Russell Greenslade, Chief Executive of Swansea BID
As part of our ongoing series of interviews, Business News Wales had the chance to speak to Russell Greenslade, the Chief Executive of Swansea BID (Business Improvement District)
Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within Swansea BID?
I have been fortunate to be able to bring a useful set of skills and business acumen from my previous positions, which feed into my current role, as Chief Executive of Swansea BID.
I began my career in marketing for a premium car brand, then for a PLC, moving into pharmaceuticals, retail and property development. At Swansea BID I take the lead in developing and implementing strategic and operational plans, being the leader, manager and communicator of the company driving the key strategic initiatives, with a focus on improving communication, on supporting and enhancing management capabilities, and on technological innovations designed to improve the visitor and trading environment and experience.
I report to the Swansea BID Chair, Juliet Luporini, and a voluntary Board of Directors, who are owners or managers from a broad range of the BID Businesses – so, from retail, Local Authority, professional services and the evening/nighttime economy. During my tenure, Swansea BID has secured two renewal ballots from hundreds of businesses and organisations, which has given us a strong mandate during these very exciting times for Swansea. I am also proud that we obtained and maintain the industry national accreditation which places us in the top 20% of BIDs pan UK based on management and performance.
What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?
Our current term Business Plan focuses on our Increasing, Creating, Promoting, Enhancing and Developing the BID area and its businesses, making the City Centre a better place to shop, visit, stay, study and do business. The hugely exciting regeneration plans for Swansea City Centre are ambitious and they will present great opportunities for economic growth. Swansea will present a fresher face to the world, it will be easier to navigate and I know local businesses are looking forward to the improvements. The challenge will be to support businesses throughout the developments, so they aren’t too disrupted, and to help businesses capitalise on the opportunities our new City Centre BID area will present. Of course the national situation continues to hang over us all, but my view is that we must all crack on and keep delivering what we do, since no-one has a crystal ball to see what the future will bring.
Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently?
No. I have been fortunate to have worked within great companies that empowered employees, enabling strong teams who had a real focus upon creativity and achievement. My view is workplaces should be vibrant places where people are able to develop and this is the ethos I instill among my Swansea BID team.
What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?
The key to good business is to be a good middle man – which relates to relationship building. Another quality is being a good listener who is able to hear what isn’t being said explicitly and is intuitive enough to work out what someone needs, what would make their life simpler, what problem they need you to help them solve.
One of my key roles is to ensure the voice of Swansea BID members is heard when it comes to key developments within the City Centre, everything from the changes that the City Deal will bring, the developments in the Kingsway or at Parc Tawe. I ensure that Swansea BID Business have a voice ‘at the table’ at vital planning stages and having strong communication skills helps me to do this in a credible, persuasive way, whilst leading on company engagement across all sectors and representing the Swansea BID company in key external relationships and partnerships.
What are your top three tips for success?
- Listen more and talk less
- Have the confidence to make considered but bold choices and decisions
- Be willing to learn from those around you
Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?
Swansea was the first BID in the UK, so it has been a real pioneer and we have been able to show other towns and cities what can be done within the ‘family’ of the BID Business, in terms of access to funding, reduction of anti-social behaviour, improved facilities and a sense of ownership of the City Centre by its businesses and users.
Happily, there are now 11 BIDs in Wales, with other towns looking at these as models for town centre improvements. I would urge the businesses in those areas to consider the benefits of a BID so they can help steer our ever-changing high streets to sustainable success.
Embracing the digital age has been vital for us, so we have, for example, rolled out free Wifi in the City Centre, introduced click and collect parking spaces, and our very successful Big Heart of Swansea app is used by thousands of shoppers to access the latest offers in the Swansea BID area.
Do you foresee any issues that Welsh business will be facing in the short/medium/long term?
The uncertainty caused by Brexit has implications for businesses of all types and of all sizes, since it affects consumer confidence, the wider economy and it hinders decision-making for those who own businesses and for start-ups. But we are resilient and bold enough to seize opportunities when they arise to facilitate growth.
One of the things we have introduced, to help our BID Business, are our regular BID Benefits Workshops, providing bite-sized, informative presentations from experts in their field around practical topics that can help business owners strengthen their operations, whether by looking at their social media strategy, tackling common employment law issues, or tapping into the talent pool of entrepreneurial minds at the nearby university. It is more important than ever that businesses operate in the smartest way possible.
Do you have any predictions in regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?
Clearly, there are concerns about the loss of EU funding to schemes and projects or that support jobs in our region. One of our key roles as a BID is to help secure funding and practical support for business. However, tapping into alternative funding streams is something we are alert to. One of the most exciting roles of Swansea BID – and specifically of our BID chair Juliet Luporini – has been to be part of the Task and Finish Group which looked at a Development Bank for Wales, designed to support SMEs in this country. These SMEs are the bedrock of our economy and I’m delighted to see the Development Bank in operation this month.
What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?
The Welsh are welcoming, we are passionate about our country and its future, Wales is an affordable place to invest, and our tourism sector is, I feel, ripe for investment and growth.
We have such natural assets here that aren’t yet being fully exploited or extolled to the wider world. At a time when foreign travel isn’t as attractive a prospect as it has been in the past, we must capitalise on this. Our transport links have needed investment for some time, but this picture is improving.
Cardiff airport is the fastest growing airport in the UK, the planned new Metro systems would help to keep us better connected, and the scrapping of the Severn Bridge toll will be a boon to business near to that key crossing.
Like elsewhere we need to get a grip on Business Rates. So, maybe Wales can pioneer a new way of doing things which will grow businesses, jobs and sustainability for generations to come.
What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?
New business is already heading to Wales. Swansea BID is, of course, a microcosm, but within our BID area we have seen our membership grow from 775 in 2015 to 836, and a scan of the local press yields fresh tales of investment each week. I’m pleased to see Costa Coffee’s first ever driv- through opening at Parc Tawe in our BID area and US Diner giant Dennys has chosen to open its first ever UK outlet there too. It is noticeable that more big names are moving into our city centres. As a marketing man at heart I would drive home the message that being visible at events like investment conferences and getting involved in delegate visits is crucial as is having the right information, at the right time for the right person/investor.
What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?
It is great that the younger generation is so attuned digital and to technology and that they are so skilled at social media – these are all invaluable in the modern working world and nobody running a business today can afford to see these things as a foreign language.
However, you can’t put a price on strong communication skills and human interaction. This is one of the things Swansea BID has been working hard to promote by co-founding a fantastic project with UWTSD (University of Wales Trinity Saint David) called Creative Bubble. Students go there to learn some of the nuts and bolts of running a business, by, for example, setting up their own pop-up shop. Here they learn to engage with consumers, create a product range, market their products, etc. Under the auspices of Creative Bubble we also offer regular Pizza With a Pro events, where young people can learn from sector professionals and get a real insight into the realities of business life.
How important is it for they’re to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?
It is vital. Swansea BID works very closely with our higher education colleagues at Swansea University and at UWTSD and with our further education colleague at Gower College Swansea so it is pleasing to see that the design of the new University campuses and the College’s new presence in the City Centre will focus on strengthening links between themselves, the wider community and businesses.
In our experience, tapping into the skills of those in Further Education is important too. These students are entrepreneurial and confident and they represent a hot-bed of talent which needs to be nurtured, developed and retained in Wales.