John Harvey-Jones: 'Why small businesses are better than big ones'

From the East of England Ideas talk by the former chairman of ICI and business consultant, given in Newmarket, Suffolk
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The east of England is largely an area of small companies - be thankful, for the small have got everything going for them. First of all, they view their businesses holistically. Secondly, they can turn instantly - literally change the whole direction of their business in a morning. Thirdly, they know in a personal way all their people, all their customers, all their suppliers.

They also know their stuff and the effect of one change on all the others. They are the first to know what is happening - it used to be the guy on the shop floor or the delivery driver. Now it is the man or woman in the field who can win time and time again against a vast, inflexible system.

And if you use IT imaginatively, you will know the way that your environment is changing long, long before the big boys have even heard about it. No longer has any businessman or woman an excuse for not spending 10 minutes every morning or evening checking the current state of their business. That is when the development of a trend can be spotted - remember, you cannot do anything about numbers, you can only do things about trends. And because speed is a key competitive area, the quicker you pick up the trend, the faster you gain the advantage.

I've had many nasty surprises in my business life. And it's almost always been because I've not moved fast enough, that I've waited to be sure of what action required taking, rather than taking the risk of being wrong. It's better to be there early and develop on the run. I'd go any day for having an 80 per cent ready thing which has failed, but where you learn on the run, than to hang on for when you've got a 100 per cent thing where you've almost certainly lost the market.