TalkTalk, musicMagpie and the Issa brothers: Some of the best exclusive interviews with top North West business leaders in 2021

Over the last year BusinessLive has partnered with the Manchester Evening News to interview some of the biggest names in the city’s business world.

Chief executives and founders of household names such as TalkTalk, musicMagpie and EG Group have sat down with us during 2021 to lift the lid on a whole range of issues.

Some of the most exciting start-ups in Manchester have also been featured as well as prominent figures helping to attract investment to the city.

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The articles have been appearing on BusinessLive every week as well as in the MEN’s Sunday print edition.

The interview series is due to get back underway in the New Year.

For now, we recap some of our favourite interviews from the last 12 months:

TalkTalk Tristia Harrison, TalkTalk CEO

The chief executive of TalkTalk, Tristia Harrison, spoke to BusinessLive shortly after the Salford-headquartered company delisted from the London Stock Exchange.

It was a major moment for the business as it returned to private ownership.

Speaking in May, the CEO said there was an “energy and vibrancy” around the company following the move which set the telecoms giant up for an “exciting future”.

She also talked up the importance of Salford as its national headquarters, creating new jobs, so called ‘Fibrehoods’ and whether the industry was set for a gold rush – if customer service is still focused on.

You can read the full story here.

musicMagpie Steve Oliver, CEO of MusicMagpie

For most businesses, closing all of its stores and making more than 200 redundancies would be a sign of irreversible decline and systemic problems at the heart of the organisation.

However, Greater Manchester’s musicMagpie defied convention in 2018, which its chief executive and co-founder has branded the “most emotionally difficult but easiest commercial decision” he has ever had to make, and completed a float on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market and is worth more than £200m.

Steve Oliver, who set up the Stockport firm with Walter Gleeson, spoke to BusinessLive about the company’s journey from closing its stores, focusing on sustainability, the reasons for going public and how that happened through to his plans for the future and adding hundreds of jobs over the next three years.

You can read the full story here.

The Issa brothers Zuber and Mohsin Issa

The billionaire Issa brothers are famous for letting their business do the talking.

Mohsin and Zubar very rarely speak out in public about their activities or plans for the future outside of the quarterly financial updates issued by their EG Group.

Rising to public prominence when their near £7bn deal to buy Asda, in partnership with TDR Capital, was announced in 2020, the brothers are now among the most well know business leaders in the North West.

However, BusinessLive secured an exclusive interview with representatives for the group and the brothers covering topics including the formation of EG Group, the Asda acquisition and the possibility of an float on the London Stock Exchange.

You can read the full story here.

BOL Paul Brown, founder and CEO of BOL

From rubbing shoulders with the likes of an England Rugby World Cup winner as a teenager, trials at Manchester City and becoming a professional snowboarder in California through to convincing the founders of Innocent Smoothies to let him sell their products from the back of a cow-themed van, Paul Brown had quite the journey to becoming the founder of plant-based food giant BOL.

Born and bred in Manchester, Mr Brown took the plunge in 2015 and struck out on his own, with the help of a few notable high-end worth backers, and has now set his sights on growing the company’s revenue to £50m in the next three years.

Speaking exclusively to BusinessLive, the 41-year-old reveals how he bounced back from failing to make it as a professional sportsman and being unable to start his own business, joining Innocent Drinks as it was just starting out and what the future holds for BOL in a post-pandemic world.

You can read the full story here.

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Social Chain Katy Leeson, managing director of Social Chain

Speaking to BusinessLive in October, the managing director of one of Manchester’s fastest-growing companies opened up about her battle to accept herself in the role, the influence its two high-profile founders had on the business as well as the importance of speaking out about mental health issues.

Katy Leeson first joined digital media agency Social Chain five years ago as an operations director but was quickly promoted to MD a matter of months later at the age of 32.

When she started the firm, which was established by new Dragons’ Den star Steven Bartlett and Dominic McGregor, had 30 employees and a turnover of about €2m.

Since then the UK business has grown to about 160 employees and is aiming for a revenue of c.€15m this year.

You can read the full story here.

Co-op Live A CGI of the planned arena bowl at Co-op Live

In September, the man in charge of building the new £350m Co-op Live arena in the shadow of Manchester City’s Etihad stadium opened up for the first time about how “critical” it was for his firm to win the project, the impact Covid and Brexit has had – as well as the importance of attracting more women and ‘blue collar’ apprentices into the industry.

Ian Fleming is the North West regional director of BAM Construct UK and the point man for the arena which is currently still on target to be completed in December 2023.

Construction is currently underway and when complete, the 23,500-seater venue will feature a bowl design, “cutting edge” visual technology as well as 32 bars, lounges, restaurants, suites and club spaces.

Co-op Live is intended to host everything from live music to sports events, comedy gigs to award shows and family entertainment. It was also recently announced that the site would create an additional 1,000 jobs once fully operational.

You can read the full story here.

