Posts Tagged ‘Cardiff Breakfast Club’

Simon Powell, Eysys

It was our last Breakfast Club of the season and we were joined by established Welsh entrepreneur, Simon Powell. Simon is currently the chairman and investor of four businesses in the travel and technology sectors, as well as the Managing Director of Powell Property Developments LTD, Founder of and CEO of Comtec Group. He has a wealth of experience, not only in setting up successful businesses, but also in turning around struggling businesses.

Simon began by stressing that, when setting up a business, it’s important to define what people want from it in terms of success. From something small and simple like running a successful corner shop to owning a fast car or becoming a billionaire, he believes that success is relative and what is most important is that people can define what it means to them and have a chance of achieving it.

He went on to list the things that he has done throughout his business career that most helped him to achieve his own success, in particular sharing equity. Simon recommended Finance Wales as an investor, but also advised potential entrepreneurs to share equity with their employees; “I think it is important to share equity, not just with financial institutions…but with the teams that are going to drive things.”

Simon also emphasised the importance of putting together a strong team to work together on the business, and making decisions quickly, fixing any wrong ones as soon as possible. He admitted that there are ‘no straight roads in business’ and that there will be bad days, but the important thing is to remain focused. He sees that his role in all of his businesses is to create opportunities, push through decisions, and make and maintain relationships.

Evidence of Simon’s theories being put into practice can be seen in his recent reacquisition of Comtec in October 2014. After a loss of £5m last year, the business is now projecting an Ebitda of £1.4m for this year.Breakfast Club

Simon is passionate about finding the next generation of talented young people to work in technology and highlighted the importance of working with schools to help inspire children to pursue a career within the tech industry. In particular, he talked about the huge potential within Wales and Welsh schools to produce skilled tech professionals, but emphasised the fact that not enough is being done to achieve this with current tech courses not tailored to business.

Simon concluded his talk by encouraging graduates who are thinking about setting up their own businesses to go for it, stating that there is lots of funding available and that “if you’re passionate and committed, you can do it”.

Dates and speakers for the autumn will be announced soon. For further information and booking details, please contact or phone 02920 549597.


I found the talk by James at today’s Cardiff Breakfast Club held at St David’s Hotel really inspiring. As founder and CEO of SuperStars, the child development organisation he set up nine years ago, he has grown the business to be a great commercial success, currently employing 240 staff and working with 80,000 children a week.

James’ awards are many, but surely the pinnacle was last year’s Institute of Directors annual national awards when he was crowned overall Director of the Year.

james taylorIn his talk, James outlined some key essentials of being a successful entrepreneur. From the £1000 he used from his parents to start his business, James explained that while academically not the highest achiever, he had an idea and saw a gap in the education sector which he subsequently exploited.  He was glowing in his praise of Cardiff as a super place to live, and of the ability for individuals to get help and access to politicians, and to those in positions to help a young business grow.

He gave numerous examples of the need to strongly believe in what you are doing, to be tenacious in selling your services/products, and to be absolutely passionate about your offer. It took him 10 visits to various schools before getting his first order!

James is equally passionate about supporting young people in Wales who seek to be the entrepreneurs of the future and sits as Chairman of the Entrepreneurial Board for Wales. He appealed for all networking events attended by business people to encourage young people with aspirations to be an entrepreneur to attend. He also confirmed the need for role models and mentors to visit schools/colleges to encourage youngsters to follow in his footsteps.

By hard work, spotting a gap in the market, and being passionate about what you do, even with the ups and downs which every business goes through, young people of Wales have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and bring prosperity not just to themselves, but to the wider society and Wales as well.

Keep up the excellent work James, 10/10!

This month we were joined by Chief Executive of Sport Wales, Sarah Powell. Sarah was appointed in September 2013 and is the first female to hold this position within the organisation. She has previously worked on the Sports Council for Wales with the Welsh National Governing Bodies (NGBs) of sport as well as heading the Performance and Excellence department.

