Fiona Lowry, chief executive of The Good Care Group, began her career at the BBC, where she spent 11 years before leading a management and employee buyout to set up a communications firm. She founded her latest venture in 2008, and last year the company turned over £10m. Here, she shares her business wisdom…
Business is in my blood. Both my grandmothers ran their own companies, which was very rare in those days, and I loved going to visit them. My father was also in business, but there was no pressure on me to go down that route. My parents encouraged me to do whatever I enjoyed.
The BBC taught me about quality of service and reputation. I joined the organisation in 1986 and started running projects and managing quite large contracts, and absolutely loved it there. It was a phenomenal learning environment. I travelled the world and met all kinds of different people, which taught me a lot about valuing difference. I also learnt how difficult it is to build a reputation and how easy it is for that reputation to be completely ruined.
Everybody has strengths and weaknesses and if you can put a person in a role that plays to their strengths they will be much more successful. If somebody is in the wrong role, then persevering and trying to build on their weaknesses to make them better is very difficult – instead try to fit the right person to the right role in the first place.
I enjoy making a difference to people’s lives. The Good Care Group provides carers and live-in care, and a lot of people don’t know that exists. They think that when someone becomes frail and elderly, the choice is between looking after them or putting them in a care home. We are enabling people to stay in their homes when they reach a vulnerable age – it’s extremely rewarding.
It’s been a challenge getting people to understand that live-in carers are an affordable option. However good a residential care home is, and there are plenty of good homes out there, they are still institutions. You lose your house, your garden, your dignity, and your memories. Getting people to know that we offer an alternative option, and for them to understand what we do, has been quite difficult.
In tough times you have to be flexible and creative. You can always think of a way round things, whether the problem is economic or market change, regulation or recruitment issues. You can start with a business plan, but life isn’t straightforward, so you have to be open to change. Make sure you have the right management team around you, and don’t be afraid to ask for their ideas.
I get my ideas when I’m swimming. I have to get away from the office every so often and I really enjoy swimming because it gives me time to think and reflect. Quite often, during this quiet time, that’s when I’m most creative.
You keep great talent by developing people. Keeping talent is much easier than finding it, so when I hire people I strive to look after them. Shareholding is also important – all our employees are offered shares in the company. As you grow as a business, lots of different opportunities arise and making sure that your staff grow with you is the way to keep them. It’s also crucial to share your vision, communicate, and discuss the bad things as well as the good.
In another life I would have been a sports producer. I’m very interested in sport and there was one point in my BBC career where I reached a crossroad, like most people do, and had to make a decision that was going to affect the rest of my life. Had I not been offered the head of department job, my plan was to become a sports producer within the BBC – however I was given the position, so it never happened.
I want to be able to influence government policy. We need to improve the funding for adult care in this country and bring together the health budget and the social care budget. The Good Care Group isn’t just trying to help people stay at home longer, but get people out of hospital who don’t need to be there. If you have live-in care your health and wellbeing is much better – we’ve got all the evidence to prove it. I would like to continue to grow the business so that we can influence and hopefully change government policy, while helping more elderly people living in the UK.
Go with your gut. That’s the advice I would give my younger self. I am quite a positive person but I would say, ‘it is like a rollercoaster running a business and there will be down times, but be creative and employ the right people, and you’ll get through the tough times to hit the highs’.