Neil Humphreys, partner at executive search firm Howgate Sable
It’s official: the corporate raider is back en vogue. A controversial phenomenon that was widely considered to be a relic of the 1980’s along with the mullet and Smash has made its way into the modern business world.
While the ethics surrounding corporate raiders are debatable, a growing number of companies are undergoing their aggressive shake-ups, suggesting it’s a role that’s here to stay. So, here’s an overview of the function of a corporate raider and what it means for business today.
What is a corporate raider?
The term ‘corporate raider’ was regularly used in the 80s to label those individuals or groups that carried out hostile takeovers of businesses. They sought out companies that appeared to be struggling – typically having low share prices in comparison to their peers – invested in them, and implemented a range of often ruthless tactics to improve their value, before selling up and making a healthy profit.
Their mission was simple: to incite change in a business in order to increase the value of their investment. To achieve this, they often introduced share repurchase programmes, increased dividends and, crucially, reduced expenses where possible. That would mean redundancies, selling the least profitable divisions of the company and stripping assets.
Two of the most prolific corporate raiders of the 80s were Lord Hanson, owner of Hanson PLC, and James Goldsmith, who both took controlling stakes in PLCs with a view of releasing value from the assets of the target businesses.
The pros and cons
While such takeovers naturally provoke anguish within much of the business community, thanks to their cut-throat nature, it’s possible to look on them positively. They often serve to galvanise stagnant businesses into rethinking their strategy, improving their balance sheet and catching up with competitors. After all, improved share price is the aim of the game and this is a tried and tested way of achieving that.
However, a corporate raider isn’t in it for the long term. They want to make a profit and they want to make it fast, which usually means aborting any existing long-term strategies, while executing short-term ones that directly affect employee salaries, jobs and investment in innovation. Divisions are closed down or sold, people are sacked and development is halted – it paints a pretty bleak picture. Whether it’s for the greater good or not is up for debate.
‘Activist investors’: takeovers in the 21st century
The received wisdom is that the 1990s saw the end of the corporate raider, but the figures say otherwise. The number of publicly listed companies that were targeted by activists rose by 48 per cent between 2013 and 2016 and, although there was a dip in quantity last year, the eyes of what are now called ‘activist investors’ were on larger companies – the likes of Nestle, Procter & Gamble, General Electric and AkzoNobel, which itself famously acquired the chemical giant ICI in 2008.
The targets of activist investors remain the same: perceived under-performers with a lowered market value due to financial results and the perception of analysts. Take General Electric (GE) for example: in 2015, Trian Partners, noticing GE’s plummeting stock market value, swept in on the company, bought a 1.5 per cent stake and influenced the shareholders to join its mission to increase share prices. What was once a hugely innovative and enterprising company under the stewardship of Jeff Immelt has now been taken over by John Flannery, employed in 2017, who is overseeing a programme to sell GE businesses, dramatically cut expenses, boost profits and raise dividends – classic corporate raider behaviour.
Even banks such as Barclays and Credit Suisse are not immune to the attentions of activists and, most recently in the UK, GKN – a PLC with a history dating back to the times of the Napoleonic wars – has been acquired by Melrose PLC which, funnily enough, is led by a former director of Hanson PLC.
Is it therefore a failure of the strategy of the leadership of these targeted companies to deliver shareholder value over and above that an activist can achieve or the availability of cash at historically low interest rates that is fuelling the ability to acquire such businesses in today’s climate?
Is resistance to activist investors futile?
The defences to activist approaches appear limited – in the case of GKN, for example, the business fiercely resisted the advances of Melrose, yet it still went ahead. However, in some cases the institutional shareholders have seriously conflicted positions, owning substantial shareholdings in both the aggressor and the target.
Outstanding performance is clearly a factor in the vulnerability of a business to an aggressive takeover. If a company has realised its value and structured itself efficiently, it follows that it should be untouchable by activist investors. ICI was a famous example of a business dramatically reorganising itself in an attempt to fight off the attentions of Lord Hanson. However, he managed to take a 2.8 per cent stake. And reality suggests that, given the ebb and flow of trade cycles and market shifts – not to mention innovation and technical developments – it is highly unlikely that any listed business can fully resist such approaches in the long term.
What does the future hold?
