Prof Simon Gibson, CBE, was the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the South Wales Argus Business Awards. JO BARNES caught up with him to find out more about his career...

Jo Barnes: Your citation for the Lifetime Achievement Award was pretty comprehensive – which bit of your career have you enjoyed the most?

Simon Gibson: Working with talented and motivated people to build successful companies and productive organisations has been the joy of my professional life. It’s all about the team.

As a technology entrepreneur and investor, I can tell you quite categorically that a successful team is the very cornerstone of all the great companies we have created. A great team is more precious than a good idea.

I have always endeavoured to seek out the best people to think with and to work alongside. In my professional world, no-one works for anyone else – we all work with each other. Working in groups does not make a project any easier, but it does make it better.

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JB: What does winning this award mean to you?

SG: I was honoured to be recognised locally.

I have worked in Newport for more than 30 years. In that time, I have sought to serve the city by improving its economic prospects.

After constructing the Celtic Manor Resort in 2000, we were subsequently successful in securing the Ryder Cup, then the NATO World Summit.

Over the last decade, we have focussed our efforts on young people and building a sustainable technology community. Initiatives such as the Alacrity Foundation, the National Software Academy, the Cyber Academy and the proposed National Technology Institute are being recognised as internationally significant and help propel the image of Newport around the globe.

Most importantly, I hope they provide opportunities and prosperity to young people in the city.

JB: You said that you’d been lucky by being in the right place at the right time.

SG: Any success in life is often determined by being in the right place at the right time.

That said, there are places which contribute to success and others that inhibit progress.

In my early career, I worked in the UK, Canada and the USA. In each scenario, I put myself in environments which were hives of activity, innovation and opportunity.

In these settings, I never stopped learning and worked with wonderful people who passed on their expertise. I have heard it said that the harder you work, the luckier you become. There is some truth in that.

Meeting Sir Terry Matthews more than 36 years ago has resulted in a lasting partnership and friendship which over the years has put in some hard yards and produced some significant outcomes.

Some would say Terry has been lucky, but he also happens to work harder than anyone I know.

JB: Tell us a bit about your work with the Newport Economic Network.

SG: If you were to look at the most successful economic regions in the world, you would find they have the highest levels of connectivity between the following stakeholder groups: entrepreneurs, universities, corporates, governments and risk capital.

Underperforming regions demonstrate disconnects with the five stakeholders.

The Newport Economic Network, and ReNewport before it, is a forum made up with representation from the five stakeholders to drive through projects which will ‘move the needle’ for the economy of the city.

The NEN has prioritised two themes in our work. Firstly, the city and Monmouthshire have the potential to steal a lead as a destination for visitors with the advent of the International Convention Centre Wales.

With so many new visitors coming to the region, we need to ensure we capitalise on their presence and provide opportunities to capture their spending potential.

To succeed, we collectively need to ‘Gentrify the City’ through both the environment and in style.

Secondly, the region has a challenge with skills and productivity.

To counter this challenge, the NEN has proposed a National Technology Institute, which will be an innovation in applied learning.

Degree courses will be created in conjunction with employers and taught by a combination of academic staff and industry practitioners.

Degrees are completed in two years with three semesters a year with high levels of industrial sponsorship.

JB: And what about ‘Got An Idea’ ?

SG: The ‘Got An Idea’ consultation platform developed by Culturvate, one of the Alacrity Foundation companies that was designed to capture the collective wisdom of the city following the decision not to build the M4 relief road.

The consultation asked the public what other options were available. The response was splendid. To date, 1,400 people have engaged with the project, and more than 150 suggestions have been posted.

The ideas are being shared with the Burns Commission; the group tasked with finding alternative solutions to the congestion issues around Newport.

The data will help keep the focus of the commission on Newport because after all, that’s where 90 per cent of the problem is located.

A new version of ‘Got An Idea’ will be utilised shortly to improve our understanding of the technological skills deficits in Newport to help employers to shape the National Technology Institute curriculum.

JB: Gordon Merrylees, of NatWest, thinks Newport could follow the lead of Glasgow by becoming a city people are proud to be part of – what did you think?

SG: Absolutely. Glasgow has made great strides in the last 20 years.

It is an example often cited by my colleague Ian Edwards, the CEO of the Celtic Manor Resort and ICC Wales.

The perception of Glasgow as a city was pretty grim when they opened their new exhibition centre and launched a campaign called ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ which morphed into ‘Glasgow Smiles Better’ as the local people became more positive about their home.

Taxi drivers were encouraged to talk up the city as they delivered guests from the airport and train station, and Glasgow has become a vibrant, cosmopolitan city.

Newport has also suffered from negative perceptions and we can be our own worst enemy sometimes in not talking enough about our strengths.

The newly-opened ICC Wales has already held a community open day and invited all the taxi drivers to see the venue so that they can talk positively, not just about the venue but about the city to the new visitors who will be arriving for conferences and events.

First impressions really count and we all need to act as ambassadors for Newport and for Wales.


JB: Why are local business awards like ours a good thing?

SG: Newport has one of the highest rates of new business start-ups in Wales addressing multiple marketplaces.

Many are expanding rapidly through innovation and exports.

Surrounded by two larger cities, it is easy for the positive events and personalities of Newport to be lost in all the noise.

The business awards give visibility to the achievements of our outstanding businesses and demonstrate that many of these companies can also stand out on a national stage.

JB: How do you see ICC Wales changing perceptions of this area?

SG: As mentioned, ICC Wales is something the whole city can be proud of and it’s essential we all work together to maximise the benefits to the area.

The events held there will fill the hotels and bring visitors into the shops, bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. We are also already seeing there is a whole range of opportunities for suppliers of products and produce.

But the opportunity reaches so much further than the immediate impact of events.

Conference delegates are often senior executives within their own companies who may see Newport and Wales for the first time as a result of attending an event at ICC Wales.

If they like what they see, they can be encouraged to bring their own events and business to the region.

Conferences also often look for expert speakers from the destination, so it is a chance to showcase the academic strength and research of our institutes and universities, and our business prowess in industries like online insurance, compound semi-conductors and cybersecurity.

A longer version of this interview can be found in the latest edition of The Business magazine, which also looks at recruitment, employment law, networking and much more.

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