Running a shop with a multi-million-pound turnover and 45 staff when he was 19 gave Matthew Kennedy of Avenue HQ an early taste of leadership. He talks to BQ about the importance of being open to feedback, not being scared of people who know more than you, and having a trusted network.
What is it the company does?
Avenue HQ provides the perfect destination for companies and individuals to co-work and meet up. It has created an inclusive, community-led and professional space which is fully-equipped to enable business growth for both start-ups and established businesses. Through events, social functions and member benefits, Avenue HQ acts as a home from home.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I’ve always been really business-focussed; I worked a lot when growing up and always wanted to learn about how people work and make companies grow. At the age of 19, I was running a shop with a multi-million-pound turnover and 45 staff, so I had a lot of responsibility. For both my undergraduate and my Masters, I studied business and when I graduated I opened ‘Lab 22’ (now Lab Liverpool) which supported early-stage businesses with workspaces and support. This is when I spotted the gap in the market for higher-quality flexible workspaces for businesses of all sizes - and so Avenue HQ was born.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
To be a leader, you need to be able to build a great team around you that shares your passion for it to succeed and be excited by its future. If you are unable to motivate your own team to see the potential within your business, it will be difficult for them to project that to the outside world. You also need inspirational qualities such as being empathetic, motivating, passionate.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Time management was a challenge when starting up the Avenue HQ Group. You have to find it within yourself to be completely self-motivated, be involved in every aspect of the business and be confident at problem-solving. Initially, you’ve got to ‘be’everything - a marketer, a salesman and a businessman. Of course, the thing that always drove me forwards and motivated me was knowing that everything I put into the business, I would get back.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
As a big Liverpool fan, I love going to the game… although this can sometimes be pretty stressful! I think it is also important to have trips planned to look forward to. If I was to just stay at home, my mind would always be switched on to work-mode so I try and plan in holidays to keep me feeling refreshed and energised.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wasn’t set on one role or career as a child, really. I always knew that I wanted something where I could be independent and get back what I put in. The thought of having my own business excited me and I was relentless in pursuing it! My dad was a Headmaster and I was fascinated with the variety of his job and knew I wanted something like that.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
We foster a culture of collaborative working at Avenue HQ – both for members and for our staff. With that in mind, I don’t like people being overly precious about their own work and believe that listening to other people’s suggestions to help you self-improve is very important. We try and instil this collaborative approach with everyone.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We want Avenue HQ Group to continue expanding, both nationally and internationally! That means more sites in more cities and growing bigger communities in our spaces, we are very ambitious. Ideally we will have a fully operational site across every major city in the UK. Nothing is impossible, we have opened three sites in only a year - so I think we have a positive future.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Some of the best advice I’ve learnt over the years is to never be afraid of people being better than you and instead, just embrace it! Don’t be precious about your work and about taking feedback. Lastly, it’s so important to have a network of people around you that you can trust to be honest and open with you.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
The best thing someone told me when I was first starting out, was to make sure that you surround yourself with good, trustworthy people. People that will always have your back, and you’ll have theirs. Running a business is an incredible journey, but you can’t do it alone.
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