During the past three years, businesses have struggled to come to terms with the extreme pressures facing them since the economic downturn began in 2008. However, with a diverse population of over 1.2million people, and Birmingham being a city bursting with talented individuals, there are opportunities for budding entrepreneurs providing the right steps are taken, at the right time, and with the right support.The Birmingham Gazette thought who better to speak to than NatWest regional director for business banking in the West Midlands, Mark Round.TBG: Hi Mark pleased to meet you, so where about in the city do you work?
Mark: My remit covers the entire West Midlands. I have an office base in St Philips Place, Birmingham but I spend a lot of time out and about with my staff and our customers across our offices throughout the region.
TBG: What is a typical day for you?
Mark: Nothing is typical. But it will always revolve around either my staff and other bank colleagues, or our customers. I also represent the bank at a number of industry related activities so a day can involve anything from staff meetings, to customer meetings to presentations on behalf of the bank, always with the trusty blackberry close to hand.
TBG: What is entrepreneurialism?
Mark: The ability to identify, research, nurture and execute business opportunities.
TBG: What do you think is the biggest reason new businesses can often fail?
Mark: Cash flow. This is the biggest factor in the failure of business, not sales but the ability to generate enough cash to keep operations going until goods are paid for. This is why it is very important to structure your working capital and capital expenditure appropriately.
TBG: What is the secret of becoming a high growth, successful business?
Mark: I think fundamentally you need two things. A good strong product or product range matched by a strong focus on customer service – people still buy from people.
TBG: How has the recession affected businesses in Birmingham?
Mark: Birmingham is not unique and immune to the effects of the recession that has touched other parts of the country. Business confidence is rocked at the moment, but then a number of businesses locally continue to trade well. Birmingham remains the country’s second city so has a lot going for it – a large manufacturing heritage, strong retail opportunities, three leading universities and a strong professional and service sector. Growth is forecast to be long and slow, so the city needs to continue to focus on its strengths whilst the economy returns to a growth trend.
TBG: How does Business Banking support businesses?
Mark: We aim to work in partnership with our customers, and have three clear aims – to make it simple for our customers to deal with us, to share their ambitions and deliver our business expertise in a manner that makes a lasting difference to their business and its operations.
TBG: Are there any sectors which are thriving at the moment and why?
Mark: You will always find niche operators in each sector; a good business will always find a market for themselves. But looking at industry and sectors, the economic surveys suggest that manufacturing is holding its own at the moment and has reported growth in demand over the last 12 months.
TBG: If someone wants to start a business or grow an existing one, what advice would you give them?
Mark: Consult widely and wisely. There is a lot of focus and support on the start-up market at the moment but not everyone is aware of it, so speak to a number of business professionals to make the most of your business plan – including a bank.
TBG: What is the most exciting business in Birmingham at the moment?
Mark: Not a glib response – but my own is fairly exciting. We deal with customers that operate across all major sectors and industries so we have a great insight into the fabric of the local economy. We are also working in an industry that is rebuilding its reputation with its customers and wider stakeholders, so it is a challenge to ensure people understand what it is we are here for, and what it is we do – supporting our customers and therefore the local economy in a responsible manner.
If you are interested in starting a new business, or would like to grow an existing one and want to find out more about how business banking can be the first step towards launching an enterprise, visit www.natwest.com/business