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Mind the GAP: helping businesses grow

By Howard Perkins - Posted on 28 January 2016

Strathclyde Business School launched the Growth Advantage Programme last year in conjunction with Santander Breakthrough. Howard Perkins has been one of the participants on the first cohort and, having now completed the programme, shares his experience of what was involved.

If you measure experience by age, then my glass is pretty full. Does experience mean I’m competent? Most of us have been singing since we could talk but does that make us good singers? Put like that it’s obvious, but how many people interview for experience and not competence? How many people have a competency model that drives recruitment and staff appraisals? It’s not rocket science but how many of us are actually doing it? That sort of insight and practical application is typical of Strathclyde Business School’s Growth Advantage Programme. One of the really good things about the programme is that with a cohort of 20, there is a tremendous amount of experience (and competence!) in the room. For just about every bit of theory or research or model or toolkit that was presented, there was someone in the room who had tried it to some extent and could give both sides of the story. Sometimes it was even me!

I feel fortunate to have been part of the first cohort on the Growth Advantage Programme. It may be the first time it has been run, but it has been long in the planning. It’s almost as if everything the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship has been doing since it started has been leading to this programme. There was a palpable air of excitement about the programme right from the start and it was clear at the final session earlier this month just how much it meant to the staff involved.

The programme is aimed at established businesses that have high growth ambitions. That means busy people, and one of the nice touches is that the sessions run on a Friday/Saturday, balancing the time out from the normal hectic work/home schedule. And “time-out” is a good description, and actually one of the four reasons why I was keen to join the programme:

• practical benefits of advice and knowledge gained from the programme
• association with other people facing the same challenges
• taking myself out of the business to think deeply about the business on a regular basis
• the support to challenge myself harder

I think the last one is pretty important. To illustrate, we were introduced to the “Billion Dollar Baby”. To be more accurate, we were challenged to describe what our business would look like to be our own Billion Dollar Baby. This was during the first session and the sobering realisation for me was that while others in the cohort could project that far, I knew that my business would need to change out of all recognition. Game on!

That first session was back in May 2015 and over the course of five two-day sessions, we covered everything from the value proposition for the customers, through marketing, selling, resourcing, organising, funding and finally, in the last session, leading. At each stage of the journey (rather a cliché but exactly what it felt like for most of us), we were privileged to have outstanding speakers deliver the “Pinnacles of Growth” talk at the excellent Friday evening dinners. Time after time, the same messages from the classroom were highlighted by people who had been there and done it - in some cases, several times. I’m not going to name drop, but these were all serious heavyweight leaders with truly inspirational stories, and it’s testament to the standing of the Hunter Centre that they gave of their time.

So did I get what I expected from the programme? Whatever expectations I had were massively surpassed. I hadn’t thought it would be full of quite so many things I didn’t know about. I hadn’t expected such positivity and encouragement from the rest of the cohort. I think about the business differently now; I think I may need a recap of the “organising” bit, because I now have more things that I want to do with the business than ever before. As a GAP alumnus, I’m part of something rather special and I certainly hadn’t expected that!

The team at the Hunter Centre, with the support from Santander, have created a programme that they deserve to be truly proud of. Now it’s over to the cohort to deliver. So no pressure then!

It’s probably obvious that I would recommend the programme to anyone who met the criteria because it’s rare to go on a “course” that makes such an impact. The University of Strathclyde claims to be The Place of Useful Learning - I’d go along with that.



Contact details

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 sbs-adviser@strath.ac.uk 

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