing. We expect to gain further market share incrementally and steadily. And we want to do it through sustained growth that sticks. “The best thing about my job is the people I work with and the satisfaction we all get from generating great results for all of our customers. “Our team is creative, energetic and committed. And we all care passionately about being better at what we do than anybody else.”