A few days after David Grant, managing director of Moorhouse’s brewery in Burnley, returned to the UK from a visit to the US, he took time off from his usual daily work to sit down and write a strategy document for the company.
Mr Grant’s inspiration was a week-long marketing course at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in the US (pictured below). He says drawing up a formal strategy for the brewery, which has an annual turnover of about £3m, “is something I would’ve got round to eventually when there was time, but going on the course focused my mind”.
Twice a year for the past 15 years, Kellogg has hosted 10 senior executives such as Mr Grant from small British companies that are looking to enter or expand their presence in the US market. It is part of a scheme organised and paid for by UK Trade and Investment, the government organisation that aims to enhance the competitiveness of UK-based companies, and supported by British Airways.
The programme offers managers from small and medium-sized UK companies an opportunity to experience the kind of business education that is normally beyond their financial reach.
“There’s a general problem with getting people from smaller companies on business education courses,” says Steve Burnett, Kellogg’s associate dean of executive education. “These courses are fairly expensive and they tend to attract people from larger companies that have budgets for development.”
Rachael Mackwell, another UK small business scholar who describes herself as “not a course-goer or a big reader of business books”, says the expense of time and money would normally prevent her attending Kellogg.
“The time would be something you’d think you couldn’t spare – 10 days to go to America do a course,” says Ms Mackwell, head of marketing at Postcode Anywhere, a web-services company based in Worcester with an annual turnover of about £3m. “The combined cost of being out of the office, travelling there and the course itself would just be prohibitive.”
As well as giving management from small companies the opportunity to benefit from what Kellogg has to offer, the scheme is also aimed at providing education for executives who can more easily put ideas into practice because of their seniority and the greater agility of a smaller company.
Mr Grant says the students on the US Marketing Scholarship Programme may find it easier to make a difference on returning to their companies than his course-mates from groups such as Ericsson, the global telecommunications company.
“The Ericsson students, who were from all over the world, took a great deal from the course, but it would be interesting to see how much they can impact and change Ericsson because it’s such a huge organisation,” he says. “We may not be from the biggest organisations, but they can change quicker than most.”
Dipak Jain, Kellogg’s dean and an instructor on the programme since its inception, agrees with that view.
“It’s great that this programme focuses on people from small companies rather than the British Airways and British Petroleums of the world. They are able to make a significant difference. These people are entrepreneurs working for small companies, they have a real chance to put these concepts into practice,” he says.
The scheme was conceived by Ellis Goodman, a British expatriate who moved to the US in 1982 to become chief executive of Barton, the beverage importer, and now serves as chairman of Allied District Properties, a property company in Chicago.
Mr Goodman, who put up much of the funding himself in the early days, says the programme was prompted by a sense at the time that “the Brits were very innovative and creative but not as good as US companies at marketing”, and that smaller UK companies were missing out on an important export market in North America.
He says that not only is the programme one of UKTI’s most successful – having trained more than 300 executives and with many success stories of companies entering or expanding their market share in the US – but: “It’s about the only one that hasn’t got cancelled in the past few years.”
It is not only the participants who benefit from the programme. Prof Jain says the other students on the course learn a great deal from interaction with the UK small business scholars.
“They bring a fresh perspective and can help add richness to the discussion,” he says. “They often have examples of how they have made important changes within their businesses.”
One thing that he has learnt, says Mr Burnett, is that the British students can think beyond the urge to solve problems simply with financial resources.
“Entrepreneurs from smaller businesses tend to have ideas without overwhelming them with money,” he says. “A student from General Electric can put a lot of money behind an idea, whereas these students are more creative in their use of funding.”