Loughborough-born Ian Dormer,Chartered Director and IoD chairman, works to dispel fat cat image of big business
Leicester Mercury October 21, 2014|
Ian Dormer, chairman of the Institute of Directors is a friendly man. When a colleague heard I was meeting him, he had nothing but praise. And when I sat down with him at an IoD meeting, Ian – a big smile on his face – had nothing but praise for the colleague.
Which is a tad surprising, when you consider this is the man elected for three years to represent – and excuse the cliché – the nation’s fat cat business bosses.
In fact, from the moment he joined the North East England branch back in the early 1990's, he set out to break that stereotype.
He said he wanted to bring a new lease of life to something that still had a bit of a dusty reputation.
He says: “When I first joined, it was basically an old gentleman’s lunch club in the North East.
“I started asking for breakfast meetings and evening meetings and wanted it to provide something useful, and they said ‘fine’ as long as I organised it.
“So I set a breakfast event up with a guest speaker from Air UK and, to cut a long story short, 50 people came along. All the old boys said maybe this little upstart is on to something, and asked me to join the committee.
“Before I knew it, I was branch chairman, then regional chairman and was invited on to the council and asked to join the main board.
“I became chairman two-and-a-half years ago. It’s not hard work. There are some challenges, but when you enjoy something, it’s not hard.
“Yes, there are times when you are tired, but I’ve met some fantastic people – I would never have had the opportunity to shake Specsavers founder Dame Mary Perkins’ hand and meet leading politicians.
“It’s a massive, massive privilege.
“I went to Kazakhstan with David Cameron, where we were signing a big director-level training deal. I don’t know how these politicians do it – I was knackered.”
Aged 50, Ian was born in Oaklands Avenue, Loughborough – “it’s a lovely market town, a lovely place to grow up and I have extremely happy memories”.
He later lived in Valley Road and attended Mountfields Lodge School, before going on to read government at Essex and Georgetown universities.
His dad had been chief test engineer for Brush Transformers but the family moved north to Gateshead when Ian was 11.
There, his father went on to launch Rosh Engineering in County Durham, a small operation which installs, repairs and refurbishes power transformer equipment.
Ian – having already been a journalist on Flight International magazine in London – went on to take it over.
“It was tough living in London on the wage I had in the late 80's and my dad said either take the business over or I sell it. So I gave it a go,” he says.
“When I took it on I wanted to grow it, and that’s part of the reason I joined the IoD.
“It had three temporary staff and operated out of a front bedroom and today we’re in our fourth factory, with big customers like Western Power Distribution.
“It’s been great. There have been ups and downs and challenges and tough times, but today there are 34 staff and we have a £4 million turnover.”
Rosh Engineering now trades throughout the UK, Ireland, Netherlands and further afield.
On that journey, Ian has been a board member of the North East Regional Development Agency and Business Link Tyne and Wear, sharing his knowledge and expertise whenever he can.
He visited Leicestershire to address the second East Midlands Young Directors’ Forum annual convention at the Radisson Blue Hotel, at East Midlands Airport.
The event brought together about 80 young entrepreneurs and directors to gain insights into significant business issues.
A big part of the organisation is the education of its members – through events like this and particularly through its professional qualification of chartered director.
“Becoming a chartered director is a fantastic scheme and quite nerve-wracking to undertake.
“I learned a hell of a lot from it and now know I’m better at my job because of it – partly because of what I learned taking it, but partly from the interaction with other directors.
“Because it has a Royal Charter, you have to offer additional education and training and that means we are always trying to make it better.
“It’s important because when you run a business you put in training for staff because you really want them to exceed, but you end up ignoring yourself.
“Now, I’m much better at governance, which means putting systems in place so everybody in your company knows their responsibilities and you know their responsibilities.
“I had a month off in Australia not long ago and during that time didn’t get a text or e-mail and, when I came back, business was booming – the team had managed it beautifully.
“You have to empower your staff.”
At its raw heart, he said the IoD was about making directors better – something that is all the more important considering the condemnation some high-profile business leaders have attracted in recent months for inappropriate and arrogant behaviour in the boardroom.
“Excellence is what we stand for,” he said.
“We all make mistakes, but if you pay yourself too much or treat your staff poorly, then that’s simply wrong.”
Later in the conversation the topic of Scottish independence pops up, and the advantages and disadvantages to business a yes vote might have brought.
It now seems an age since the referendum, but – regardless of the democratic pros an cons of self rule – there were always questions about the impacts on industry, trade, employment and economics.
Ian headed up a business group a decade ago which was put together to see off plans by John Prescott for a regional assembly in the North East.
He said: “The Government wanted to put another tier of bureaucracy in place, so myself and a couple of other business guys founded a campaign group called North East Says No.
“The was no point in having a no campaign supported by the Conservative party because they would have lost that in the North East.
“So we said it wasn’t party political, simply the fact that people didn’t want more bureaucracy at more cost, offering no help to the economy. It was not going to solve anything.
“The campaign was great fun – simple and clear and passionate.
“We argued plans for the assembly were more concerned about members’ expenses than transport.
“The question we asked was ‘is it better’?
“We were saying ‘don’t just do it because you think it looks good’. In the end, we had half the money of the yes campaign, but got 75 per cent of the vote.
“After all that, I found the Scottish referendum fascinating. I do a lot of business in Scotland so I was delighted by the no vote because it will make my business easier.
“Having any uncertainty with currency would have been tough and would have increased risk.
“You might call it selfish that it’s easier to trade in a domestic market, but business people like to minimise risk.
“The IoD stayed out of the referendum and said it was a decision for our members, which was something our members in Scotland asked us to do.
“We asked them a year ago and they felt that if the IoD were to put out an opinion it could have damaged the institution’s name.
“What we did do was have lots of open forums and debates on it and opportunities for the yes and no campaigns to discuss with business leaders what the advantages were going to be.”
Next on the agenda will be the 2015 General Election and its impact on the business landscape.
He said: “The next 12 months are key.
“We talk to all political parties and want an environment that encourages business to grow which, of course, means that employment will grow.
“Employment legislation is something we are all worried about and our role is to make sure the people in power understand what that means to us.
“We are all after the same thing – economic growth.
“We are in a good, steady, solid recovery. Now we have to ensure we have the checks and balances in place top ensure that continues.
“There are challenges and coming out of a recession is never going to be easy, but it’s a step change to what it was three or four years ago.”