Margaret Wood: New year, new stats?

Posted on 29 Jan 2010 by The Manufacturer

Our newest blogger says despite this season of statistics, sometimes you have to go with your gut...

Margaret Wood is MD of specialist glazing manufacturer ICW UK Ltd. Margaret has carved a successful niche for the company which delivers to clients across the world including Formula 1 teams, Kew Gardens, hospitals, factories and amusement parks. She is also active in the business community, being regional chair for the Institute of Directors in Yorkshire & Humberside and having senior roles within, amongst others, Wakefield First, the Economic Drivers & Innovation panel for the Leeds City Region Business Leaders board and Make Your Mark, which champions enterprise.

With a new year comes a new rush of business forecasters advising the many on how the next twelve months will pan out. Whether it’s the housing market, the strength of our currency or the recession as a whole, one thing we are not short of in January is advice (and this year, snow).

2010 has already seen predictions of what will be the growth industry for the year. Some claim it will be IT or tourism. Others see a small growth in manufacturing (although most opinions seem to say we will have to wait for 2011 before real improvement is seen), while some think the price of petrol will drive us to use two wheels and boost the cycling industry. Contradictions are everywhere – if you look hard enough you’ll find the exact opposite can be proved by statistics for almost every story.

While I won’t argue that two heads are nearly always better than one, I worry when I see execs basing decisions on sometimes flimsy predictions, hesitating over business choices which need to be made. By all means seek advice but make sure it’s from reputable sources. If you have non-exec directors, now is the time to make sure you’re getting the most from them. But ultimately, we must all have more faith in our own decisions and believe that when we come out of the recession we did so on our own merit and didn’t just put our business on auto-pilot and leave it for others to decide.

When I started ICW Modular Glazed Systems in 1993 there were many people who questioned whether I should be doing it – not just business advisors but my friends and family too. I’m sure they were only looking out for my best interests – after all I didn’t have any experience of running a manufacturing firm and their doubts were, of course, well meant deep down. However, I knew what I could achieve and I truly felt my determination, combined with hard work, could see me through.

Over the past seventeen years I’ve had to fight many battles and have often gone against the advice of my peers. But in doing so I’ve succeeded where many thought I would fail.

I would like to say that while I testify to believing in yourself, I have of course had my own doubts over the years. Sometime ago I had the option to purchase a property in Leeds for the company at a price of £145,000. It had two acres of land and was in a prime position but at the time I doubted my convictions – no doubt some statistics on the property market had me rattled – and I didn’t buy it. Now, it must be worth millions and I wish I’d had more faith in my own decision. We are all only human and there is nothing wrong with seeking the advice of others, but at the end of the day nobody knows you, your company and its abilities better than you.

Although, in fact, there may well be one group of people who do know the business just as well as you, and possibly even see things clearer than you can at times. They are your employees – those on the shop floor, the engineers and technicians. They can sometimes see weaknesses in the system or issues which those in the boardroom can’t – and very often they’re not even asked for their opinions (or they’re too afraid to give them).

So my message to manufacturers out there is believe in yourself, believe in your employees, don’t be afraid to take considered risks and don’t base too much faith in statistics. Apparently 78% of stats could be wrong*.

* figure could be incorrect

By Margaret Wood, founder and MD of ICW UK ltd and regional chair for the Institute of Directors in Yorkshire & Humberside. Leave Margaret a comment below.