Julie Robertson, front row, far left. Photo credit: Alaisdair Smith

Julie Robertson: Assisting Success

Triple-accredited Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow has been delivering Help to Grow: Management since September 2021. So far, 160 companies have graduated from this 12-week part-time course at the University. Announced in the 2021 Budget, the programme offers practical management training delivered by world-class business schools across the UK. Aimed at leaders and senior decision-makers of SMEs to boost performance, resilience, and long-term growth, the high-quality curriculum offers the opportunity to build capabilities in leadership, innovation, digital adoption, employee engagement, marketing, responsible business, and financial management. By the end of the course, participants have developed a business growth plan, created connections, and widened their networks.

Julie Robertson is operations director at Assisting Success, a consultancy which specialises in providing utilities advisory and project management services to the construction industry in the UK. The company was formed in 2005, and since its inception has amassed an impressive portfolio of large-scale construction projects, having been commissioned to work on, among others, Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, the redevelopment of London Bridge Station and Blackfriars Station, as well as HS2 enabling works at London Euston. Having been involved in many of the UK’s largest and most complex projects, the work carried out by the company has helped to create a lasting legacy.

Despite devoting much of its efforts to construction projects in England, Assisting Success is based in Lanarkshire, which Julie and her team began to see as the next focus of their efforts. Unlike for most SMEs, ironically, the arrival of COVID-19 in the UK turned out to be more of a help than a hindrance to Julie and the company, as it forced the team to stop and reflect on where the business stood.

“As with many companies,” Julie explains, “the pandemic gave us time to reflect, analyse what we are good at, and develop a plan for the future. Despite being a Lanarkshire-based business, we were heavily reliant on projects in London. However, after we engaged with local support through Business Gateway, we became more aware of the opportunities in Scotland and how to target them.”

The support Julie received from Business Gateway allowed her to start considering growth plans, and Help to Grow at Strathclyde Business School came along at just the right time for her and the business: “I joined the Help to Grow programme as I wanted to have the confidence to know that our growth strategy was sustainable, and I wanted to learn how to get the correct infrastructure in place to make sure we had the right building blocks for a long term, profitable business.”

Those important building blocks – the twelve modules which make up the course – proved to be incredibly useful to Julie, in particular the examination of vision, mission and values. This topic alone had a huge impact on Julie’s business: “Our business is diversifying into the renewable energy sector, and we can see that this will become a key revenue stream and area of growth for us. By understanding our values as a business and our value proposition, we were able to align our decisions to our strategic priorities, and this has given us the confidence to make bold but informed decisions relating to our diversification that we may not have done before, allowing us to pivot our strengths into new and exciting areas.”

Despite the key learnings that make up each module of the course, Julie found that Help to Grow also had so much more to offer. “While the theory part of the course teaching was important,” she states, “the best part of the course for me was the peer discussions and learning. The cohort was made up of professionals of all ages, from various different industries, with companies of different management structures, and the module content often became an excellent prompt to discuss problems we had faced and share how we dealt with them. This provided us with opportunities for learning, alternative views, and, at times, encouragement to push things forward.

“One of my cohort colleagues recently posted on LinkedIn to say that you start the course wondering how you will manage taking an afternoon a week out of the business for 12 weeks and end the course wishing you had another 12! I think this is because by going through the modules and hearing from your peers, you realise the importance that working ‘on’ your business really has.”

Aside from her fellow cohort members, who each week added to the liveliness of the group discussions, Julie also found the mentor with whom she was matched invaluable: “The mentor that we engaged through the Help to Grow and Enterprise Nation mentor platform has been incredibly useful. I sometimes struggled to see the relevance to my business in all the examples, and at times felt like some of the modules were more relevant to much bigger organisations.

“Our mentor has been great at helping us to consolidate the learning, put it into action and make it relevant to our business. After all, the course is for businesses who want to grow and so I expect I will find it more useful to look back on some of the programme modules as our business grows.”

Overall, Help to Grow at Strathclyde Business School was an excellent experience for Julie, but she stresses the importance of self-reflection to anyone wishing to join the course: “You have to be willing to be vulnerable, open-minded and honest about the challenges you face so that you can scrutinise the tools and see how they could help your business.

“I think if you already have a positive growth mindset but perhaps feel a bit gridlocked about how to grow, then you could really benefit from this course.”

Help to Grow is delivered over 12 half days at Strathclyde Business School at a heavily subsidised cost of £750, for a business leader whose company meets the criteria of having 5 or more employees and has been established for more than 1 year. Two places are available for organisations with more than 10 employees. The third year of the programme at Strathclyde begins in August 2023, with cohorts planned throughout the year. Feedback has been incredible and places are competitive, therefore if you are interested in growing your business, register for or express your interest in Help to Grow at Strathclyde Business School here, or contact sbs-helptogrow@strath.ac.uk for more information.