Fluidity and resilience: The Commercial Director’s view
Rhian Edwards, Wales Co-operative Centre Commercial Director discusses how the ‘Art of War’ reaffirmed resolve and a vital need for fluidity and resilience during the Covid-19 outbreak which has reshaped year one aspirations for the newly-developed commercial team.
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When I became the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Commercial Director in November 2019, a good friend bought me The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Despite being a piece of literature dating back 2,400 years, she hoped it may contain lessons worth considering in my new role. However, a busy life meant that until the Easter Bank Holiday this book had remained unopened.
My first year priorities as Commercial Director were clear: bring together the commercial team, achieve growth across our commercial portfolio, and develop a strategy to set the direction of travel for the next five years. And the start of 2020 was looking good. We brought in new members to the team, , a commercial strategy had been prepared, Social Business Connect was on track to hit our first year sales target, Social Enterprise Academy was securing new clients, our Enterprise Hubs were delivering engaging programmes of support for entrepreneurs, and we were successfully piloting a commercial license agreement for our Digital Heroes programme. In addition, there were a number of Welsh Government contract opportunities which would allow us to figure prominently in the Foundational Economy movement. A great start…but then Covid-19 hit.
Like many SMEs and social businesses, our commercial future became uncertain overnight. Prospective clients have gone off radar managing their own response to the crisis, some existing contracts have been brought to an end early, tender opportunities we had responded to were pulled or delayed and services based on face-to-face delivery needed a complete re-think.
To safeguard our people and minimise financial risk to the Centre, members of the Commercial Team, including myself, have been re-deployed to other areas of the business for the next six months to provide help where it is needed. Commercial budgets have been re-written to reflect a new reality. As we approached the Easter break, I was feeling pretty low, feeling that so much I had been working on had fallen apart.
But, I have taken the opportunity over Easter to reflect on our new world, with the help of my unopened book. On a sunny Easter Saturday afternoon, as my 5-year-old had an impromptu nap after almost two solid hours bouncing on a trampoline, I read The Art of War cover to cover. There on page 24 was the boot up the backside I needed. It read ‘just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions’. Now, I’m not saying the commercial world is a war zone, but to succeed commercially we have to be agile enough to adapt and evolve to an ever-changing marketplace. Okay, a world crisis such as Covid-19 is a challenge, one I wasn’t quite prepared for in my first year. But it is one we must face head on and adapt to as we prepare for the future.
"What is clear is that Wales, like the rest of the world, will emerge from this crisis and move into a period of economic recovery. Through our commercial arm, we are well placed to support this recovery process."
I am blessed to be working with an innovative and creative commercial team who are already rising to the challenge of adapting our commercial products to a new world. We are working with our partner, Creating Enterprise, and Social Enterprise Academy Scotland to take our Social Enterprise Academy programme on-line. We are working with our first client, Cardiff Met, to pilot this approach. We have also recently won a Heritage Lottery Fund Contract to deliver a UK wide programme of enterprise development for heritage organisations, using the SEA methodology. Our Enterprise Hubs are delivering engaging content through a new programme of webinars to businesses in their regions. Our business development team is working hard to identify and respond to new contract opportunities. Our Social Business Connect service is working hard to complete existing client work, identifying opportunities for social businesses in their supply chains.
What is clear is that Wales, like the rest of the world, will emerge from this crisis and move into a period of economic recovery. Through our commercial arm, we are well placed to support this recovery process. Our Social Business Connect service will work with anchor organisations across Wales to support community wealth building by shortening supply chains, supporting the move to more relational procurement and building more social value into the supply chain though the use of social businesses. We will continue to play a key role in supporting the Foundational Economy movement in Wales. Our Social Enterprise Academy will work with organisations to strengthen business resilience and with individuals to encourage more enterprising leadership. Our Enterprise Hubs will re-connect entrepreneurs to strengthen the local economic infrastructure and help those businesses to rebuild through a programme of support and tailored learning programmes.
And so, even though the structure of our commercial team has changed for a period, and we might not achieve the financial results planned for at the beginning of the year, our resolve to deliver innovative commercial products remains. We are committed to doing what we can to support our nation’s recovery and to make Wales a better place for everyone in years to come.