Sarah Powell

Sarah Powell

Sarah also authored and implemented Wales’ Elite Sports Strategy which provided the framework within which Welsh athletes broke all records of medals won at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Beginning her address to the Breakfast Club, Sarah stressed the need to embrace sport within Wales and break down preconceptions that “Wales is a small nation punching above its weight.” Wales should seek success, including a bid to host the 2026 Commonwealth games, and “cannot and should not embrace second best.” Sarah pointed to the success of Frankie Jones, the inspirational Welsh gymnast who won gold in her last ever performance during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Sarah also explained that we are currently witnessing unprecedented times in Welsh budget cuts, with sport being one of the areas to be hit the hardest. She said that: “I passionately believe that for too long sport and leisure have been seen as the soft options for cuts. In my opinion this is short sighted when sport and participation have such a vital role in supporting the health crisis.” She also stressed the fact that Sport Wales are still delivering despite these cuts – despite decreasing investment they have hit every target set out over the past 2 years.

Sport Wales is now engaging and working with business more than has ever been seen before. Yet Sarah says there is still a need to do more to continue to develop even stronger partnerships. She also stressed the fact that “it is people we need to invest in, not just ideas.” Steps also need to be taken to make sport more engaging across a wider spectrum of society.

To conclude her talk, Sarah stressed her belief that it is vital to work with the aim of “building a Sportopia – a Wales where sport is valued.” Since the World Health Organisation have cited getting physically active as one of the key steps for a healthier nation, it is easy to see why.

The next Breakfast Club will be held on 20th January with guest speaker Trevor Williams, Chief Economist of Lloyds Bank. For further information and booking details, please contact or phone 02920 549597.

Breakfast ClubOur speaker this morning was Lynda Campbell, Regional Director for British Gas. Lynda has worked for British Gas for over 30 years, progressing from the “shop floor” to overseeing its award-winning contact centre in Cardiff.

British Gas is one of Wales’ “anchor companies”, with 1300 members of staff employed at the Cardiff contact centre alone. Lynda and her team have worked hard to transform British Gas within Wales, achieving phenomenal results in both customer satisfaction and employee engagement. With over 30,000 people employed in contact centres, Lynda is now looking for ways to share this best practice with other companies and nurture communication skills in those entering the world of work, to create a niche for South Wales as a hub of superb service skills.

Lynda began by dispelling some of the common perceptions around working in contact centres: that it is unskilled, unsociable and undesirable. Turning these perceptions around is just one way the Cardiff centre team set about to “break the mould” for contact centres.

Lynda and her team set bold ambitions when she became General Manager in 2008. At the time British Gas was top of the complaints league and losing 12 members of staff per week.  It became evident that a completely new approach was needed, with a particular phrase becoming a motto for the Cardiff centre: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over.”

Lynda Campbell, Regional Director for Wales, British Gas, explained how she has "broken the mould" for contact centres.

Lynda Campbell, Regional Director for Wales, British Gas, explained how she has “broken the mould” for contact centres.

The “transformational journey” began with Lynda listening to the team and asking them what they would change. This led to a move away from the heavy focus on targets, which put staff under pressure yet did not guarantee good service. Lynda also revamped the recruitment process, making it “all about attitude”. The company now “recruit the smile, train the skill”, making assessment of behaviours and attitudes part of the interview. This has successfully lowered the staff attrition rate from 32% (12 per week) to just 4%. The team structure has also been reorganised to offer career development, as well as secondment opportunities outside of the contact centre.

The most important change was in British Gas’ approach to customer service, using psycholinguistic techniques to help staff read into callers’ varying personalities. “Thinkers”, “Feelers”, “Entertainers” and “Controllers” all expect different things, and by picking up on these personality types staff can handle the call in the most appropriate way. For example, “Thinkers” are most concerned about processes, and need to be talked through these in logical steps. 

Lynda was adamant that by improving engagement and looking after the staff that work there, “everything else will improve”. The new approach is clearly working: employee engagement has jumped from 54 to 86 in just 3 years, and complaints have dropped drastically from 51 per 1000 to just 6 per 1000. “World class” service is around 4 per 1000. With 24 industry awards in the last 3 years, this is something the team is closing in onLynda is now developing what British Gas can do to share their expertise and nurture the future of the industry. They hold open days for smaller businesses to share information and skills which have been attended by over 2000 companies so far. Lynda also sees a larger role for British Gas to play: working more closely with the education sector to help develop the key communication skills and attitudes needed before people enter the industry, so that they are ready to excel within it.

