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Advice and gains recognition

Menzies Marketing Services Director Jane Dyson offers advice and gains recognition

Menzies Marketing Services Director Jane Dyson appeared in the Financial Times at the weekend, offering advice to entrepreneurs about teaming up with big business.

Jane is in a good position to give such advice – she founded marketing and events company The Network in 1990, which was acquired by Menzies Distribution in 2008.

She is now one of our Board Members and runs Menzies Marketing Services, a division of the business which includes The Network, magazine retail specialist D-Cipher and digital content agency Menzies Digital Marketing.

Her column can be read at the FT website or in full below.

As well as offering advice, Jane was recently commended for her inspirational business leadership and invited to join the Women 1st Top 100 Most Influential Women List.

The List highlights business leaders who Women 1st recognise as positive role models for the next generation of leaders within the hospitality, passenger transport, and travel and tourism industries.

Sharon Glancy, founder of Women 1st, said: “The quality of the nominations we received this year was remarkable: Each and every one was an inspiration. The extraordinary women in our Top 100 are a critical force which will play no small role in ensuring the future success of the industry.

“Women 1st is proud to recognise their accomplishments and we hope they will encourage and motivate others to pursue their career aspirations, within our industry, with tenacity and enthusiasm.”

Women 1st has supported more than 800 women through dedicated mentoring, training and leadership programmes since 2009. It is part of People 1st, the sector skills council for hospitality, passenger transport, and travel and tourism.

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Why selling up isn’t selling out, by Jane Dyson for the Financial Times

Entrepreneurs are an interesting species. Ambitious, passionate, disciplined, and creative, they thrive in a downturn.

According to the latest Investec’s Entrepreneur Confidence Index, they are less optimistic about the economy than they were six months ago. Yet still more than two thirds plan to increase the number of people they employ in the next year, and 72 per cent say it is likely they will launch new companies and products.

It’s that Dunkirk spirit which so many small or medium sized enterprises are built upon, which drives economic growth and which big businesses need more than ever.

I know because after 18 years’ building up my own field marketing and events business The Network, I sold it to one of the country’s biggest wholesalers, Menzies Distribution.

Selling up might feel like selling out to some. I would have thought that myself at one stage. But when it came to it I was flattered that a forward-thinking company with more than 150 years’ experience wanted to team-up with me.

Menzies Distribution has been on the acquisition trail for a number of years and still is. Its core business delivering newspapers and magazines has long been in decline as the print industry gives way to the digital age, and as a result the company is always looking to diversify its portfolio.

The Managing Director saw how our businesses complemented each other and when he approached me to buy my business it was an easy decision - much to the surprise of my friends and family.

Until that point I had always been keen to be the boss. I tried having shareholders but couldn’t make it work, and I bought back the shares. My business was my dream, but it was clear to me that Menzies Distribution was offering me the best of both worlds.

The offer was to sell up but for me remain in charge of The Network. In other words I was still king of my castle, but with the kind of big business backing which I knew would help us win many more battles. My first reaction was disbelief! That soon turned to flattery and then just pure excitement.

I definitely remember being more excited than nervous, it was a huge opportunity.

Until the offer was put before me I hadn’t really considered partnering with any other company before, mainly because I knew that having shareholders hadn’t worked. But when Menzies Distribution came to me I realised the potential of our combined businesses and after that I would have felt hugely disappointed if it hadn’t gone through.

My only real fear was going through the due diligence process. The thought of a large firm of accountants trawling through my contracts, management accounts and the like filled me with dread! I had always invested in a strong finance resource so I shouldn’t have worried, and indeed everything was fine. But afterwards I did say to my Finance Director that even if nothing was to come of the deal, going through due diligence is the best health check you can have and I would recommend any small business go through that process whether you are selling or not. It was a real eye opener.

A year after the deal was done, I was asked to become Director of Menzies Marketing Services (MMS), a portfolio of small bsuinesses comprising The Network, Menzies Digital Marketing, D-Cipher and now travel and export specialist Menzies Select.

I was involved in businesses I had never imagined I would be part of, and the added bonus of becoming a Board Director gave me additional responsibilities and the chance to be part of a bigger team. I haven’t looked back.

Four years later, I’m still in charge of MMS and I’m still running The Network. I’m proud to say we’re still seen by most as a small, flexible and innovative company. It’s just we are also recognised as having those things money can’t buy - stability and a long-term future.

My deal was always that I would remain head of the company. That might not work for everyone, and it might not be something to fight for. I think that depends on your strengths and goals.

I know stereotypes might lead some to believe that by joining Menzies Distribution I wasn’t honouring entrepreneurship. Others like me might be afraid that joining a big company will mean losing control, being stifles or having to adopt a more formal and corporate culture.

Actually Menzies Distribution has allowed the business I set up to flourish, and both business are getting the best of both worlds. Menzies Distribution has diversified, and continues to do so. The Network is still small enough to care but also big enough to cope.

And with the backing of big business, back office functions I was used to organising such as payroll and I.T. are taken care of. and we have much better buying power as well.

My skills and experience have widened because of all the different projects and teams I am involved with, and I am more able to concentrate on developing the business and make the most of my creative flair – which is what helped me to get started in the first place.

Even my psychometric profile has changed – it now says I am compliant! I have never had a compliant bone in my body but I think I have adapted to working in a PLC. The learning from that has been terrific and bringing corporate disciplines into a smaller business is something that was probably needed, and has allowed us to take the business on to the next level.

Deloitte’s Entrepreneurship UK 2011/2012 report says the top three priorities for entrepreneurs in the next 12 months are expanding into new markets, introducing new products or services and increasing productivity.

I would add a fourth - look out for big businesses which align with yours just in case you find an offer you can’t refuse.

Last year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week’s message was ‘don’t be too British to ask for help’. My message is ‘don’t be too proud to team up’.

I also challenge big business leaders. Whether driven by opportunity or necessity, don’t just look at your usual talent pool. Look wider than that. Look to entrepreneurs. They have the skills you need.

Selling my business hasn’t changed me as a person. I’m still ambitious, disciplined, creative and passionate – just inside a bigger organisation. I suppose you could say I’m in-trepreneurial.

I really believe everyone would do well to remember the whole really can be greater than the sum of its parts.