We welcome Graham Miller, Chairman of Sutton Harbour, to our regular series of interviews with leading figures in the South West business community.
Hello Graham, tell us about Sutton Harbour and your role as Chairman:
Sutton Harbour Holdings PLC operates the historic marina, fisheries and commercial property in Plymouth. Our business is a blend of property development, commercial and leisure activities and marine regeneration. The business has undergone a major transition phase in recent years and is well positioned for the future.
My main responsibilities as Chairman are to be custodian of shareholder value, to provide leadership to the Board and to be a sounding board for the senior management team to discuss major issues. I speak to the CEO and FD every week to discuss trading and brainstorm ideas. I keep in touch with the other Non-Executive Directors on a regular informal basis as well as the formal board meetings. Sutton Harbour also has to communicate with a wide variety of external stakeholders, such as customers, shareholders, professional advisors, banks and local Government.
How has the economic recession impacted your business?
Leisure spend has been under a lot of pressure which has affected our retail and marina operations. The regional commercial property market has also been flat but there are encouraging signs of recovering demand.
What challenges are you facing over the next 12 months?
We have a stable, profitable core business but we are actively looking for ways to reduce borrowings, although we have a very supportive bank. We would like to re-establish a dividend stream for shareholders and debt reduction is a necessary step towards this goal. We also need to be realistic on the strength of the economic recovery; it is going to be slow and we can’t expect sudden uplifts in property values and trading.
What is your view on the South West business scene?
I came to the South West from Scotland for a career move 16 years ago. I think the South West is a great place to live and work. It has a number of great assets, such as a diverse economic base, a well educated talent pool and good transport links. Coming from a City background, I also think the South West is a great region for start-up and SME fundraising, with well organised high net worth investor networks as well as traditional forms of finance.
Do you have any Non-Executive Directorships? If so, what have you learned from the experience?
I have Non-Executive roles on 5 different businesses, and an advisory role with Finance Wales. Each business has very different challenges and opportunities and it is important to adapt your style and level of input to the needs of each company. Above all you should always be searching for ways to add value and bring the benefit of your experience to the table.
Do you have any advice that you’d pass on to a newly appointed company director?
Never be scared to ask questions and throw in ideas. Confident executive teams welcome constructive challenge but you need to find a balance between empathy and challenge. Support your fellow Directors but don’t be afraid to say if you think an action is not in the best interests of the business. Always remember the business is a living breathing entity and every decision should be taken with that in mind.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I have a wife and two children whom I love spending time with. I also play piano in a rock and roll band when time permits. I play the occasional round of golf, but my son is far better than me!
Who is your hero/personal inspiration?
My late father Eddie Miller is my great inspiration. He was Director of Education for Strathclyde Region. He grew up in poverty in the East End of Glasgow and dedicated his life to creating opportunities for deprived children to improve their lives through education. My wife and I are establishing a charitable trust for his old school in Glasgow at the moment.
What is on your I-Pod and what are you reading right now?
Music causes arguments between me and my children! My daughter loves Jessie J and I’m a fan of The Rolling Stones and The Killers. I’m currently reading Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography along with Roy Jenkins’ biography of Churchill.
What has been your experience of working with our company?
Moon have a very flexible and entrepreneurial style. They take time to understand a business and identify their main issues. They screen their candidates at a first interview before sending them to the client, which increases the chances of a close fit between client and candidate. Moon Consulting also have a large network and support the business community with joint projects such as the NED Network with TLT Solicitors.