Secrets of Success: Fergus Bailie CEO of Bailie Group

Secrets of Success: Fergus Bailie CEO of Bailie Group

Connecting people to their audiences is no mean feat …

Founded by his father in the 1970s, Bailie Group has grown from being a group of printing and publishing companies, into a group of agencies and consultancies providing a range of communications-related services including digital, insight, training, cyber security and PR.

They work on projects which enable people to report crime online, help the UK transport system to operate more effectively, connect people with social services, develop coaching and mentoring skills within the armed forces, and provide content channels for industries, including the automotive sector.

While each of the businesses operates independently, they are all united by a collective mission to make a positive difference in society. Fergus takes time out of his busy schedule to share his Secrets of Success and his overarching aim to improve people’s lives by sharing knowledge.

What type of businesses do you work with?

Each of the six operating companies within Bailie Group has its own unique proposition, so the kinds of organisations we work with are really varied.

Making up the commercial fabric of the Group, there’s a strategic change enablement agency, behavioural research organisation, automotive PR and communications agency, media website for the automotive sector, defence and cyber security consultancy, and telecommunications-industry training specialist.

As such, we work with a breadth of clients, including the NHS, Bank of England, Ministry of Defence, British Army, Cabinet Office, Transport for London, global car manufacturers, and every police force in England and Wales.

What problem does your company solve?

We help customers create, gather, distribute, and maximise the value of content and data.
To achieve that, our purpose is to invest in the people and ideas that make a positive difference, to our teams, our communities, and our clients.

We work on projects which keep people safer, help the UK transport system move effectively, connect citizens with social services in their local area, provide content channels for core industries, and get equipment to the front line so it’s safe to use.

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Our Group mission is to create an entrepreneurial organisation of collaborative specialists. The companies are empowered to utilise technology and expert knowledge to create solutions which enable our customers to maximise their potential through intelligent use of information, content, and data.

What is your USP?

We are an independent family-run organisation that can deliver — in an agile way — services that are traditionally offered by big corporate organisations. And as a Group, we take a long-term view and put our clients first.

What are your company values? Have you ever had them challenged and if so how have you dealt with it?

At Bailie Group, we don’t have a single set of values — as each of the six operating companies have their own — but we have a philosophy. ‘Doing the right thing’ is our overriding message — if you act in a way that customers and staff would deem fair, that decision can’t be criticised.

Additionally, we have a guiding principle that helps us with decision-making — what’s best for the boat? We take out personalities, ego, and emotions, and say what the best thing for the boat is, as it exists today.

Each of the businesses within the Group has its own culture and value set but is consistent with this Group philosophy — and this hasn’t been challenged.

Also, while many investment companies in private equity have a need for short-term growth, we’ve been around since 1970 and take a long-term view — doing what’s best, and fair, in the long run.

How do you ensure that you recruit a team that reflects your company values?

Ensuring the right cultural fit is important for us, as we’re very much a people-oriented company. And while I get involved in the recruitment of executive hires across the Group, for technical roles, it’s my philosophy that the senior teams within each of the operating companies are experts in what they do and are best placed to understand and identify the skill sets and personalities that will work within their existing teams.  Skills are important, but attitude and personality are critical, and we need people who will integrate and share the company values. It’s then a case of introducing them to the role and wider Group strategy.

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It’s very much a company-led approach with support at Group level. As such, we have a centralised people team that helps to ensure we have a consistent approach to recruitment as well as a diverse range of talent across the organisation.

Are you happy to offer a hybrid working model of home/office post-covid?

Yes. I mentioned in an earlier question that it’s Bailie Group’s collective mission to make a positive difference in society, and this also applies to our staff and the culture of our organisation. As such, we believe it’s important to empower colleagues to have the flexibility to choose where and when they work.

Do you have any tips for managing suppliers and customers effectively?

Relationships that are contractually dominated are problematic from day one. The best ones are where you and your suppliers are working towards a shared strategic role. It’s also key that there is transparency of what your organisation is trying to achieve and that you’re not prescriptive of how to get there — the spirit of openness and honesty will generate the best ideas.

It’s also crucial to realise, and accept, that no relationship is problem free. You have a shared responsibility for problem solving and there should be no apportioning of blame — appreciating everyone is doing a good job and working together is the bedrock of any successful business relationship.

Any finance or cash-flow tips for new businesses starting out?

Most new businesses don’t fail because the idea isn’t good or its people aren’t talented and committed, but because they run out of money. Therefore, my number one tip is to guard money carefully. The more capital you get in at the start, the more you can protect and help your business to grow. Following that, be cautious with how you use it, too.

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If you could ask one thing of the government to change for businesses what would it be?
To provide businesses with the long-term clarity they need on corporate infrastructure. The current electoral cycle rewards short-term decision making, and this is a personal bug-bear of mine as politicians are incentivised with the wrong type of behaviour.

The Government and UK’s companies need to sit down together and have conversations about what organisations need for long-term investment and planning, and this needs to become a cross-party agreement.

What is your attitude towards your competitors?
No matter the industry you’re in, it’s important to view competition as a good thing. It is often the thing that drives everyone to improve and creates choices for consumers. It’s also a cornerstone of learning — I welcome conversations with other business leaders, as this offers the chance to share ideas and inspire one another.

Any thoughts on the future of your company and your dreams?
For me, I’d love to continue the family dynamic well into the future — seeing the firm as part of the Bailie family for generations to come. And I feel privileged to have the role of shepherding the company through to the next generation.

Also, my thoughts and dreams are that the Group should continue to leave a legacy. One that shows how we’ve made a positive difference to the communities in which we work — whether that’s revolutionising the way policing is delivered, keeping the UK safer by working with the armed forces, or social work. If we continue to add value to the communities we serve, then we’re doing something right.

Cherry Martin

Cherry is Associate Editor of Business Matters with responsibility for planning and writing future features, interviews and more in-depth pieces for what is now the UK’s largest print and online source of current business news.

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