The inches, eighths & movement involved in growing your business

I was lucky enough to spend some time recently with the Ernst & Young Global Entrepreneur of the year Hamdi Ulukaya in New York. Hamdi, who in these days of dot-com millionaires was a very worthy winner of this highly prestigious award, with a traditional and organically funded, highly profitable manufacturing business.

Ulukaya is also the epitome of the American Dream, an immigrant to the US from eastern Turkey, who after struggling with a cheese manufacturing business decided to change tact and in 2006, with the help of a $1m (£636,000) US government-backed bank loan, bought a disused Kraft Yogurt factory in upstate New York. Today his (still wholly-owned private company) Chobani turns over $1BN and is now America’s largest-selling Greek yogurt brand.

Whilst we will be featuring a full interview with the Yogurt supremo in the August issue, Hamdi told me that even after buying the plant he had no firm idea what he wanted to do with the site. “Sometimes it’s OK not to know because it gives you possibilities,” he says. He remembers morale in the small town had collapsed along with Kraft’s closure of the factory. “It was like a cemetery. Most of the town knew someone who had worked there.”

One of his first decisions was, along with five ex-Kraft staff he’d hired, to paint the walls. It wasn’t much of a business plan, but then doing something is always better than sitting on your hands, he says. “That’s what we did all summer. Now when we have problems, we always do something. If you’re in the motion of action, the ideas come.”

Simon Devonshire, the head of the Wayra UK incubator and investor in a number of ventures, on his Tall Man Business blog, says that ‘[ilink url=””]Business growth is all about the eighths'[/ilink]. By that he means that for a business to see year-on-year growth it needs one major new ‘shout’ every six weeks – one launch in each eighth of the year.

What does Simon mean a ‘shout’?”. It is a new development, product range, evolution or upgrade, that is big enough for you to want to tell everyone about it. Ideally one that is remarkable ie. that your customers are compelled to remark upon.

This is exactly the reason why the major FMCG manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble and Unilever launch things like Platinum Power Ball dishwasher tablets, or a new element or concentration to Fairly Liquid.

As you can see not all ‘launches’ need be momentous, however you need to find a compelling and meaningful reason to engage your audience. If we were in America these would be called touch points or reach outs.

By doing this, as Simon suggests, every six weeks or so you will see clients and customers re-engaged, re-awakened and an awake and engaged client is one that is either buying, at least providing you feedback on your offering.

For my part, I think, and to paraphrase Al Pacino’s character in the film Every Given Sunday, you and everyone in your organisation needs to give that ‘inch’

I really dislike it when business owners, of firms with any kind of staff numbers, refer to their business as ‘I’ instead of ‘us’ or ‘we’. To grow any business every single member of staff needs to give that inch because in business, as in life, the margin for error is so small.

The inches we need are around us and every member of staff everyday. Whether it is engaging more with clients at a meeting to getting to know them not just their requirements, or spending that extra hour to wrote a blog on your website to help with SEO, even tidying and organising your van so you can find the tools you need faster which might create the ability to do one extra call a day.

If you build this culture into your business and you foster responsibility across the entire organisation, you will find that all of the inches is collectively added up and all those inches could make the difference between winning and losing, making that presentation outstanding to win that new contract, adding an extra few thousand to your bottom line, or just in surviving or thriving.

A business that grows in the current market is the one where the team are each willing to give that inch. As a company owner you can’t make each team member do it, but you have to create a culture where each and every member of your team can look at the colleague next to them, look into their eyes and see someone willing to give that inch with them.

Having spent time with many of Hamdi Ulukaya’s staff across the whole Chobani organisation, whilst he is unique to have grown a company employing over 2,000 staff and generating a turnover of in excess of $1BN within 6 years with no external funding and operating a pretty flat organisation structure, it is clear that it is not just his yogurt that is grown from culture, but every element of the company and that really is something that we can take a taste of.


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