The next Breakfast Club meeting will be held on 21st November, with guest speaker Graeme Leach, IOD Chief Economist. For further information, please contact or call 02920 549597.

Breakfast ClubRussell Goodway, Cardiff Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, Business and Local Economy, joined us this morning to discuss his vision for Cardiff as “a city of the world” – and told Cardiff Breakfast Club members to “prepare to be amazed”.

It is now 20 years since the then Council set out to transform Cardiff from a “small provincial city” to a vibrant and thriving capital, comparable to any of its European counterparts. This agenda, known as “Cardiff 2020”, identified key characteristics of these European cities, such as a high-performing and research-focused university, top notch sports facilities and cultural and concert venues. In the past 20 years, Cllr Goodway has had an instrumental role in bringing just such characteristics to Cardiff: Cardiff University, part of the influential Russell Group, the Millennium, Cardiff City and SWALEC stadiums, and the Millennium Centre.

However, these are more than just facilities: Cardiff 2020 embraced and understood the economic potential of culture and sport. For example, top quality universities attract and nurture the best students, creating a talented pool of individuals. These individuals go on to work in the area – and they attract businesses here to employ them.

Since then Cardiff has hosted the Rugby World Cup, the ICC Champions trophy, Olympic football matches, and concerts by huge acts. Russell praised the palpable “buzz” in the city after the singer Rihanna’s concert earlier this week, and anticipated the excitement that Premiership football will bring next season.

Councillor Russell Goodway outlined his aspirations for Cardiff's future economic development.

Councillor Russell Goodway outlined his aspirations for Cardiff’s future economic development.

With such attractive “weapons in the city’s economic armour”, the eyes of the world should be turning to Cardiff. Yet despite all this, Cllr Goodway stated that we have failed to make the most of the platforms put in place. Cardiff has “taken its eye off the ball” in the past 10 years, “underperforming” on a number of key measures. We currently have low levels of innovation, of business start-ups and business density, and have failed to attract significant inward investment and new jobs.

It now falls to this council to “start the process all over again”; to stimulate a new economic agenda for Cardiff and “lead Wales out of economic darkness”. During tough economic times the local government and the local business community must work together to bring aspirations to fruition, and Russell praised the strong public-private sector partnerships that brought about Cardiff 2020’s success. As he put it, the council must break the eggs, but the business community must make the omelette.

The Council’s aspirations full into three areas: infrastructure (both transport and digital), opportunities for all citizens, and enhancing Cardiff’s reputation. There are plans to dramatically improve local, national and international transport links, as well as the creation of a new enterprise zone that will attract new jobs into the city. Major development projects have a knock-on effect on all sectors: stimulating the construction industry, creating permanent jobs, and further bolstering Cardiff’s offer to visitors and inward investors.

Cardiff is a young, dynamic and growing city, and this “must be shouted about” to achieve the recognition it is capable of. 20 years ago such economic drive made Cardiff a worthy European capital; now it is time to make it a “city of the world”.

Breakfast ClubPaul Fisher, Executive Director for Markets and a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), addressed the Cardiff Breakfast Club this morning.

Paul joined the Bank of England in 1990, holding a number of senior positions before becoming Executive Director for Markets in March 2009. He discussed the impact of ‘groundbreaking’ institutional changes the Bank of England introduced last month and gave an outlook for the UK economy, including the role that monetary policy can play going forward.

These ‘historic’ new arrangements include the return of banking supervision. While Paul stressed that supervision ‘cannot guarantee that banks and building societies won’t fail’, changes to the supervision procedure have been made to ‘exploit synergies’ between all parties involved, to ensure a better job is done.

Turning to the economy, Paul stated that this has been a ‘disappointing’ and ‘extraordinarily flat’ period, with only 5 of the 21 quarters since 2008 showing growth. Paul estimated that Britain is ‘between two-thirds and three-quarters of the way through’ the post-recession recovery period, and was keen to stress that no ‘crash bang boom wallop’ recovery is likely any time soon.

