In our latest Spotlight On feature we chat to Graham Sleep, a co-director of IA Growth, a business advice consultancy which works with growing organisations to act as a ‘floating board of directors’ to support them through their journey.

Tell us more about IA Growth?

IA Growth came out of an idea I’d had relating to what is now our ‘floating board support concept’. I’d looked at this with a few different contacts over the years in different ways but never found the people who were right to take it forward with and who aligned to the values I had. 

I met David Land (one of three directors) approximately four years ago when we were both part of a team to look at a 25-year Advanced Manufacturing Strategy for County Durham. 

Andy Briggs was someone I knew from the Entrepreneurs Forum who really got into discussions later in 2017 which lead to the formation of IA Growth in March 2018.  

Personally, I felt that all partners were local down to earth people who happened to have been involved in leading growth in larger organisations and were now at the point in their career where it was most about creating significant difference than their own personal successes. 

We all wanted to be someone to walk alongside the business owner as we all knew that this was a lonely journey, however we also recognised this was not just a short-term coaching or mentoring journey.  There had to be regular contact and sometimes getting our hands dirty in the process to get the organisation where they needed to be.  It also required a diverse skill-set from the Directors.  Growing organisations often can’t afford or attract the level of expertise required, and often don’t need to recruit for a role that maybe only part-time, but what is the solution to this??  That is what floating board does…or as we say “From Experience Comes Insight”.

Between the directors there’s this wealth of industry experience. Is that what makes your offering to businesses so strong?

As I said, although I don’t like saying it as the youngest member, over 100 years between us.  Very rarely do you get three people burying their individual egos to come together within an organisation purely to support other organisations, and also with different specialisms (both from a technical and mindset perspective) mean we do form a formidable team.  We are not in it for a short-term, day rate type pay-day.  We do all really want the economies in our home (the North East of England) to flourish. We are also all concerned by the “anyone can call themselves an expert” and want to set ourselves apart as actually we have grown large organisations not just lifestyle businesses (although that is cool if that is what you want).  

These views have allowed for us to look at what key aspects do businesses need support with and how can we offer these in a sustainable way for the business.  By this I mean, that doesn’t take money out of the business when it doesn’t have it, doesn’t take share options when they may need these for investment later in their journey.  We are not there just to line our own pockets or polish our egos, but in a way where we have “skin in the game” through success payments giving a “guarantee” for the client.  If we are successful we get paid well.  If not we tear the agreement up. A high risk strategy but then again so is all business…

Tell us more about the clients you work with and the support you offer?

We buy into local “rough diamonds” who may have the courage, ambition and energy to aim for a large business, but maybe not the resilience, perseverance, confidence and calmness that can only come from others who have already fought the battles many times.  We want people who have battle-scars not Uni new starts no matter what the age – that is why we call ourselves the “grey and baldings”. 

This led us to organisations like AR Controls, a RPA company in Sunderland that have moved forward 450% growth in three years whilst maintaining profit to sales.  Funky Chunky Furniture that has grown 600% in just over 2 years whilst increasing profitability and we are now looking forward to seeing real growth over the next two years with them.  We recently got funding in for one of our recent on-boards Hall & Angus in Houghton-le-Spring, and have supported senior leaders in organisations like Pacifica Group and CMR Group at the larger SME and beyond end of the scale through our coaching and mentoring options.

Our core offers are in the main relating to our  “Floating Board” – this is for £1M to £10M t/o SMEs who are looking to grow and want sustainable support to do this.  It offers all the IAG Directors talents as the business needs it.  We do not just turn up to board meetings but are part of the team and not scared to get our hands dirty.  This has meant that we developed strategic plans and underpinning financial models, developed investment strategies and made introductions, implemented talent management within a business from recruitment to development, recruited and developed leadership teams, market and analysis and segmentation leading to business development tactics, coaches sales and their processes, supported implementation of management systems etc..  

We also offer bespoke solutions to individual problems in areas of Strategy development and deployment, communication strategy, sales development, operations and supply chain management as well as some of the best structured most-effective coaching and mentoring services available to NE businesses.

What does the future hold for IA Growth?

More profile building and clients for floating board hopefully who buy into our ethos of ongoing development support to a sustainable business, and are looking for real sustainable growth.  We see this as quite disruptive product given our key principles behind it and our abilities.  Other people are starting to come together but often under franchise models developed elsewhere without the North East in mind and at significant cost.  We have developed this for the NE landscape so hope that people will push on now we are showing some real benefits that people can see for themselves.  It is a “No Risk” for a business.  Either get 1 x NED with their specialism, or get a floating board with multiple specialisms for similar outlay.

We are also now offering a innovative approach to team coaching in which we have taken a lot of the cost out of 1-1 coaching but also increased the accountability for the team itself and the individuals it includes.  This takes 12 months and monitors key metrics for behavioural improvement along the way, most is self managed and the coach actually acts as more of a facilitator (so you see less of him/her).  You can coach a whole senior team for 12 months on a “guaranteed improvement” basis, with a small ongoing fee but a substantial amount being paid on success when the goals are achieved.  Again we all share the risk of this.  Should anyone want to know more then we are happy to have free, no obligation, confidential discussions on where the owner/ directors wish for the organisation to go.