Didsbury Gin Didsbury Gin’s British Bramble

A rapidly-expanding Manchester gin brand revealed to BusinessLive in June about how it had set its sights on challenging the likes of Hendricks and Gordons, with its founders targeting a “significant external investment” within the next year.

Established by Liam Manton and Mark Smallwood, the first batch of Didsbury Gin was produced in Liam’s front room before the pair appeared on BBC’s Dragons’ Den in 2018.

After securing a five-figure investment, Liam and Mark continued to grow the brand and are on the verge of making a raft of new appointments to the board and are in talks with a range of potential financial backers.

In an exclusive interview with BusinessLive, Liam revealed the pair’s slightly unorthodox preparations before appearing on the hit BBC show, how a single tweet inspired them to make a major contribution to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and – where the brand’s future growth lies.

You can read the full story here.

Ultimate Products Ultimate Products’ CEO and co-founder Simon Showman and MD Andrew Gossage (Image: Harry Page Images)

Andrew Gossage’s plan was never to stay at Ultimate Products for more than two to three years.

When he joined as finance director in 2005, he could never have imagined still being there 16 years later and the impact the business would have on him.

Now managing director, Mr Gossage’s story winds from becoming a parent at 17, heading off to the University of Cambridge, training at accountancy giant Arthur Andersen before joining what was then called Mersey TV and then moving on to the Oldham-based firm.

In an exclusive interview with BusinessLive, Mr Gossage lifted the lid on his road to success, how Ultimate Products has been transformed over the last decade and a half and its community-centric response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

You can read the full story here.

GC Angels Picture by Jon Super for UNP GC Angels Immersive Education investment Manchester, 10th Jan, 2020. Picture shows Ruben Wood, Max Boardman, Chloe Barrett, Jessica Jackson, Julia Meola and Oliver Boardman.

Focusing on budding start-ups, attracting international partners and tackling gender inequality should be prioritised in Greater Manchester’s investment sector, one of the industry’s leading lights told BusinessLive in September.

As head of investment at GC Angels, Jess Jackson helps lead an organisation which has raised more than £30m and supported in excess of 30 companies since 2015.

She is also a founding member of Fund Her North which was established in November 2020 and supports investment opportunities for female entrepreneurs across the North of England.

In an exclusive interview with BusinessLive, Jess Jackson set out what state the sector is in following the Covid-19 pandemic, how important investment angels are to start-ups, the future of investment in Greater Manchester as well as how to improve the representation of women in organisations.

You can read the full story here.

GCA Altium Phil Adams, CEO of GCA Altium (Image: Paul Adams)

The North West has been the backdrop for some of the largest UK deals in recent times involving industry giants such as THG, Victorian Plumbing and UKFast.

Those mergers, acquisitions and stock market floats have helped turbocharge the region’s economic growth in years gone by and are now assisting in its recovery from a turbulent 18 months.

But behind every deal lies advisory firms hired to represent their clients and get the best possible deal, with the added incentive of being paid the majority of their fee only if a transaction is completed.

So what exactly is the role of an advisory firm and how do their actions help drive economic growth in Greater Manchester and beyond?

In an exclusive interview with BusinessLive the chief executive of Manchester-headquartered GCA Altium, Phil Adams, explained.

You can read the full story here.

Bill Holroyd Bill Holroyd

After countless investments in a huge range of fledgling companies and enterprises and millions of pounds put on the line, businessman and philanthropist Bill Holroyd knows a few things about what makes a good deal.

The 68-year-old titan from Cheshire set up his own foodservice distribution company, Holroyd Meek, in 1982 and grew it to a £200m-turnover business in 12 years before it was bought by Booker.

It was at that point that Mr Holroyd turned his full attention to investing, and after being one of the original three backers of Bolton-headquartered white good giant AO, he has gone on to support numerous business across the country.

Mr Holroyd spoke exclusively to BusinessLive about his career to date, what makes a good investment, his less-than-positive thoughts on Dragon’s Den and what the future has in store.

You can read the full story here.

On The Beach Simon Cooper, founder and CEO of On The Beach (Image: Carl Sukonik | The Vain Photography)

Like so many listed businesses at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, On The Beach’s share price plummeted.

Falling to a low of down 75% after the reality of the situation first hit the UK’s business community, its share price has been on a bumpy ride ever since.

It had actually recovered to its pre-pandemic level in May last year before founder and chief executive Simon Cooper made the “very difficult decision” to stop selling summer holidays temporarily because of the continued Covid-19 concerns around international travel.

But Mr Cooper, who established the firm as a sister to its parent company Thompson in 2004, has a plan to not only return the Manchester-headquartered business’s finances to their former glory, but also to expand and grow like it never has before.

In an exclusive interview with BusinessLive, Mr Cooper has revealed his ideas for the future including doubling the firm’s headcount to about 1,000 over the next three to five years, weighing up a string of acquisitions and growing its international reach.

You can read the full story here.

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