Meet the MD: Stewart Donnor of VeriSmart Heating

Meet the MD: Stewart Donnor of VeriSmart Heating

As managing director of a small family business, Stewart Donnor often finds himself switching roles to help out in all aspects of the business. He told BQ what is job involves, and what he believes makes a great business leader...

What is it the company does?

VeriSmart Heating sells ceramic electric radiators. We’ve sourced the best radiators available in the market that meets our specification. We help our customers choose the right heater for their application.

We’ve recently launched a national installation service. We want our customers to experience the right product in the right environment with the right tariff. Our aim is to offer the whole package for complete customer satisfaction.

 

What does your role include? 

As a small family business the best thing about my job is it’s so varied. I can go from helping customers on the phone, to web development, to business development and back again all within a day.

The best bit is when we go back to see our customers after they’ve used our product. We recently installed some radiators in Glasgow and I was onsite prior to installation and after installation.

To have the opportunity to hear a customer enthuse about our product after using it is great, but to actually chat with them in a warm house that was previously cold is really rewarding.

 

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

My first job was at Tesco, working as a trolley boy in between my studies. From there my first goal was literally to get ‘inside’ and I managed to get promoted onto the checkout. Once I finished at college I decided to join their management training programme.

I preferred interactions with people rather than boxes, so when the opportunity arose I moved to an insurance company to establish their contact centre. From then on I worked in customer experience and customer contact. I have worked form everyone from banks, to BT, to Ann Summers.

Consulting was great but it meant I was away from home Mon-Fri. We now have two young children and myself and my partner, Louise wanted to work together. So we set up VeriSmart Heating and it’s a real family affair. My Dad works in the warehouse. Louise’s Dad offers wise counsel on the board and our 9 month old baby comes to work with us every day.

 

What do you believe makes a great leader?

A great leader establishes a great team. And once you’ve got a great team then it’s just about confidence. If you’re surrounded by clever people there’s no point telling them what to do.

However, leadership in a family firm is quite different to the corporate world!

 

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Cash flow! All new businesses face the same issue in the early years though. The biggest challenge has been navigating the business away from the original concept. The original plan would have had us conducting completely different activity than we are doing today, chasing a ‘proven’ model. One day Louise said in a meeting that we should try something different. We’ve now moved entirely away from our original model and we’re really pleased with the results. Not just the results but we can genuinely say that we have a relationship with every customer and that adds value.

 

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

We’re really lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world. For me, one of the most relaxing activities is to pack the family and the dog in the car and go for a walk around Fountains Abbey or head to Filey for some sea air.

 

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a pilot initially. It changes as you grow up and as your perspective changes. There was a spell when I wanted to be a musician. Then I got interested in science and thought something in the medical profession would be interesting. Steve Jobs said, “ If you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life”. I’m really lucky that I love what I do and who I’m doing it with.

 

 

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

Bearing in mind I’ve worked in call centres most of my life, I can’t stand a ringing phone. I also can’t stand people putting up signs in the toilet about how to have wee, especially if they try to make up a rhyming ditty about it. I used to have lots of things that made me angry, but I’m over it now!

 

Where do you see the company in five years time?

We’re lucky that our business is following our five year plan. Our aim is to continue to grow and build on our success. As our business scales, I’m really looking forward to partnering with organisations that we are passionate about. Last winter we partnered with Groundwork, by donating some stock. Their Green Doctors loaned our radiators to some of the most vulnerable people in the community. Fuel poverty is something that we feel strongly about. People in private rented accommodation are often provided with cheap, electric heating that is expensive to run. We try to advise and educate about energy efficiency and we also offer a tariff comparison and switching service.

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

You need to really understand what is important to you and what your personal values are; what lines you would never cross. Then understand your shortcomings. Then you have to build a team of people that you compliment and that compliment you. Once you have done that systemise everything and let your team get on with what they are good at!