SME Superstars: The firms burning bright in the City

Talent, investment, and playing to your strengths. We meet the firms thriving in London

This article is brought to you in partnership with HSBC

The UK economy has hit its stride again, and small and medium-sized businesses are back on the front foot. UK GDP is expected to grow 2.6 % in 2015 according to the Treasury, consumer confidence has returned, and businesses across a variety of sectors are seeing a rebound.

London is the powerhouse for growth in the UK. So our new SME Superstars series looks at key London areas and focuses on businesses that not only survived the global downturn, but are now flourishing.

First up are three SME superstars from the City. Each has thrived in recent years - in part through working closely with HSBC. Because as the economy goes from strength to strength, banks are looking to help ambitious businesses grow.

Bulletproof

Bulletproof studio shot

Bulletproof is a strategic brand and packaging design firm that was founded in 1998 – and 2013 was a milestone year for the company. It hit 35% revenue growth – its highest ever. And 2014 has been an equally impressive year so far. The company moved to new London offices and grew staff count by 25%. It now has 83 employees across its London and New York offices.

Managing partner Jonny Stewart says Bulletproof has exceeded last year’s turnover by 23% over the year to date, “so you could say our growth has been consistently acceptable!”

In order to achieve that growth, the firm consolidated and strengthened its existing client base whilst landing big-name clients including Kellogg’s, Unilever, Heineken and US clients Kraft Foods, Mondeléz and 3M. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of one of the strongest teams in the business,” Stewart says. “We’re growing from within.”

The key investment the company made was in finding and hiring top talent. “One of Bulletproof’s core beliefs is that ‘our people make the difference’,” Stewart says, adding “this is where our future lies so we have invested wisely across the business.”

In 2015 Bulletproof is looking to establish itself further by building relationships across a greater breadth of global clients, and by maintaining focus on the fast-moving consumer goods/consumer packaged goods (FMCG/CPG) sectors. “Our target for the UK business is double-digit growth across revenue and profits,” Stewart says.  “Similarly in New York, we are looking to build that into a multi-million dollar venture whilst doubling the head count,” he adds.

According to Stewart the key to success has been culture and people. “You must get the chemistry right both internally and externally. Good people and good clients can make a business fly. Conversely, unsuitable people aligned with poor clients can become incredibly counterproductive - and in some cases destructive.”

Stewart describes the relationship the company has developed with HSBC as “an absolute revelation”. “HSBC has provided financial platforms that no other bank could offer,” he says. “When we’re running businesses across separate continents, the ability to manage funds in real time is like gold dust! Finally, it’s in the attitude of the bank - there is an absolute positivity in their approach. They want us to succeed and will do all they can to make it happen!”

 

Goodbetterbest Limited

Goodbetterbest games

Goodbetterbest was founded in 2003 and designs, manufactures and distributes console and PC gaming peripherals across the world. The company now employs 45 people. We spoke to finance director Darren Kerr about the firm’s strategy for growth.

What’s your growth been like over the past year or two?

We have grown by approximately 30% in 2012/13 and by a further 8% in 2013/14. But prior to that, we grew by over 40% the year before.

How have you achieved that growth?

We achieved growth chiefly through investment in new product development and new markets.

What key investments have you made over the past year or two?

Our key investments have been in a new production and buying team in Hong Kong, and the appointment of two additional senior members of management team to support the firm’s strategy.

How are you planning for growth in the year ahead?

We have a new product roadmap with a key focus on existing markets for new console platforms.

What do you think has been your most important growth lesson?

For us, product development is absolutely key and is as important as the working capital needed to support the growth.

Has being in your particular part of London shaped or impacted your growth plans in any way? 

Apart from the talent pool for some of our employees, probably less so.  This is very much a global and therefore scalable business.  We have employees working all over the world.

How has your bank supported your growth

Immensely so, the bank’s support by providing key existing and new facilities has wholly supported our increased production requirements, which is especially important given some of the speculative nature of our sales pipeline.  The understanding the bank has of our business has led to us taking on board some of the suggestions they’ve made in terms of how facilities are structured and how facilities are guaranteed.

Saddington Baynes

Saddington Baynes

Creative production agency Saddington Baynes was founded in 1991 and now has 37 employees. Chief executive Christakis Christodoulou says that the company’s growth has been steady and organic, and over 2013-14 the agency recorded its best business performance year-on-year since 2009.

This has been down to the company using new technologies that have allowed them to bring fresh services to their advertising clients, Christodoulou says. The firm also expanded to the US, opening an office in Los Angeles to service the automotive industry. Along with this expansion, the company has developed a new digital department that innovates with new virtual reality technologies such as Oculus Rift.

The firm’s most important growth lesson has been to “stick to the knitting”, Christodoulou says.

“Do what you know and be the best at it,” he adds. “We resisted the temptation to diversify too much, even though there were multiple opportunities to do so. It’s about finding new ways to sell what you do.”

HSBC played a pivotal role in the firm’s recent success, Christodoulou says. “[The bank] has been hugely supportive in helping us grow the business in the last 12 months. We’ve never had this level of help and guidance from a bank before, which for a growing small company like ours is vital.”

ANALYSIS: Craig Pattinson, senior area commercial director, The City, HSBC Bank

Craig Pattinson HSBC

“Across London we are seeing a growing number of companies accelerate deployment of capital to invest in growth. From acquisition of new premises to new stock or talent, firms are positioning themselves to benefit fully from the uptick in UK GDP.

“Within HSBC Commercial Banking we are trying to help as many clients as possible engage with this story. Greater liquidity is being brought to cash flows through the provision of invoice finance whilst longer-term projects are being funded through medium-term loans.

“On the international front, we are seeing many companies looking for a bank that can act as a partner in boosting overseas sales, by supporting the opening of offices in foreign markets or delivery of cash management platforms through which cross-border fund flows can be controlled.

“Finally, client demand for debt funding for the acquisition of commercial premises remains robust, with use of the prop co/op co model driving benefits for both the company and company owners.”

Craig Pattinson, HSBC City commercial centre senior area commercial director, joined the team in April of this year, returning from the US where he lead two corporate banking teams based out of Washington DC.

Over 17 years with HSBC, Craig has worked in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the US, working with businesses to raise finance and manage their operations globally.

Particular areas of focus are supporting borrowing requirements and providing trade & supply chain finance solutions.

This article in brought to you in partnership with HSBC

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