Terence Willey, Terence Willey & Son, Solicitors
My Bank Manager almost ordered me to close a Branch Office, Terence Willey said.
It was during the recent recession, and the Bank’s statistics showed the downwards trend in house sales. Obviously, they were worried and wanted me to cut their losses.
To me, that meant losing valuable staff which I knew would become a much bigger problem than the financial issue.
Even if we survived the recession, I knew we would never recover the fifteen years of experience and trust some of those staff held.
So I put my foot down: “You stick to banking and I’ll make the professional decisions”. He was not happy.
After the economy bounced back (slowly!) and house sales picked up again, I met that Bank Manager. I looked him in the eye and asked “So who was right?” I still remained somewhat disillusioned by his lack of support against Bank policy from higher levels.
Some of my colleagues did close offices, and suffered long-term as a result. One folded completely!
So my advice to other business owners is, whatever stage of business you are at, hold the courage of your convictions. Believe in yourself and behave accordingly. No-one else should make the big decisions – even though it’s hard to challenge a Bank. But remember, I did!
as published by IW County Press, Column by Dave Simon, continues below.
Two Heads Are Better Than One
Commentary from Dave Simon
*Human beings evolved as teamworkers living in tribes in challenging conditions. That’s why we have large brains and high intelligence. We are creative in response to challenges.
And we create exactly the same conditions in a business – so we need the same facilities to help us find new answers to problems.
“Whatever life throws at us, our individual responses will be all the stronger for working together and sharing the load,” says our Queen.
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Just like a business, the Island will suffer long-term if its investment is cut. It takes so long to recover if your assets and resources are stripped out.
Replacing them again costs much more than maintaining them: how can paying twice make sense? And the damage – crime, ill-health, decay – multiplies the costs further.
The Island needs Government support just to keep on a level keel. Otherwise we will founder.
We need the Fight For The Wight petition to make a difference.
Just imagine the news if every adult here signed it. We'd be famous – globally!
So Islanders standing up for the Island could win a DOUBLE – money in the Council budget and fame in the tourist industry.
the interview continues...
Learning From Mistakes
"I have made mistakes of course. So I know my staff will too. Human beings do. You can’t eradicate human error.
The vital thing is to learn from your mistakes. I say ‘Let’s get several heads on the problem and sort it out’. That way you can usually prevent repeating them.
There is no substitute for experience. It’s more important for success than a practising lawyers’ qualifications. The vital thing for me is that my staff acknowledge things have gone wrong, and fast. I do know a few colleagues who cannot do that – it’s always ‘someone else’s fault’ – but I can’t work with that.
Wearing Two Hats
I wear two hats – the professional and the businessman. It is very important for me to work with both roles. I consult my staff on many issues, but I make the decisions myself.
And that influenced my response to the Bank Manager. Instead of following his suggestion, I remained intent on being a good lawyer as well as a 'shrewd business man', of which I had excellent training from my late father who was a senior manager for John Lewis.
I focussed on cutting advertising costs substantially and encouraging 'the team' to be their own advert. I halted office improvements until money was available. And working within a tight overdraft and putting in place a overall financial strategy for the future.
I made sure that all the staff were aware of all the plans and I asked for their support which they gave magnificently. This ensured their jobs remained secure.
Surviving Ups & Downs
Any profit I make sees us through our ups and downs. I know about downs – well before the story above, my first few months of starting out on my own were very scary. I had only six months of money to find my first customers and bring some money back in. The office I rented was a big expense and I sat alone in it for a month...
I’d had good jobs – some very good ones in very good places – but I had decided to move from the mainland and set up my own practice. I was recently married and we were expecting. I had had a holiday on the Island, and when it came to be time to go it alone, I was influenced by the price of houses here, compared to the mainland cities I came from.
I was quite lonely when I set up in practice. All the other law practices looked down their noses at me, feeling I was an intruder.
But it came right. My first client came in and asked for help, which I gave successfully. That led very quickly to a request on behalf of a relative of hers. Other clients followed and my reputation grew.
Serving The Customer
I have always prioritised service for customers. My father said “Never be afraid of spending time with customers – they’ll come back and perhaps bring others”. It made absolute sense to me: every business is dependent on its clients. It proved to be true.
Fifty years later, I have 14 staff, ten of whom have been with me more than 20 years – a select bunch! And so many loyal clients – as many as my team could wish for!
The Island is a beautiful place but the economy is still depressed compared to neighbouring counties. I feel it needs help. I do wonder if the Council could benefit from some support from the business community.
Getting Things Done
Business people have to be do-ers to get things done. I know how the people at the sharp end of industry and commerce can help governing agencies prepare. I had the honour to be called to support the Lord Chancellor's Committee and served several terms.
And just as we can support the Island, so we can help those who support us. We have been Investors in People for 12 years. We run the business a bit like a football team – we do a lot of coaching to make sure the team works. Our approach has been noticed: we are the only Charter Mark Nominated law practice on the Island. That’s not an award you can apply for, so I feel very confirmed.
If I have a hero in business, it is probably Richard Branson. He has great conviction and he is apparently fantastic to work for. He's a great do-er – he's won several high-profile challenges. And now is challenging the banks by becoming one and doing it better! So I have to smile (quietly!).