David Parkin on entrepreneurial growth, a Town Centre trip and winning the war on terrier

THERE is always a real buzz and no shortage of energy when you get entrepreneurs together.

That was certainly the case this week when I compered an event for KPMG, Irwin Mitchell, Business Growth Fund (BGF) and the London Stock Exchange.

Focusing on the funding opportunities available for companies to accelerate their growth, it brought together a small but high quality group of business leaders to hear the thoughts of three people who have done just that, but in different ways.

There was no shortage of positivity at the event, but it certainly helped that the still strong sunlight of a glorious spring evening was streaming through the glass into the top floor suite at KPMG’s new Leeds building – fresh from being officially opened by the Duke of York this week.

As I introduced our trio of panellists, I pointed out that Judith Pilkington, chairman of Leeds-based Moda In Pelle, the women’s fashion shoe retailer, had a CV that reads like a who’s who of high-end retail.

Fenwicks, Selfridges, Harrods, Mappin & Webb, Watches of Switzerland, Asprey and Space NK.

Not a bad resume.

She was joined by Jonathan Straight, a man with not only one of the most impressive waxed moustaches in the business, but who also founded and built waste and recycling container group Straight plc into an AIM-listed group before it was acquired.

He told me he’s now into street photography (search straight photos on instagram) and has presented a few programmes on local TV channel Made in Leeds (about the only watchable stuff on it).

The final member of the panel was Gerard Toplass, who built up several businesses in IT and furniture, before launching Frillo, the Amazon for business – supplying office equipment and furniture.

Given where it is based, I asked Gerard if he was taking over the world from Hull, but he pointed out they had made a couple of recent acquisitions so world domination will also be via Scotland and Keighley.

It’s probably the right way to go, if you laid siege to Keighley, I think it would hold out longer than Mafeking.

The panellists all brought experience of different ways of funding growth. Moda in Pelle has had an investment from the BGF, Straight floated and later had a major bank funding, while Frillo was backed by Finance Yorkshire and is now on the Stock Exchange ELITE programme, which works with fast-growing businesses around the country.

All three panellists were interesting and, importantly, very honest about their experiences in business, explaining what had worked and what hadn’t.

I’ve always found entrepreneurs happy to share their knowledge and experiences. It seems to me that the reason is that they are keen to help others avoid getting some of the needless scars they acquired along the way.

Following the panel discussion, conversation over dinner was equally fascinating.

I was sitting on the same table as Jo Cowl, finance director of Yorkshire-based luxury holiday park business Park Leisure.

She told me they had recently sold their most expensive holiday lodge – a luxurious place complete with four-poster bed, wet room and the best fixtures and fittings – for around half a million quid.

She showed me and other guests photographs of the lodge on her phone and then told us if anyone was interested we might be able to secure “mates’ rates”.

Given Jo had earlier told me that she is the only person on the Park Leisure board who isn’t from a sales background, I don’t think her colleagues have to worry that their FD is letting the side down.

After a fantastic high-end restaurant-quality dinner, prepared by KPMG’s own executive chef, there was the time for a few more questions to the panel.

One guest asked them whether they had got more or less risk averse as they had got older.

Gerrard Toplass said that while experience helped in taking more higher risk decisions, there was an argument that when you are younger, you have less financial pressures and so are able to perhaps to take more risks.

“When you are younger you don’t have the hangers on,” he explained.

“I think they’re called family, Gerrard,” I pointed out, helpfully.


A FEW fond memories came flooding back this week when I took the lift to the top floor of Merrion House, which towers above the city’s Merrion Centre shopping destination.

It is headquarters of property business Town Centre Securities, where The Alternative Board, the peer board and business coaching organisation run by the human dynamo that is Martin Allison.

We were being hosted by Michael Ziff, the former boss of Stylo and Barratts shoes, whose brother Edward runs Town Centre Securities.

I’d not seen Edward in a while so was slightly surprised, when halfway through our TAB meeting, the boardroom door burst open behind me and someone grabbed me playfully round the neck and patted me on the head before dashing out of the room.

“That was Edward, by the way,” said Michael.

“I think he likes me,” I replied.

“He says to pop into his office and have a chat after the meeting,” said Michael.

I later told the Ziff brothers that the first time I had set foot in those offices was when I was deputy business editor of the Yorkshire Post and, together with business editor Peter Curtain, we had visited their father, the late Arnold Ziff, for lunch.

A real gentleman and a business legend of Leeds, he welcomed us with great charm and, opened a huge drinks cabinet to offer us a pre-prandial gin and tonic.

When I popped in to chat to Edward in his office, he was meeting with Leeds financier and entrepreneur Michael Michaelson, a long-suffering fan of his home town football club.

“You’re not plotting to buy Leeds United are you?” I asked as I walked in.

“Don’t start,” replied Michael, as he put his head into his hands.

Edward’s office still contains some of the leather seats that Arnold Ziff installed and Edward pointed to a photograph of himself on the wall, taken when he was presented with a honorary doctorate of business administration from the then Leeds Metropolitan University (now known as Leeds Beckett) in 2013.

“You got your honorary degree on the same day, didn’t you?” he said.

I pointed out that I did but that mine was a modest MBA rather than doctorate.

“I think the difference between the two is success,” I said, “plus I didn’t get the full cap and gown experience so couldn’t look like Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall in my photo.”


I FOUND a new hero this week.

He’s called Barnaby Joyce.

If you’ve never heard of him, he’s not a character in the recent film Batman v Superman or a star of the upcoming Captain America: Civil War blockbuster.

He’s the Agriculture Minister of Australia.

He’s the man who took on Hollywood star Johnny Depp and his wife Amber Heard when they brought their Yorkshire Terrier dogs, Pistol and Boo, into his country illegally.

The case, dubbed the “war on terrier”, made international headlines in May 2015, when Mr Joyce threatened to have Pistol and Boo put down if they didn’t “bugger off” back to the United States.

To escape conviction for dog smuggling, the couple, who had brought the dogs into Australia on their private jet, pleaded guilty to falsifying documents and also filmed a video apology which has since been screened around the world via the internet.

Aussie politician Mr Joyce was keen to make the most of the publicity surrounding the celebrity couple’s actions and told the ABC programme that Depp looked like he was auditioning for The Godfather.

“I don’t think he’ll get an Academy Award for his performance,” he added.

Given that Johnny Depp had appeared to refer to Barnaby Joyce as a “sweaty, big-gutted man” when asked about his dogs at the Venice Film Festival, then you can probably understand why the politician appeared to savour the video apology.

He went on to say: At the end of it we’ve got a message that is going all around the world right now, it’s going off like a frog in a sock telling people that if you come into this nation and you don’t obey our laws, you’re in trouble.”

Like a frog in a sock.

What a superb picture he has painted with just a few words.

Now I’ve never seen or heard a frog in a sock, but I’d imagine it would create quite a racket.

It reminded me of a story Les Dawson used to tell about chatting to a Yorkshire farmer who’d found a courting couple in a car in one of his fields.

“They were going at it like a frog up a pump,” the farmer explained.

Have a great weekend.

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