The fact that not just failing businesses, but also those that are performing well without delivering show-stopping performance, are now viable targets for hostile takeovers suggests a paradigm shift. It’s therefore never been more important to have a critically tested and verified operating model in place. To achieve this may require a lengthy and laborious organisation redesign, but taking these active steps to improve your position before an external predator does so may well be the best hope for an independent future.
Success beyond voice: Contact centres supporting retail shift online
As the nation continues to overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19, customers have shifted their channel preferences, and contact centres have demonstrated typical resourcefulness in adapting rapidly and maintaining uptime. It has been a steep learning curve, as they not only learn to operate digitally, but also build an understanding of consumers’ new shopping behaviours.
The closure of stores meant demand for customer service escalated, resulting in long telephone wait times, and consumers quickly realised that they could switch to online channels to fulfil their customer service needs. As a response to this change in channel preference, some providers quickly ramped up chatbots, social channels and private messaging apps. For example, recent research conducted by the CCMA (Call Centre Management Association), in partnership with Puzzel, revealed that some brands opened up their direct messaging channels on social media for the very first time, in a bid to ensure support across popular channels such as Facebook and Twitter. For others, the pandemic underscored the value of migrating customer interactions to self-service channels to manage demand and ensure customer service advisors’ time is directed to problems that customers cannot solve themselves.
Faced with severe constraints in many aspects of their everyday lives, the fact that contact centres remained open for business has been gratefully received by consumers. Even despite longer wait times, many contact centres reported skyrocketing customer satisfaction ratings due to lowered customer expectations. As the new normal starts to take hold, and customer expectations revert back, now is the time for contact centres to implement the right strategies to ensure customer satisfaction
ratings are maintained.
Jonathan Allan, Chief Marketing Officer, Puzzel, comments, “The short term reduction in customer expectations, which is driving increased customer satisfaction scores, will return to previous levels once we’ve all adapted to a new way of living. The accelerated move to online services and digital channels is, however, here to stay. Now, there is an increased expectation from consumers to receive support on social media, or to initiate a web to chat to receive immediate consultation or to book an appointment.
Allan continues, “Adapting to this multi-channel environment has become a necessity, not a nice to have, and relying on voice or email alone is no longer tenable. Customers expect to be able to initiate contact through their channel of choice, and to be able to start a conversation in one channel and seamlessly move between others. As customer’s expectations continue to rise, orchestrating these interactions is essential to ensure the most positive customer experiences, and enable the optimal selection of channels to drive efficiency and satisfaction. As customer behaviour changes for the long term, it is no longer viable to rely on only one channel for customer service as seamless customer experience becomes key to ensuring customer retention.”
7 Ways to Grow a Profitable Hospitality Business
The hospitality industry is a multibillion-dollar industry with lots of career opportunities in hotels, theme parks, restaurants, country clubs, etc. It is one of the fastest-growing sectors as a lot of industries are involved in it.
Though it can be very profitable for aspiring and established entrepreneurs, it can get challenging as it requires charisma, drive, and innovation to ensure you can meet your customers’ demands. Growing a hospitality business for profit requires a lot of thought and innovation. In this article, we’ll look at some practical ways to grow a profitable hospitality business.
1. Yield Management
Yield management refers to anticipating, understanding, and influencing your customers’ behavior to increase your business revenue to the max. This principle was first used in the hospitality industry in the late 80s. The main objective of yield management is not just to increase your rates or occupancy; instead, it involves forecasting your business’ supply and demand through different key factors to maximize your revenue. Let us consider some yield management examples. If you have a hotel, yield management will allow you to maximize the profit you can make from a specific number of rooms that must be sold on a deadline.
Another example is if you have a hotel located next to an event center or stadium, you will charge more for rooms than you do on a typical weekday or weekend during a conference or sporting event. Yield management involves targeting the right customer at the right time and selling for the right price.
It involves using gathered data to understand your customers and their sensitivity to pricing and combining that with seasonal demand. High demand, seasonality, and special events can allow you to alter your rates to increase revenue. Though the idea isn’t to increase rates only, it also involves attracting the right customer at the right time.
Yield management allows you to make more profit from your existing inventory.
2. Create a Website
Your hospitality business should have a well-maintained website as it adds to the first impression prospective customers have when they check out your business. For example, if you have a vacation rental, you can hire a competent web designer or a web design company to help you build a vacation rental website. Also, customers can make bookings through your website if you have one, and this will help you save more money as you will not have to rely on listing channels to gain customers.