Paul Fisher, Bank of England, was this morning's Breakfast Club speaker.

Paul Fisher, Bank of England, was this morning’s Breakfast Club speaker.

This can however be seen as a ‘glass half full or glass half empty’ situation. While short term growth is likely to remain subdued for the next few years, the situation after such a deep recession ‘could be profoundly worse’. Paul is fairly hopeful that ‘gentle’ growth will resume this year, and is pleased to see firms and households expanding once more.

Spending will remain muted as households continue to save more than before the crisis, with individuals also working longer and for lower wages. The financial sector has been impacted by banks and building societies looking to sell off their commercial property portfolio. The corporate sector presents a ‘mixed picture’; SMEs are struggling to access the credit they want, but larger companies could help the situation by investing rather than continuing to save.

Paul also discussed the consistently low interest rates that frustrate savers, explaining that we cannot expect safe, real returns from the market until the economy is growing again. Once we get back to reasonable growth rates, savers will be see better rates of interest.

Paul was supportive of the efforts monetary policy has made to sustain the economy’s return to growth. There are ‘strict limits to what monetary policy can achieve’ in the current situation, but progress is being made. Changes will take time to work through. The Bank of England will continue to play its part in stimulating economic recovery, but we should not expect a ‘boom’ any time soon.


The next Cardiff Breakfast Club meeting will be held on the 14th June with guest speaker Russell Goodway, Cardiff Council. This event is kindly sponsored by Cardiff Metropolitan University. For information please contact Sally Taylor on 02920 549597 or at 



Breakfast ClubFrom today until Sunday Cardiff will be filled with a flurry of green-fingered enthusiasts, as the RHS Flower Show Cardiff kicks off the Society’s annual show season. Sue Biggs, Director General of the RHS, joined us this morning to discuss how a business-like approach is often necessary when running a national charity.

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening society, and has been promoting excellence in horticulture since 1804. As a show of hands this morning demonstrated, very few people are actually aware that the RHS is a charity, yet the Society funds everything from maintaining its 4 stunning  gardens, to botanic art and literature collections, community education schemes and horticultural research. This work is achieved without any Government funding; it is the funds generated through the Society’s commercial side that enable its charitable side to continue.

Sue joined the RHS in 2010, after nearly 30 years in the tourism and leisure sector. An RHS member for 18 years, Sue had never worked for a charity nor trained in horticulture. It was the lessons and approach learned from her experience and success in the business world that have helped the RHS reach a record membership of over  400,000.

The Society was previously very internally-focused, with little emphasis placed on commercial activity and a lack of communication with potential partners in the business world. While the charity is dedicated to its charitable aims, they are impossible to achieve without the funding brought in through its shows, publications, products, partnerships and attractions. To this end, one of the 10 key targets Sue outlined was for the RHS to have ‘efficient business practices, that deliver maximum income for our charitable purposes’.


The RHS Flower Show Cardiff kicks off today.

Sue has implemented dramatic changes to the Society’s culture, achieved through ‘leading by example’ and working from ‘individual up, not top down’. The organisation’s operations have been restructured, moving away from divisions working individually towards a new and engaged strategy, with everyone understanding their role in the bigger picture. Establishing such a complex process highlights one of the key differences between the charity and business worlds: timing. The direction and implementation of decisions in the charity world is, Sue said, ‘more a country road than a motorway’; it takes a lot of time, with many different groups to influence in order to progress.

Sue has big plans for the RHS’s future, with a wide range of projects planned. This will be partly funded through the sale of the lease on Lawrence Hall last year to Westminster School, which generated £18million, and partly through a £9million fundraising drive. The extensive botanical art collection and library at Lindley Hall will be opened to the public for the first time, more PhD studentships will be introduced, and a 3.5acre Urban Garden will be created in a major UK city centre, ‘somewhere you would never expect’. There are also regional plans being piloted in Scotland and Yorkshire; while an RHS garden in every region would be unfeasible, an RHS centre could provide exciting opportunities to link with local businesses across the country. There are a wide range of ways the RHS and businesses could work together, through CSR projects, sponsorship and support.

