Good leadership has become an utterly crucial variable in business success over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a baptism of fire for young businesses and challenged established companies to be adaptive and agile in a time defined by uncertainty. Ultimately, this uncertainty looks to be moving forward as we go through Q1 of 2021.
Even putting aside the difficulties of the last year, good leadership skills can serve as a swift distinguisher on the greater business landscape. Enduring success often demands a good leader to ensure opportunities are capitalised on, and challenges navigated. With all of this in mind, AI launched the ‘Spotlight’ series to, pardon the pun, shine a light on those who were achieving success in these unprecedented times.
Our first instalment features Mike Lord, CEO of Stiltz Home Lifts. Here, we sat with Mike to learn more about his attitude, ethos, history and successes.
AI: Hi Mike, to start would you be able to give us a brief overview of Stiltz Home Lifts – what you do, who you work with? That sort of thing.
ML: We make a product called a Homelift which Stiltz was first to design. This is targeted at the older generation and allows people to move between floors easily as they get older. People will either fit our lifts as they need this help, or we’ll install it as part of a home renovation and to future proof the house. Our products are designed to be a stylish addition to someone’s home rather look like an afterthought and an eyesore.
AI: When did the company launch and how long have you been a part of it?
ML: We actually had our 10th Birthday recently in September! I have been involved from very early in the Stiltz history starting in 2012 as a consultant helping the company get ready for investment, then investing and becoming Chairman in 2014, followed by a management buyout of 3 of the 4 founders in 2017 when I became CEO as well as Chairman working full time in the company from that point.
AI: What makes your company standout? What would you describe as something particularly noteworthy about Stiltz?
ML: Besides our products, which are world leading, Stiltz has been a fantastic growth story with turnover doubling in year on year over the first 5 years then continuing to grow at 50% for the next 4 years. Astonishingly, 2020 still yielded double-digit growth despite the impacts COVID-19. Moreover, we have been on the Fastrack 100 fastest growing export companies 3 times, we are on the FT 1000 fastest growing European companies list for the last two years and recently won the Queens Award for exporters. About 60% of our lifts are sold outside the UK with the USA being our biggest single export market.
AI: Companies invited to participate in our spotlight series are typically doing amazing things; revolutionising, innovating, automating, scaling, disrupting or modernising. Which of these most strikes a chord with you and why?
ML: I would like to think we tick 5 out of 6 of those boxes! Our market has traditionally been full of products which can be defined as “make do and mend”. Our range of products has changed the way people can maintain the use of their homes as they get less mobile. We have broken in to about 30 different international markets and changed the choice people have to make from a “disabled” to a lifestyle product. We can fit in to people’s home where they want us to, not where they have to. We have built a digital marketing platform which is scalable across the globe and got close to out customers so much more so than anyone else in our market.
AI: How many people are currently employed at Stiltz?
ML: We operate across 3 continents. In Europe, we employ around 150 people but currently recruiting a further 20 installation engineers and builders. In the USA, we have 25 people and over 100 in China growing probably to 140 by the middle of next year.
AI: What’s your mission statement?
ML: Democratising Homelifts – we want Homelifts to be a common appliance in an ever-growing group of the population from young couples who want to live in style to the older generation who want to stay in their family home and use it how they always have.
AI: How would you define your corporate culture?
ML: The business founders were Australian so we have tried to harness that Aussie competitiveness we see in sports with the laid back and welcoming atmosphere. We have an employee acronym to show what people who work here can expect, which spells SMAC. So yes, we like to SMAC our employees! We want our employees to feel Secure whilst being Motivated. We like to show we Appreciate our employees but want them to feel Challenged.
AI: What are they key challenges, in your opinion, facing your industry right now?
ML: Other than the obvious pandemic there aren’t really any big challenges. Demographics and housing needs are the two big drivers, and these are all in our favour.
AI: And, finally, what do the next 12 months have in store for the company?
ML: Lots more growth!
How would you describe your leadership style?
Open, consultative but driven.
What do you most enjoy about your role and this industry?
My role; People – the Stiltz Team, Customers, shareholders and other stakeholders. The industry – We change peoples lives for the better.
What’s come as the greatest surprise in your career?
That businesses make emotional, not logical, decisions. We always think of businesses as these unemotional entities who are run by intelligent and professional managers, so they must be logical, right? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as, ultimately, businesses are made up of people and we rarely make any decisions that aren’t emotionally led!
Talk to us about pivotal moments in your career which have led you to where you are today.
I think a career is more incremental than hinging on a few pivotable moments. We are a sum of our experiences and so the one moment that changed everything doesn’t happen if everything before didn’t happen first. So changing my degree to Business from Electronics was because I really wasn’t clever enough to do electronics! Just one decision of many that gave me all the experiences to be a CEO.
Who is your personal business role model and why?
I really don’t have one, but I do admire Richard Branson. Success in so many industries and humble with it…
What’s the best business book you’ve ever read?
The One Minute Manager – so simple and so obvious…once you’ve read it. It encapsulates the essence of how to manage people. Tell them what success is, tell them when they are doing badly and more importantly when they are doing well, and tell them at the time. There’s more but that’s the essence.
If you could offer an ambitious young executive aspiring to reach your position one piece of advice, what would it be?
Play nice with the other children. Business life is difficult enough so whenever you are dealing with people (which is all the time) just be nice to them. All too often when there is a difficult message to deliver, we get full of our own importance and justification for our actions or worry about delivering and don’t think about the human being on the other end. Be honest but be nice.
And lastly, how do you switch off?
Not sure I do; I just go and do something different!