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Business Leader: Inspiration from an onion – Reset and rebuild your business model to reignite growth

In this article, first published in Business Leader, Pavlo shares a simple tool – the onion – to think about your business, and identify your strategic focus.

Our inflationary, high-interest rate and low-growth economy will see companies with high overheads struggle to maintain the performance demanded by shareholders and executive bonus calculations.

As inflation and interest rates shrink local market value, access to established and new markets offer growth alternatives. Additionally, resetting and rebuilding a business model to increase productivity and performance will become a strategic imperative.

Market access

Expect mounting challenges accessing foreign markets. Brexit increased expenses and obstacles to trade with our closest £300 billion market. The array of ratified trade agreements might offer alternatives, such as the recently trumpeted CPTPP trade agreement which is worth a theoretical £37bn. Our challenges will be many. Our strengthening currency, significant differences in labour costs, and rapidly closing gaps in digitisation and technology competitiveness all weigh in. For products, add the cost of inputs and transport, set to increase further as we comply with our laudable commitments to Net Zero and other climate-friendly policies and regulations. All add to the cost of doing business, making our products less affordable than alternatives. For instance, imagine the cost of competing with a chocolate manufacturer in Chile or Malaysia, where our labour and transport costs are higher, before factoring in compliance with legislation and policy.

To overcome these challenges, we must increase productivity significantly. And since 2008, we have struggled to get this right! It can and will be done by those leaders intent on preserving their company value and remaining steadfast in growth despite all our economic ailments.

One way to get this right is to take a lesson from the simplest of vegetables: the onion.

Reset and rebuild your business model to reignite growth

An onion has three layers – the sweet inner; tangy middle; and outer protective skin. Applying this metaphor to your company offers up many opportunities.

Your inner layer is about understanding what is core and strategic to your survival, growth, and domination. You must own, deepen and protect these elements. Your middle layer includes everything non-core but strategic to the business. Outsource these elements to reliable partners on medium-term contracts. Your outer layer comprises everything non-core and non-strategic, where products or services are commoditised, and price wins the deal.

We recently used the onion to reset and rebuild a business intelligence company we work with. At its inner core, it must excel in analytics, interpretation, design, and presentation. It must own its software and skills in analysis and presentation. Its middle layer requires hardware, connectivity, and brand and marketing service providers. They are strategic but non-core to success. We established medium-term partnerships with providers whose services are their core strategic foci and intent. Their outer layer includes stationery, accommodation, refreshments, and other non-core, non-strategic products and services.

Today, they enjoy several benefits. A honed, simplified understanding of what matters most to grow and dominate their industry increased their productivity and market responsiveness. It has also allowed leadership to spend almost 70% of their time leading growth instead of managing operations. The company’s newfound growth has come increasingly from big and corporate clients. Out of necessity, these corporates have had to equally tighten their foci and shed costs by outsourcing previously insourced services such as business intelligence.

As business leaders, our company growth will increasingly come from excelling at how we position, win and lock in our services as middle-layer onion specialists.


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