In the run-up to this year’s Business Awards, as sponsors of the Lifetime Achievement Award, we explore the link between good leadership and business success among previous winners.

Here we consider the achievements of MF Freeman, who were crowned Business of the Year in 2014.

Double-digit growth for five successive years makes an impressive headline, but that’s only part of MF Freeman’s success story.

The family business, led by Joint-Chief Executive Luke Freeman, began trading in 1966. From its roots in farming and plant hire, its entrepreneurial instincts led the firm into contracting, civils, developing and housebuilding, forestry and leisure. Today, it operates as a group of companies overseen by Luke.

Luke has built a robust management team, including non-family members, investing in their leadership development on our programmes LEAD™, GOLD™, GAIN™ and LEADlight. According to Luke, this is equipping the firm with the tools, understanding and confidence to achieve their ambitions.

“My diploma project at the end of GOLD™ explored what might be the right culture for MF Freeman to deliver high performance,” Luke explains. “Its developed its own momentum since, looking closely at employee engagement and understanding how our staff add value to the business.

“Communication across the company has improved. People are more aware of our long-term vision, which makes it a more enjoyable, satisfying place to work. I think everyone’s more respectful of each other and more accountable for their own decisions. We’re proud to be a family business, so rather than becoming more ‘corporate’ as we grow, we want to maintain that family feel. We’d like everyone to treat the business as if it is their own, and so we empower them to make decisions themselves.”

Back in 2014, when the team took to the stage at the Centaur to collect their trophy, they were mid-way through a five-year strategic plan to increase the turnover of the company from £10m to £25m, with a healthy profit target. They achieved that a year early, in 2016, and set themselves a new challenge, to reach £50m turnover.

In 2018, Luke was one of the first to achieve an MBA (Leading Business) through our unique work based learning master’s degree, delivered in partnership with the University of Gloucestershire. This has inspired further innovation throughout the business, as they explore what it means to grow through ‘responsible leadership’.

“The question of what our business should be doing to act responsibly is challenging, particularly for the housebuilding sector,” says Luke. “I believe there is a real sense of urgency to move towards a sustainable way of doing business in light of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement.

“I believe it should be possible to be a ‘force for good’. It’s an evolution from the values we developed with the team a couple of years ago, encapsulated by our mission ‘building for a better future’.”

The next LEAD™ programme begins in November 2019, when we’ll be bringing together another small group of MDs, owner-managers, directors, senior managers and partners to explore their leadership and grow their companies, as Luke has done.

To see videos from like-minded leaders and discover whether LEAD™ might help you with your leadership development, visit us here.


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