Though listing channels can help you get bookings, you’d have to pay a commission and follow the transaction terms, which you will not det. When you have your website, you’ll have more control over how you present your business to customers. You can display a photo slideshow with high-resolution images of the property or add other enticing features that will help you gain more customers. A professional website helps to give your business a professional image while making it more visible online.
3. Maintain and Improve the Quality of Your Service
The hospitality industry is a highly competitive one, so it is important to stay on top of your game to gain more revenue. If your business is reputable for providing quality service, then you should maintain that standard. You can check out your competitors to get ideas on how to improve your service and set your business apart. This is very important as the reputation of your hospitality business is primarily determined and affected by your quality of service.
If your customers are satisfied with your quality of service, they are more likely to recommend you to prospective clients. To get more ideas on how to improve your service, you can check the online reviews about your business. Check what your past clients have said about their experience, what they like, what they dislike, and any improvement they might suggest. Once you improve your service quality, new and old customers will be willing to pay more even if you increase your rates as they will get enough value for their money. To grow a profitable hospitality business, you should be ready to offer more value than your competitors.
4. Have an Active Social Media Presence
This is a great way of making your hospitality business more visible online. It is also a means of reaching prospective clients. Apart from creating and maintaining a website, you should have an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
These are where a bulk of your prospective clients are, and most brands take advantage of this. Nowadays, brands and businesses employ social media handlers that stay in charge of their social media pages. They are responsible for creating content and interacting with customers and prospective clients on social media.
You can post images and videos of your property on social media to attract new customers. Another way you can grow your business on social media is through sponsored ads. Most social media platforms offer various forms of advertisements at a reasonable price.
With sponsored ads, you have a higher chance of getting new customers or driving traffic to your website as you’d be able to reach a wider audience.
5. Create a Rental Agreement
If you are fully managing your business, then oral agreements with customers may not be enough. Your clients may have some assumptions about the terms and conditions or interpret the rules and regulations differently.
Sites like Airbnb can take care of this for you if you are not fully managing your rentals. For example, you can easily create an Airbnb house manual visible to prospective clients once they click on your property.
To avoid misconceptions and misunderstandings, you should create an agreement that will be visible on your website or any booking medium you prefer. Your guests will sign this agreement and protect both you and the guest if there is a dispute.
Though the terms and conditions may vary depending on the type of hospitality business, you can consult a business attorney for verification before using the agreement for your business.
A rental agreement should include information about the property, rental party details, occupancy limitations, the minimum stay requirements, house rules, rates and additional fees, cancellation policy, payment details, and the customer’s signature.
You can add other details and terms depending on your type of business. Creating a rental agreement is an excellent way to ensure your hospitality business runs smoothly as it makes it easier to prevent and resolve disputes between you and your customers.
6. Make the Booking Process Easy
A complicated or strenuous booking process is likely to discourage new clients from patronizing your business. Firstly, your hospitality business should have an online booking and buying platform.
A large percentage of people prefer to make bookings online. If your business does not have an online booking platform, you are bound to lose a lot of customers. If you choose to use listing sites or booking platforms, make sure the platform is reputable and offer good customer service.
If you use your website for reservations, then customers should be able to make a booking with simple steps. The required information boxes should not be excessive.
The less time your guests spend booking, the better. You should include additional informational text to help your guests through the booking process. Before your booking system goes live, ensure you pre-test it to make sure it’s hitch-free. Also, you can create a mobile app that allows your guests to make bookings and other transactions.
7. Keep in Touch with Your Customers
Apart from gaining new customers, a good way to grow a profitable hospitality business is retaining valuable customers. Guests will value a company that can offer a personalized experience.
If your guests can get a personalized experience, they are more likely to make more bookings or refer your business to others. Always interact with your guests on a personal basis. You can send emails or appreciation messages after a successful booking.
You can also refer your customers to your social media pages or ask them to sign up for your newsletter if they prefer to. Though you shouldn’t spam your customers with ads or emails, ensure you send information periodically about new offers, promotions, or other relevant details.
This will help keep your business on your customers’ minds, thereby increasing the chances of having repeat bookings. Once you identify your most valuable customers, you should try to keep the communication lines open. Also, you can ask for referrals or recommendations from your long-term customers.
