June update – June 2019


What did you miss?

Simon Lawson, Chairman of a large building supply business explained how his business had grown to its current size of £100m by staying true to its basic Quaker principles.

‘Can the employee and employer serve each other for the greater good – while still being a profitable business?’ asked Simon Lawson in his Masters dissertation. And at Lawsons, a family business that supplies building materials to the London area, Simon has achieved that.

Simon Lawson has always had an interest in creating compassionate business models and researched this and the benefit to business through his Masters in 2010. “I focused on a 15,000-word dissertation on love at work – ‘what would that look like?’ That took me a whole year to do and it was great fun. I looked at Quakerism, the Rowntree story and Cadbury’s. They were, in the 1850s, really revolutionary in introducing great work practices. They got doctors into the workplace when there were no doctors, they had libraries to teach people how to read, and they built a sense of community, which I think is so important,” Simon explains.

Looking after their people in this way has really helped the company to grow over the years. “We’re quite a fast-growing business within the sector. In 1993 we had two depots and 50 staff and now we have 17 depots and 450 staff,” says Simon. The company has a staff turnover of just 13% – compared to their competitors’ average of 30% and the retail average of 45%. In the Lawsons staff survey, in which 72% of their staff took part, 90% said that they are proud to work for them and 85% said that they trust the company – much higher than the competitor average of 20% and 52% respectively.

As part of this, Simon hosts regular Values Lunches, where he serves lunch to 20 members of staff from across the country. The discussions at these lunches have led to the creation of the Lawsons company values and has developed the staff benefits, such as a bike to work scheme, a 24/7 telephone counselling service and death in service compensation for families.

The Values Lunches also give everyone in the company a voice – a chance to raise and resolve issues with Simon directly. This has been a key part of Simon’s leadership and enabled him to ‘check his power’ and find out what people really think. “I’m very aware, when I go around organisations, that people tell you what you want to hear. The trick of leadership is how do you break that barrier down? How do you really get to the truth of what someone is saying?”

What is perhaps most remarkable is that Simon has only had to intervene in two Board decisions in the last 10 years. “Dissolving my power within the organisation was very important, because I didn’t want it to be led by me, I wanted it to be led by everyone, so I became much, more consultative in my role, rather than actually giving direction. I think I’ve only made two decisions in the last ten years, the rest of it has just been an evolving collective movement. Listening more and dissolving my ideas was key.”

Our next session is on the 17th July when we have our 20th Anniversary BBQ and Summer Networking Drinks on the terrace of the National Liberal Club, 1 Whitehall Place, Westminster, London SW1A 2HE. As well as being a great networking event on the terrace, we have a special commemorative gift for members who attend and we hope to see you there.

Calum Byers
Chair, XTEND