Small Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small business: Governance - Lance Jimmieson

Lance Jimmieson is the owner of Jackson Engineering Advisers, an Auckland-based firm of building services engineers specialising in ventilation, air conditioning and control-system design and operation.

Lance Jimmieson, owner of Jackson Engineering Advisers.
Lance Jimmieson, owner of Jackson Engineering Advisers.

Can you tell me about your governance journey?

Like many small businesses, the company started with a couple of skilled technical staff and established its reputation. As demand for our services has grown, we've hired additional staff, and the company now has 10 specialist engineers.

I had corporate experience to draw on and recognised that technical skills alone were not going to help us take the company further, and that we needed outside help. My first step was undertaking The Icehouse's Owner Manager Programme to gain an understanding of the business components we needed to help us grow, and then set about putting them in place.

As a result, we refocused the company on our core competencies and developed in-house support systems, but the main gains were made by bringing in specialist help where we needed it.

Too often I think small business owners kid themselves about the performance of their business and themselves, so we decided to apply the company's engineering ethos - of applying the best engineer to the task required - to the operational side of the business as well.

While it's not an official board of directors, I now hold myself accountable to a small team led by business coach Zac de Silva together with our company accountant Carl Sowter and solicitor Denise Marsden.

What have been the motivating factors for putting this governance in place?

It's about the longer term health and wellbeing of the business, and myself as its owner. I needed assistance to transfer the burden of the business from myself to the team, and put appropriate systems in place to ensure quality standards were maintained in the process.

We also needed to institute new disciplines to ensure the financial success of the business, in terms of benchmarking performance, delivering work in hand and sales and marketing activities to ensure future work.

Also a high priority was developing an exit strategy for myself and developing a sustainable business model to ensure the business remained sustainable beyond the current ownership structure.

What impact has having this advisory board had on the business?

The changes are starting to take effect now. It's allowed me more time to concentrate on business development as well as improving the standard of the services we deliver on a daily basis.

It's also created a more open and transparent management culture, which has increased staff engagement and a willingness to contribute to the company's success. The development of a sustainable ownership model is also proving effective in increasing employee interest in the long-term viability of the operation.

What are three key pieces of advice you would have for other small business owners considering instituting some form of governance in their operations?

1. You don't need to engage expensive professional board members until the company is of a size where that may be warranted. Engage a range of experts rather than one individual, as no one is expert at everything.

2. Choose your support team carefully, evaluate their input on a regular basis and be prepared to change the team to suit the current needs of the business as it develops.

3. You are paying for your advisers' experience and knowledge. Remind yourself that you have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak and hold yourself accountable to undertake their recommendations in a timely fashion. No one knows more about your business than you do, but a board or pseudo board will know more about business than you do. Park that ego.

Coming up in Small Business: Running your own business can be all-consuming, but if you're not physically in shape it can be harder to keep up. So what are some of the different things small business owners do to keep themselves well - and what effect does that have on their business? If you've got a good story to tell, drop me a note:

- NZ Herald

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