This week's was one of the most interesting of the new series of business programmes featuring Gerry Robinson. The super-successful business man looks at businesses in trouble, coming to a decision on whether or not he will invest his own money in helping to tum their decline around.
This time one of the two businesses featured was in Argyll – the long established McColls' Hotel in Dunoon. This is one of a chain, some of which have had to be sold, leaving two hotels – the other one in Torquay.
it quickly became clear to Gerry Robinson that the central problem faced by the business was that it might have appeared to have a management structure but in practice it had no management worth speaking of. A family business, the key figures were a father and son whose relationship was dysfunctional to say the least. Mark, the son, had a title but neither responsibility nor authority.
His father, whose authority was absolute, never went into the hotel but stayed in a control den in his house next door. There he spent his time poring over CCTV screens showing the interior of the hotel and a computer with coach-tracking software. This let him see exactly where the McColls' coaches were, ferrying the mostly elderly clientele to the hotel.
Father really wanted son to do the sales work to increase the business, hit by the recession. Son – with a title that suggested very different responsibilities, was angry and hurt at being continually sidelined and refused to do sales.
There were no management accounts. Staff were unsure who they were really responsible to but enjoyed their jobs and had a strong loyalty to the business.
On the positive side, the hotel gets around 70% repeat business and the warmest of appreciation of the its staff.
Like the audience for the show, Gerry Robinson's feelings on whether the business was rescuable or not swung endlessly from optimism to pessimism.
He was upfront with the two men and set them the challenge of sorting out their relationship and their roles in the business before he would even think again about what role he might play.
Their first attempt offered no hope, with an edgy war breaking out between them in no time at all.
But when Robinson returned he found a clean management structure in place with the woman who had effectively been managing the hotel now formally promoted to General Manager, the father stepping aside and Mark, the son, becoming Sales Director for the time being.
The biggest change that had come about because of Robinson's intervention was personal. Father and son had recovered their personal relationship and were mourning time lost in their pointless estrangement.
All was so obviously in control and going to be well that it came as a shock when Robinson's decision was not to invest. It wasnlt the money. In his terms the business didn't need a ot to see out the current hard times – around £150k.
Robinson's analysis was that this amount of cash was not what would make the difference and might only distract father and son and the new General Manager from making progress as a clearly structured and collaborative management team. He offered to talk to their bank, with the reassurance that he saw the business as clearly survivable and with room to grow.
After initial disappointment – fuelled by their awareness of the distance they had travelled, it was to the enduring credit of the family that they quickly understood how right Robinson's judgment had been. This was a complex and insightful programme, reminding us where we least expected to find it, that money is not necessarily the answer.
Comment on the above article
1. I am interested to see David McEwan Hill's comment, if this is the same Dave McEwan Hill who is a senior member of the SNP, I would have thought he might have reacted more positively to the success and survival of business in Argyll. I am happy to express my interest, I'm Mark Wilkinson, the son mentioned in the article above, I can honestly say that taking part in the programme gave us a unique opportunity to get the advice of one of the most successful business men in the country. Sir Gerry was as nice as he seems on the programme, but you don't achieve his level of success without being able to see to the heart of the matter, as well as banging a few heads together when neccessary.He certainly fits the description of an iron fist in a velvet glove.
He quite correctly,identified,as he told me is usually the case, that the problems almost always lie with the management, he was right, we listened, we took his advice, we made the changes we needed to. Not only has it transformed the way our business works, but also our family relationships. He quite rightly said that we didn't need his money, we have since, with the assistance of Sir Gerry's undoubted influence, refinanced with our bankers and are now in a strong position to see out the rest of the recession. We believe that with the changes we've made, and as Sir Gerry himself said, we will go from strength to strength and continue to provide a major source of employment in Argyll. Indeed between 2003 – 2008 we have brought more than 40,000 passengers to Argyll, representing 193,684 bednights into Dunoon alone and an estimated contribution to the local economy of £500,000 – £750,000 per annum.
I might also add that Sir Gerry told me he is still in touch with all the companies he's ever filmed with and said if we ever need his help, give him a call. Now that's a gift for any business, and one that money probably couldn't buy.
I would suggest it's not just McColls who have benefited from Sir Gerry's visit, but the whole of Argyll.