As we have previously stated, the hospitality industry is very competitive. You need to come up with creative ways to market your business. To ensure you get a steady flow of revenue from your hospitality business, ensure you follow these tips we have given above. Apart from these, always be on the lookout for new trends and innovations in the hospitality industry to help you stay on top of your game.
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Finding and following your website’s ‘North Star Metric’
By Andy Woods, Design Director of Rouge Media
The ‘North Star Metric’ (NSM) is one of many seemingly confusing terms to come out of Silicon Valley but its message is simple and universal.
It refers to the single metric businesses use to guide activity, drive key decisions and measure success. And while it may seem naïve on the surface, to boil business success down to a single metric, there is a method to the apparent madness.
It doesn’t mean businesses simply ignore all other performance data but instead measure it against the overarching goal they’re working towards.
Here’s how businesses can create their own North Star Metric and follow it to website success.
What is a North Star Metric?
The idea of a North Star Metric is to focus on the goal which delivers the most value for the business and its customers.
It’s a popular strategy adopted by successful business around the world. For example, Spotify set its North Star Metric as ‘time spent listening’, while Amazon focused on ‘purchases per month’. Every business decision was then geared towards increasing these metrics.
For the business, this increase means greater advertising revenue and sales, while for users, spending more time using the service or making more purchases shows the platform is meeting their needs.
Chasing this North Star Metric sees businesses align their efforts towards a single goal. For ecommerce businesses, this means sales and marketing activity is aimed at taking users to the website, where service experts provide relevant content and information and website designers add natural calls to action.
Finding the North Star Metric for your website project, whether it be sign-ups, purchases or more time spent on site, allows the whole team – plus your agency, if you work with one – to move in the same direction.
What does a successful NSM look like?
Nominating your NSM before undertaking a website project allows you to focus all your efforts in design, functionality and content on delivering your goal.
However, some businesses may have been operating for years with a North Star Metric that isn’t quite right. If you’ve been focusing your efforts towards a goal which isn’t driving value for the business or customers, and for which you struggle to measure impact, you may need to switch focus.
Key considerations for making sure your NSM delivers a positive impact for your business include:
Generating engagement: the internet is full of businesses fighting for custom and users don’t owe them anything. If a website doesn’t give them what they need, they can find one that does within minutes.
Solving consumer challenges: Customers want a product or service that solves their problems and they want it now. Does your website contain information that answers their questions? Does it call out the key features of your product or service that makes their life easier?
Building trust: The chances are, many businesses offer a similar product or service to you. Customers need to know your business is trustworthy if they’re to part with their cash. Case studies, awards and user reviews are examples of content which can improve your brand authority.
Finding your website’s NSM
Identifying your NSM doesn’t mean picking a goal that sounds good in the boardroom. It needs to be a targeted, realistic and measurable goal.
Dial-in on your NSM by answering these three questions:
What is the single most important thing your website should deliver? The answer to this should be simple and obvious – more sales, sign-ups, downloads or leads.
What do users want from the site? You’re likely to have many users, so try to identify your main three here. What are they looking for when they enter your site? Advice, a product, a follow-up from an employee?
Which metrics tie together the above? You need to be able to measure your performance in answering these questions. If you’re after more leads, monitoring on-site user data – like time spent on site and number of pages visited – gives you an indication of what users want and how well you’re meeting their needs.
There are many questions to answer when finding your NSM. A useful way to arrange the information is in a visual hierarchy. Place your NSM at the top, with the answers to these key questions as branches.
Breaking it down into a visual flow chart like this also helps with gaining crucial buy-in from the whole business, with teams visualising how their role fits into the wider goal.
As your business grows and industry and user demands change, you may need to adapt your NSM.
If you’ve been working towards an appropriate NSM, it may only need tweaking slightly. For example, as a start-up, your NSM may have been building awareness by generating more leads. After a few successful years, the business may decide to switch the focus from leads to online sales.
While the metric changes slightly, the original strategy has already laid the foundations for the new goal, with your website designed to drive traffic and provide helpful content to inform users’ buying decisions.
Using analytics data, businesses can make changes to their website to align with their changing goals. Look at how users are behaving on your site. Are there ways you can encourage them to convert or sign-up?
This data helps you understand where to add calls to action or how to improve website design and functionality, so completing a form becomes a natural part of navigating the site and accessing content.
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