“Find key people fast”

Steve Richardson, Sandford Maritime Ltd

Steve Richardson,
Sandford Maritime Ltd

Steve Richardson, Sandford Martime, Shanklin

A large opportunity approached me unexpectedly. I needed a team around me... " said Steve Richardson.

It was vital to get the right people rather than the easiest to find.

“The day before I had been told to clear my desk within 15 minutes and leave the prestigious company's London offices where I'd worked for eight years. I'd done nothing to deserve that...

“I'd just been the most expensive of three senior managers, even though a lot of the cost was the international travel to do the job I was asked to do.

“Next day, the phone rang: would I like to manage a cargo ship on behalf of the owners? I didn't hesitate much – it was what I'd been doing and I knew I could do it even better on my own.

“One of my first moves was to advertise for an accountant. The third person I interviewed has stayed with me through thick and thin for nearly 30 years now. Daphne has been invaluable: I may have been the entrepreneur, but she has been the anchor.

“I wouldn't have lasted five minutes with either of the other two. Her skills, dedication, problem-solving brain and understanding the energy in a new enterprise-building team have all been essential.”

as published by IW County Press, Column by Dave Simon, continues below.


Local businesses can trade worldwide.

Commentary by Dave Simon

Recognized successes include Marine Data Systems exporting to nearly forty countries, and the Garlic Farm is still selling garlic to the French after more than 20 years.

Too many people think the Island is disadvantaged, dependent on other people's money.

Yes, the Solent imposes a sort of 'import/export tax'. The Island manyana attitude also contributes. And years of losing ambitious youngsters to the mainland is a real problem.

But I find lots of talent here, heaps of experience, tons of ability.

And limitations can force us to recognise opportunities not spotted elsewhere. We can innovate.

Advice from Queens Award winner Geoff Underwood of IFPL: “Always get the business first, worry about the bureaucracy afterwards”.

A small Island can think big.

More about Steve Richardson's experience:

Where I Started

"I had trained as a marine engineer and worked my way up to Chief Engineer in the merchant navy. I came to a point where I had to take up onshore jobs and got promotions there as well. But a promising career suddenly collapsed because a short-sighted general manager couldn't see that it was me who kept the ships running, not the paper-shufflers.

"Suddenly 'redundant' and in shock, I could only think about what I didn't want to do. Then that phone-call started a whole new career as a business-owner. I didn't think of it like that: it was my chance to do what I wanted my way instead of someone else's rule-bound way.

"More-or-less the next thing I did was to buy a load of MFI flat-pack office furniture that went into the back room at home in Sandford... and we got started.

"The business grew as I got a reputation for running a good-looking and cost-effective fleet. I didn't own any of the ships, but we ran their operations – got the best out of the ships and the crew. At our peak we had 14 people working in the office and anything up to 400 crewing the ships. We had millions going through accounts – dollars, yen, euros and so on – quite specialised in those days.

"We ran ships all over the world – Hong Kong, Brazil, Europe, Australia... Our occasional emergencies could be anywhere: “Daphne, take this fifty thousand pounds to Boulogne tomorrow – they need it cash in French francs”. Next, our best engineer went to a boiler repair halfway up the Amazon. Then, “Daphne, take this box of electronics to the ship stuck in Spain”. She did, and promptly got arrested by the Customs who were suspicious of this metal box in her handbag. And because she couldn't explain what it was (I hadn't told her), they got more suspicious...

Island-Based Success

"Because we were so good at what we did, we could base our office on the Island. I was fed up with the stress of commuting to the City – it wastes so much energy. Being the best has its benefits – the work tends to come to you, so you can have the benefit of living locally.

"All this success was such a surprise to the sleepy Isle of Wight that the tax people arrived and took away all our books in a house-removals lorry. They imagined all sorts of crimes – money laundering and fraud and goodness knows what else. They were pretty aggressive, with a Now We've Got You sort of attitude.

"They came back three months later. Their team leader told me there was nothing further to investigate. He said “Mr Richardson, on the Isle of Wight you are regarded as super-rich, but I now know better!”

"Anyway, the marine market changed. Ships got older and less attractive, regulations got tighter but the inspectors had less responsibility, investors got pulled towards financial and property markets. Eventually, I got out and down-sized into land-based business – I'm not the spring chicken I used to be!

Profit Is Only A Path

'Wages are the reward for effort; profit is the reward for risk', I was told many years ago. That seems right: opportunities may arrive, but so do problems! Some problems can spell personal disaster for the business owner. There has to be a bigger attraction than a wage packet to start people into business if consequences like bankruptcy and homelessness follow the collapse.

"I had a ship burnt out during French riots – it could have been a disaster, but you have to cope, somehow. Survival skills are as important as opportunity-grabbing skills.

"But there's more to profit than that. For many business owners, profits become meaningless at a personal level beyond providing a comfortable lifestyle. The taxman cuts them down drastically, and there's little point in having a huge bank balance and doing nothing with it. So most entrepreneurs just use the profits to do more business – one way or another. And that creates more jobs, more security, more progress for the community.

"So profit is a means to build more business, not the end in itself. Celebrities who brag about their personal wealth are an embarrassing minority, disconnected, I think, from the mainstream of business owners who are the backbone of our economy.

"I'm saying that profit is not really a major incentive. It's more about building something you really care about: doing it well and doing it right. In that, I include integrity and ethics. Soul-less corporates, owned by the stock-market, fire staff just to meet a profit target. I know – I've been there! Privately-owned businesses take a longer view and care more about their people.

"The Island has its fair share of needs. Our tourist industry is shrinking, and it's debased further by hotels being converted into flats. And many hotels do not reinvest, so the quality is declining. But also, our commerce is held to ransom by the ferry companies. Despite grants being offered, it's unlikely we will attract employers from the mainland. We need to grow our own.

Support And Advice

"All my success did not simply blossom out of a chance opportunity. I had a lot of support and advice in earlier jobs that helped when the time came. One of the owners in one of my mid-career employers protected me from some nasty types: he advised me on progressive ideas and he was always there when I had questions.

"When my opportunity came, he was one of the first I called: 'How do you think I should do this?'. A reliable mentor who can help you make the most of your situation is well worth having.

"Similarly, I had an amazing teacher at school who had the ability to inspire us. He didn't teach: he made the subject come alive and dance before our eyes. There was no way we couldn't learn and enjoy it. And I started out with a five-year apprenticeship: I learned about real-life after College. It was hard work, but then I had the theory and the practice together.

"If I could, I would encourage all Island employers to increase their employee training. The improvement in skills - and pride -would help us all enormously. And the knowledge that we can all improve, change and enjoy developing is priceless. That would prepare us for the changes in technology (and society) yet to come. Because trained employees do a better job and that improves profits, this sort of scheme would generally pay for itself. A worthwhile longterm investment.

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