While the business and charity sectors are often perceived to be dramatically different, there are unexpected similarities – and, as Sue has found, much that each can teach the other. By enabling the commercial and charity sides to sit together, Sue is confident that the RHS will be leading the way in horticulture for another 200 years.

The RHS Show Cardiff 2013 is the Society’s first major show of 2013, and regularly attracts over 20,000 visitors from across the UK. It will be held in Bute Park between the 19th and 21st of April. For more information, please visit


The next Cardiff Breakfast Club meeting will be held on the 24th of May with guest speaker Paul Fisher, Bank of England. For information or to book, please contact Sally Taylor on 02920 549597 or at 

Breakfast ClubCardiff Breakfast Club members were at the St David’s Hotel bright and early this morning to hear guest speaker Graham Edwards, chief executive of Wales & West Utilities (WWU) and Chairman of CBI Wales.

After leaving school at just 15, Graham worked his way through the engineering, manufacturing and utilities sector before becoming Chief Executive of WWU in 2005. He is now one year into his two-year tenure as CBI Chairman, and drew on his experiences in both roles to give his perspective on Wales’ business outlook and the CBI’s goals for the future.

CBI Wales comprises of some 210,000 businesses, from large companies to SMEs, and enjoys a ‘significant level of engagement’ with both the Welsh and the UK Government. Through regular meetings and open discussion, CBI Wales intends to work very much with the Welsh Government to see the ‘fruits’ of this engagement, and ‘galvanise’ Welsh business.

A ‘passionate Welshman’, Graham’s positive attitude and desire for Welsh to succeed was clear throughout. Wales makes a ‘small but significant’ contribution to the UK economy, with Graham immediately able to outline several ‘opportunities to improve’. Wales is one of the UK’s poorest regions on underlying productivity, and is ‘nowhere near’ the level of inward investment seen 10-20 years ago. Graham acknowledged that ‘underlying structural issues’ such as Wales’ rural areas and infrastructure problems must be factored in, but should not become seen as unavoidable or solely to blame. We are ‘fighting our corner’. With a trend towards decreasing private sector employment and increasing public sector employment, our public sector is growing at a significantly greater rate than other parts of the UK. Wales also has the UK’s highest positive trade balance. Importantly, Graham made it clear that ‘investors are out there – money is available’.

The ‘passionate Welshman’ returned to Wales 7 years ago, and found that ‘being outside Wales looking in’ gave him a renewed perspective on the nation’s position. He suggested that Wales needs to move away from an ‘obsession’ with comparison with the rest of the UK, and look instead for Wales’ own opportunities. Graham drew on the comments made by Edwina Hart AM at last month’s Breakfast Club on the upcoming round of EU funding, stating that we must use this money in as strategic and ‘mercenary’ a way as possible, to maximise its potential. The CBI’s work plan for 2013-14 outlines a number of areas of activity, with the need now to identify what ‘the big opportunities’ are – and to go out and grab them.

While it is good to aspire to be ‘better than everyone else’, Graham emphasised the need to get the balance right: by repositioning our focus, as well as capitalising on the CBI’s  excellent working relationship with Government and Wales’ ‘great entrepreneurial spirit’.


The next Cardiff Breakfast Club meeting will be held on the 19th April, with Sue Biggs, Director General of the Royal Horticultural Society. For information or to book, please contact Sally Taylor on 02920 549597 or at 

Breakfast ClubEdwina Hart AM, Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science was the guest speaker at this morning’s fully-booked Cardiff Breakfast Club meeting.

Edwina began by discussing the city region concept, the progress of which has been followed with much interest by the Cardiff business community. While an important concept, making it a reality is difficult. Edwina expressed her gratitude towards the report produced by a group chaired by Dr Elizabeth Haywood, and stated that the Welsh Government would be ‘tentatively’ moving forward with its findings by establishing task and finish groups with close ties to local businesses. Issues surrounding transportation and concerns over the impact of a Cardiff city region on more rural areas were also discussed, with Edwina highlighting the need for effective broadband and 4G networks to support businesses outside of the city centre.

