Iestyn Gruffudd, manager of the Mabis Tendering Service, talked with us at Business News Wales about his career, what he envisions for the future of small Welsh businesses and his opinion on the EU Referendum results.
Iestyn specialises in supporting small and medium sized businesses to write high-quality bids and tenders, and to understand the procurement strategies used within the public and private sector.
- Tell us about your role?
I work for Menter a Busnes, which is an independent economic development company that has been operating for over 26 years to specifically support the Welsh business community across rural and city areas across a range of specialist sectors and topics. I manage the Mabis Tendering service, which provides practical support and assistance to SME’s with procurement processes and writing bids.
- What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?
Planning for the future is always difficult, but particularly so in light of recent events. Over the next three to four years a lot EU funded projects are expected to come to an end, and it is a big unknown at the moment whether alternative and comparable funding will be made available in their place, particular for areas such as Wales. While the availability of this money may not directly affect me, it will certainly affect the Welsh small and medium sized businesses that we have helped to benefit from being part of the supply chain on significant developments such as new schools and infrastructure improvements.
While there is a question mark around funds being available to enable such projects, I don’t expect much to change in terms of procurement rules and the requirements to tender for work. From my perspective the focus on the next five years will be on stepping up the level of support available to SMEs to help them increase their competitiveness and ability to deal with any changes stemming from Brexit.
- Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently?
Not really. It’s still early days for me, and I’m really enjoying where I am at the moment. While writing PQQs and tender responses is considered by most to be a frustrating and dull process, the enjoyable part for me is meeting all sorts of interesting people and businesses. One day I’m learning about the pest control industry, the next day it may be bespoke software development or bidding to provide NHS general dental services.
- What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?
Having a positive outlook and a willingness to invest time and effort.
- What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?
There is a lot of advice and support available out there, use it. There is something to be said about learning from your mistakes, but there is also value sometimes in spending a little money on getting it right from the onset and avoiding problems and costs down the line.
- What are your top three tips for small business looking to increase competitiveness?
#1: A key weakness for even the best of small businesses is that the standard of the paperwork and documented management processes in the background don’t always reflect the high quality of the services being delivered. Addressing this with a structured quality managements system can be much more affordable than imagined, and doing so often vastly increases win ratios when competing for work.
#2: Be selective about the opportunities you go for. Spend more time on perfecting the bids that you really want, rather than trying to respond to every opportunity that slightly matches your abilities.
#3: Tendering for work is largely based on historical performance. Start recording and measuring your performance as early as possible, so that you have something tangible to help evidence your ability to deliver client requirements on time and to budget.
- What’s your thoughts on the recent EU referendum results?
I voted to remain, and I remain to be convinced whether we will actually gain anything from leaving the EU. While I fully accept that both sides had valid arguments to make, my biggest concern is that big promises were made that are already unravelling, and areas such as Wales are at a significant risk of being worse off as a result. Even beyond funding, much was made about regaining freedoms and disposing of red tape, however if the UK are going to want to continue trading as part of the European Economic Area, many EU standards and procedures will have to remain in place. The only difference being that the UK would no longer have a voice or influence in shaping them.
- What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?
Aside from being a beautiful country to live in, Wales has a lot to offer. There are thousands of very capable businesses located across the country that can be utilised as part of supply chains or collaborative partners. With the majority of these being SMEs, they represent a different level of focus and attentiveness that you don’t always get with larger multi-national competitors.
A weakness from some perspectives is that there can be a perception that all the best opportunities and locations to do business are found within the South East, which is largely due to the density of population and transport infrastructure in that region. As a result it is unfortunate that other areas of Wales can be neglected at times, despite their being plenty to offer across the country. There is an argument in my opinion to say that the Republic of Ireland for example have made very good use of EU funds about 10-15 years ago to improve the standard of road networks across the country and help increase the competitiveness of different areas. If you look at the A470 as a comparison, the standard of the road in many parts doesn’t reflect its status as the main link between North and South Wales.
- What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?
It is not a problem with a single solution, however my view is that a lot of focus needs to be placed on developing a highly skilled and qualified workforce. Further to promoting STEM subjects and close working with universities to nurture talent in those areas, other broader aspects need to be addressed, particular with the increased international focus that the EU exit brings. There is a poor take up of foreign languages in schools for example, which is the type of skill set you would expect to be strong in a country looking to work and negotiate with international partners.
I’m also of the view that while attracting inward investment is important for the economy and in maintaining employment, it shouldn’t be to the detriment of supporting talent within Wales and encouraging the creation of those opportunities internally.