Recognising individual vision

THE Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business Person of the Year will be someone whose company has won awards in the past. The award, which is sponsored by local solicitors Leeds Day, will be for the judges choice between Ian Pask, regional manager of the Marr

THE Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business Person of the Year will be someone whose company has won awards in the past.

The award, which is sponsored by local solicitors Leeds Day, will be for the judges' choice between Ian Pask, regional manager of the Marriott Hotels group, based in Huntingdon, which was 2006's Employer of the Year, Maxine Lester, whose St Ives lettings agency triumphed as 2006's New Business, and Peter Durham, director of TP Golf Management at Hemingford Abbots, which was the overall winner of Business of the Year in 2005.

The competition is open to senior managers, and it is the only category in the Awards for which people can nominate themselves, as two of this year's finalists have done.

The judges will be looking for evidence of how the nominee has managed new ideas or changed old ideas, and for examples of how their innovation and vision has contributed to the company's success.

Ability to deal with crises, team management and strategy for the future will also weigh heavily with the panel.

Ian Pask, who has been nominated by the Marriott's director of operations, Peter Botterill, has overall responsibility for six hotels in the east of England, who says Mr Pask, an eight-year veteran of the group, has been "a key driving force for change" in the business.

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The group's employees are known and treated as "associates", and the Huntingdon group has won recent awards for excellence and e-commerce. One of his boss's true passions is developing the people in the company, his sponsor says.

"Ian believes that the key to keeping great people motivated and focused is to understand their needs and meet them - through training, flexibility or recognition. Testament to this is our record lowest labour turnover of six per cent and last year's Hunts Post Business Award."

Mr Pask was one of those intrepid souls who, two years ago, completed the 350-mile London-Paris bike ride to raise money to complete the Papworth Trust's ground-breaking Saxongate Centre in Huntingdon.

Turnover at Maxine Lester's residential lettings agency has spiralled since she won last year's award, and she too is a supporter of the Papworth Trust to which she gave five per cent of the company's net profits.

"My vision is for the company to be recognised as the leading expert and most competent provider in the residential lettings market," she said.

"To achieve this, I have positioned the company to be recognised as the high- end provider in the market by creating a modern professional office environment that gives confidence to all customers."

She added that she offered free impartial advice to new and existing clients, sometimes against the best short-term interests of the agency. The advice is based in part on her own experience as a residential landlord, and she has extensive previous experience of customer services in a large home entertainment corporation.

She prides herself on her management and development of her small team and has ambitions to be local market leader within five years, including cornering 20 per cent of the market, half of which she hopes to achieve in the coming year.

She also wants to be recognised as an expert in the field through education and mentoring.

Peter Durham and his partner Tessa Needham have made huge personal sacrifices - including living in a caravan - to build up their thriving retail and coaching golf business near the A14 at Hemingford Abbots.

"Our willingness to borrow money, market the local area, select and train the very best staff and work 14-hour days has paid off," he told The Hunts Post.

"If we can provide the person having a lesson with video technology similar to The Belfry, but on his doorstep, or the golfer the same choice as the biggest retail stores but with the service and friendliness of his corner shop, how can we fail?

"What then if we add excellent food in beautiful surroundings, a bar to watch sport between practices, and conference facilities for private parties, his daughter's wedding or a business meeting?"

All these opportunities are part of TP Golf's plan to capitalise on the 84,000 cars that pass its front door every day - he says nothing about the lorries.

Mr Durham, a former golf professional, later worked for the Argos retail chain, becoming manager of the Edinburgh superstore at the age of 26. He later joined American Golf, becoming operations manager and helping to grow the chain from 15 to more than 50 stores.

The Hemingford business was an equally ambitious project, but on a smaller scale. Nonetheless, turnover has risen from £250,000 to £1.6million in four years - in spite of a major potential crisis last May when TP Golf's supplier forgot to input the shop's order ready for the Bank Holiday weekend.

After a bit of tough talking with the warehouse manager and an overnight trip to Huddersfield, the stock was checked, priced and on the sales floor by 10am on the Saturday.

Mr Durham prides himself on his friendly staff, who share a love of golf and are often invited to his home for parties or dinner. Only one employee has left the company in its four years - and that was to take up a place at university.