Links to local business continue with Edwina’s intentions for the area’s two enterprise zones, in Cardiff city centre and at St Athan. Rather than appointing the ‘usual suspects’, these are entirely private-sector led. Panels made up of key private sector individuals have been established and are working very successfully to lead the zones’ development.

Edwina also acknowledged Wales’ ‘integral’ creative industries, ‘small companies who often operate on a global stage’. She called the arts a ‘tremendous selling point for Wales’, using the significant interest from film makers as an example of how the creative sector is ‘taking the lead’.

Edwina stated that Wales has ‘got to fight for it’ in order to maximise its potential for business growth, competing not just with London but also internationally. While ministerial and departmental trips are often criticized, Edwina emphasised that Wales must ‘be prepared to go out there to get their business’, tellingly adding that ‘everyone else does it’. Wales must not only ensure ‘we have the right offer’, but also proactively champion that offer to external investors.

Edwina also introduced Derek Jones, the most business-friendly Permanent Secretary’ she has worked with. Derek has spent time visiting companies both to understand their experience and to learn how they consider the department, reflecting Edwina’s aspiration for the Government to have an honest and open dialogue with business in Wales. Throughout, Edwina emphasised the need to listen to the private sector to deliver her department’s priorities: prosperity, growth and jobs. She asked those assembled to ‘bring their ideas, scan the horizon and let us know where you want to be’.

Breakfast ClubGraeme Yorston, Chief Executive of the Principality group, was our first speaker of 2013. He addressed a packed audience at this morning’s event, kindly sponsored by our long-standing host venue, the St David’s Hotel & Spa.

Principality is the largest building society in Wales, and the 7th largest in the UK. The Group comprises of 4 businesses, covering the building society, lettings agent Peter Alan, personal loans and commercial lending. Graeme joined in 2006 as Chief Operations Officer after many successful years with Abbey National (now Santander), becoming Chief Executive in October 2012. His in-depth experience in the sector leaves him very well placed to discuss “how we got to where we are” economically, as well as the key differences between mutuals and PLCs, and the importance of engaging with local communities.

Graeme began by reading a letter from a disgruntled bank customer that demonstrated public attitudes and frustrations towards banks. Many of these hit home with the audience – yet Graeme revealed the letter was actually 15 years old. So, he asked, what has changed?

While “not here to knock banking”, Graeme outlined just some of the issues that had “battered” the sector during 2012, including the PPI scandal and the introduction of complex dual regulations. He suggested that the cultures at the heart of our current situation must be “reset and rebased” in order to repair it – something that will take a long time.

Graeme Yorston, chief executive of Principality

Graeme Yorston, chief executive of Principality

He took the opportunity to outline how building societies are different from banks. At its very roots, Principality is “a safe place to deposit savings, to help people to enter the housing market”. As a mutual it has no shareholders; “every member is an owner, and every member has a vote”. Another key difference is their approach to profit. Building societies look for profit optimisation rather than maximisation, endeavoring to make enough profit to protect the business’s capital, and then looking to return value to members.

This return of value drives Principality’s commitment to community involvement, something Graeme said is “expected from businesses” at the moment. Principality invests a huge amount of time, effort and resources into its community commitment schemes, supporting community groups (such as Only Boys Aloud) and key cultural events like the Eisteddfod and Royal Welsh Show. It is so closely associated with rugby (as sponsor of the premiership) that many believe it to be the sponsor of the Wales team!

Principality also conduct research in order to respond directly to members’s concerns such as the survival of the high street, an “absolutely key place to do business”. Principality has upped its physical presence and representation in Wales, combining branches to “use assets more intelligently”.  Principality also invests in education, with a comprehensive work experience scheme that promises to take on 4 students a year from its two partner schools.

In the future, Graeme sees “definite opportunities” to grow. The Group will look to grow outside of Wales, although this will be done primarily through their e-channel. The Group brand is “very powerful” in Wales, and trust in building societies remains “strong”, leaving Graeme optimistic. Headlines concerning the industry as a whole have also improved in recent weeks, although the dramatic “rebasing” of cultures still needs to be achieved. In all, the industry is making steps along a positive path – but we may be in for a bumpy ride.