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Leading innovative businesses, innovatively!

The internet loves a list, and we’re no exception.

Google ‘UKs most innovative leaders‘ and you’ll find quite a few rankings – by wealth, influence, impact and any other metric you can think of.

Let’s take a look at some of the people leading the UKs most interesting business and try to work out what makes a leader both innovative and successful.

Simon Segar: expertise and openness

Management Today’s annual Britain’s Most Admired Companies research listed Arm, Greggs, Renishaw, Ocado and Croda International as the top five ranked companies for their capacity to innovate, as scored by their peers.

Arm Ltd is a British semiconductor and software design company based in Cambridge with CEO Simon Segars at the helm.

Segars has a background in electronic engineering and computer science, and is widely recognised for his impact on the global tech industry. In 2016, he was named the UKtech50 most influential person in UK information technology by Computer Weekly and has steered Arm Holdings through expansion, Brexit, acquisitions and more

But what makes him so important, and what are the qualities we can learn from him?

  • Expert knowledge

Segars has been the driver of Arm’s technical and business innovations, transforming the company into what it is today.

His engineering work has led to them being granted hundreds of patents, and he led the early ground-breaking developments that the company was built upon.

Having expert knowledge in your product or service is the foundation for both great leadership and generating innovative ideas.

  • Collaboration

Segar knows that relationships and partnerships are at the core of Arms success.

It sells licenses to more than 250 different partner companies, and as such their products reach around 75% of people in the world.

They support the research and development efforts of partners who might not be able to undertake large-scale R&D investment, creating symbiotic relationships while not relying on any one company, product or market.

In this interview with Computer Weekly, Segar put it best himself:

“We’re all about pushing and expanding our ecosystem and building relationships with as many as we can up and down the supply chain. It’s also about making sure we’re not just cooking up things in a darkened back room, but doing things hand in hand with our key partners. Building partnerships and building relationships is how to keep on top.”

The more relationships you build and the more collaborative your efforts are, the more innovative your way of thinking – and therefore your leadership style, and business, becomes.

Keiran Olivares Whitaker: passion and ambition

Back in February, business database provider Beauhurst ranked the most innovative companies in the UK based on the amount of grant funding they’d been awarded from organisations like Innovate UK, Horizon 2020, Scottish Enterprise and FP7.

Topping their list was the insect farming business, Entocycle.

Entocyle makes animal feed from insects as a more environmentally friendly protein source.

It was started by Keiran Olivares Whitaker and recently received a £10m grant from UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to build a large-scale farm for soldier flies fed on food waste.

Whitaker is relatively new to the world of business, having started Entocycle in January 2014 after graduating from the University of Manchester with a Master of Science, Urban Regeneration and Development in 2009. Prior to that, he studied Environmental Design and Conservation at Oxford Brookes University.

So what makes this newcomer impressive and what can we learn from him?

  • Passion

Most people’s dream is to get paid for doing something they love.

The Entocycle product has commercial potential, but ultimately the company and the way it’s led by Whitaker is based on his passion for environmental conservation.

A particularly important quality for leaders in new and emerging sectors and start-ups, its passion that keeps the best people pushing on when it looks like all is lost. If you don’t have it, it’ll be obvious quite quickly, and if your teams don’t see passion from you they certainly won’t come along the journey with you, either.

  • Ambition

Ambition can be a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, sometimes people who don’t have it get thrust into leadership positions without being ready or even wanting it and then fail without it; on the other, sometimes ambition overrides all the other things that make a great leader – humility, integrity, accountability.

Finding the right balance between following your ambitions, not making careless decisions to get there, and actually leading others to success as well can be more difficult than it seems!

Ambition should drive you to see and do things better and differently – to innovate to get ahead, personally and financiall.

Brian Palmer: Emotional intelligence and resilience

A slightly different list of sorts, in 2019 Business Live asked their readers to send examples of manufacturing innovators in their regions.

One of the companies highlighted was Tharsus, who design and build innovative machinery solutions, particularly robotics, for the likes of DHL, Ocado and BT.

Current CEO Brian Palmer joined the business in the late 1990s and has led Tharsus Group through arguably some of the most challenging times in manufacturing history. It’s not easy to do that while still winning awards for being a great leader, but that’s exactly what he’s done.

The final two key qualities of innovative leaders in this list as showcased by Palmer are resilience, and emotional intelligence.

  • Resilience

For leaders, true resilience isn’t just about dealing with challenges; it’s about maintaining energy and high-performance even in the face of them.

More than that, resilient leaders maintain their beliefs and values in the face of adversity, staying true to themselves, their vision and their people while being flexible enough to weather any storms.

Palmer recently had this to say:

“The last few years have been tremendously exciting, but also very challenging for everyone at Tharsus Group, not least due to our rapid growth. My team has pulled together and worked hard to meet those challenges head on, really embracing our values, objectives and culture whilst delivering the best possible service to our customers.”

Resilient thinking brings teams together to meet challenges through innovation and hard work, and you can’t be a truly innovative leader without being resilient.

  • Emotional intelligence

EI is probably one of the most important aspects of modern leadership, and in itself is quite an innovative things to use in people management.

It runs through everything, from how you understand your own strengths and limitations (and therefore how you build the right team around you to compensate for them!), to channelling the right emotions and impulses at the right time, to understanding team dynamics and how to get the best out of different personality types.

Brian Palmer is an EEF Future Manufacturing Awards leadership award winner and has this to say about his achievement:

“Creating jobs for great individuals inspires me, and the opportunity to help people to develop and grow professionally is the most rewarding aspect of running a business…. leadership is so much easier when you have a truly exceptional team to lead.”

How do you know what makes your people exceptional (beyond CVs and qualifications)? Emotional intelligence, and being able to flex your own to bring the best out of others.

Innovation: for leadership and business growth

We exist to help innovative businesses unlock funding for growth, but more than that, we give leaders like you the space to concentrate on moving you forward.

Get in touch to find out what financial rewards are available to businesses with innovation at the heart, or for help with shifting your strategy away from the norm and into a new phase of growth through research and development.

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