Q&A with Nick Hewer, QMS Ambassador

QMS Ambassador, Nick Hewer, talks about his past experiences in business; providing advice to Organisations on how to stand out, win new business and manage a successful team.

Nick Hewer is an experienced and well respected business stalwart who has gone from starting a PR Company in 1966 to becoming Lord Sugar’s most trusted business confidante. He also has a reputation for being a champion of small businesses and in the late nineties ran an initiative for Gordon Brown called ‘You Can Do It Too’ (which saw Sir Alan spend three years travelling around the country and talking to young people about business).

Nick appreciates that over the past twenty years QMS has made it possible for over 5,000 startup companies to achieve ISO Certification, he believes that ‘ISO certified businesses are undoubtedly more productive, more streamlined and more successful than their closest competitors’, and wants to make more Organisations aware of QMS’s services.

What was it that you did to make your own PR business so successful?

I guess for me, it was a result of the fact that we loved the clients so much. To lose a client was like a bereavement. Yes, it was important to make money, but that wasn’t the primary driver – it was to survive. We also looked after our staff, we always had a very low staff turnover, so roll that lot together and that’s the mark of a successful business.

When it came to recruitment, were you as vigilant as you are on the apprentice?

The Apprentice is all about testing people to the umpth degree until eventually they all fall away apart from one. When I was running my company, inevitably, recruitment had to be much shorter than that – it was made diligent by checking references, talking and interviewing, but also having a gut feeling. I think, having a gut feeling and liking someone is important. Who wants to work with someone they don’t like? Or you don’t think you will get on with?

Looking back over the years, is there anything you wish you did differently?

I think looking back over something like 30 years in business, did I have failings? Actually quite a lot, but the biggest failing was having less confidence in myself than my clients had in me and I didn’t spot, the sort of, disconnect. So if I had my time again I would have been more confident, braver, without being over confident. What could be worse than that?

What would you say every good business needs in order to do well and stay ahead?

I think every successful business has been carefully thought about and there are processes in place. But when some chill wind blows, you lose a client or gain too many, how do you surf that successfully? It is all down to processes; looking after the client, providing the service, providing the product and you know another thing? Make sure your accounts department is running smoothly, look after the cash, chase the cash and trade with people with whom you have confidence on payment. That’s very important. Look after the cash, cherish the client, run the right processes and you’ll survive.

What can businesses do to ensure consistent operations day-to-day?

I remember when I first went into business as a young guy, I had a boss and he had a wonderful expression. He said that ‘you have got to be very, very careful in that you’re not just a busy fool, running around all over the place without any objectives, any sort of process, you’re just all energy but to what end?’. I think that was a very, very important lesson to learn. It’s all down to processes, make sure that you’re doing it in the right way, in a set way, in a way that’s been agreed, that’s been costed. Otherwise you’re just a busy fool and guess what happens to them? They go bust.

Do you think businesses should address environmental and energy matters?

There’s no question in my mind that companies today ignore energy conservation and the environment at their peril, because (to) the consumer, the customer, the man on the street, the family at home these things are increasingly important.

I spotted the other day, walking through one of the great London railway stations, a huge placard in a shop window which said “We pay our workers, wherever they are in the world, a decent wage”, stating what the wage was. Why did they do that? They did it because they recognised that consumers want to deal with responsible companies. That happened to be working conditions, but what we’re now talking about is the environment and energy, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because to ignore it, actually is to the detriment of your company. It is smart economically as well as just being the civilised way to carry on and you can do this easily with the help of Certifications like ISO 14001 and ISO 50001.

What are your thoughts on ISO 9001, what benefits do you think the Certification brings?

Companies that are certified to ISO 9001 have a number of distinct and powerful advantages, first of all let us take it from the staffing point of view. Wouldn’t you want to join a company that is run properly, run efficiently, where time management is correct, functions are clearly delineated and delegated? And from a customer’s point of view, it is evidence that, that company is as efficient as any other company with the same certification. Powerful – particularly in start-ups when maybe you don’t have the heritage, or the history, or the client testimonials, or all the other background that give credibility to your offering. If you have that nailed to the door it says ‘you’re ok’ and that is a powerful marketing message.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own business today?

Don’t go start an airline or a bank because you won’t be able to get the finance, the capital for it. But whatever it is that you’ve got a passion for yes, get together with some pals and start a company. But start it with an advantage, and what is that advantage? It’s your own experience and passion, but get certified, get an ISO Certification which proves to your customers in doubt, staff, the people that you will be employing that you’re absolutely up to the mark and up to speed and on top of everything and running efficiently. That’s a great thing to be able to show the world as well as obviously, the energy you put into it and the marketing skill and the rest of it.

As an ambassador of QMS, what are the benefits of working with them from a business perspective?

QMS is different from some of the other, indeed most of the other and maybe all of the other Certification Bodies because they provide a route to Certification that doesn’t break the bank. Entry level certification with QMS enables small start-up companies to demonstrate their fledgling business is up to the mark, has passed the standard, has met the standard, and as they begin to grow it’s important that they are able to wave that ISO flag and say ‘We’re in too, we’re good enough for you’.

What do you believe is the secret to a successful and happy team?

Looking back over nine years of the apprentice one thing is crystal clear – the candidates who get it! Those candidates understand that if they work as a team they win and if they win nobody gets fired. That’s fascinating. Yet year after year people miss the point and they all try to prove that they themselves are the smart one. Get a good team leader, form a good team, delegate the functions within the team and you win, and if you win you don’t get dragged back into the board room and get fired. Teams win.