Feng Shui, Well-being and Horse sense. Dawn’s Recipe for Business Success

June 7, 2008

Dawn Gibbins is an inspirational and pioneering business leader. Will her unusual philosophy for business success help change our ideas of leadership development?

Some years ago, a coach-load of business executives leave the lecture rooms of Manchester Business school and head for the Staffordshire home and riding stables of Dawn Gibbins. They are about to take part in one of Dawn’s experiments in personal development and business leadership. The Media has got wind of the story, and proceedings receive international coverage via Sky News and BBC TV and radio broadcasts.

The demonstration is being conducted by Kelly Marks, another charismatic and pioneering leader, who will be encouraging the executives to consider the implications for business of the way they communicate with horses.

Whether deliberately or otherwise, the media had formed a view that business bosses were going to tame wild stallions.

Dawn’s style attracts press coverage

To say that the Media had got wind of the event makes it sound too unplanned.

As someone who had become involved from the Business School, I suspected that our attempts to interest the press had gained extra impetus from somewhere. Dawn’s efforts, coupled with the added cachet through the presence of Kelly Marks. Once she had learned that we were looking for somewhere for the event, she had agreed to help, and had then done so with customary enthusiasm and commitment.

The Flowcrete story

Dawn’s business success makes an interesting and well-documented story of charismatic and service-oriented leadership.

Flowcrete, which has its headquarters in Sandbach, Cheshire, UK, was founded in 1982 by father and daughter team of Peter Gibbins, and his daughter Dawn Gibbins, MBE, Flowcrete’s current Chairman. Today, [May 2008] Flowcrete is a multi-million pound international business, with 30 offices and 12 manufacturing plants across the globe employing 350 people with sales of more than £44 million in 2007.

The Story behind the Story

There is a story behind the story. The infant company suffered a tragedy when Peter died perhaps from exposure to industrial chemicals Dawn vowed to build a company based on risk-free technical processes. Her vision was to be important in creating Flowcrete’s international reputation as an innovative and ethical outfit.

Dawn was always well-aware that her marketing skills were insufficient to create a new business. Like most successful entrepreneurs she searched widely, and chose her management team people wisely …including Mark Greaves who became an invaluable business partner, and eventually her husband.

According to the business textbooks, she was demonstrating the virtues of distributed leadership.

Portrait of a charismatic leader

Dawn offers a particularly interesting portrait of a charismatic leader. Her public persona is captured in press reports which emphasise her high-impact high-voltage performances. Her appeal in front of the press cameras undoubtedly contributed to marketability, as evidenced by such awards as the Veuve Clicquot businesswoman of the year in 2002. Other awards recognise tangible achievements to industry and her charity work.

Her own descriptions suggest she is comfortable in the role of a corporate free spirit, requiring the settling influences of husband Mark Greaves. In terms of one of her enthusiasms, Mark exercises the calming influence and horse sense without which Dawn might go charging around rather too impulsively.

Her promotional talents bring to mind great the great business show-biz promoters. Edison and Coco Chanel a century ago, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey today.

The try it out approach

Little wonder that the executives to the Kelly Marks demonstration found the experience so rewarding. The insights from Kelly on influence and communication in the riding stables, were topped off with an impromptu seminar with Dawn which ranged from topics as diverse as business leadership, trust-free horse management, water divining, and the ancient art of Feng Shui.

What’s unique, what’s important?

Dawn is on the far-side of some psychometric scales. She is about as extraverted as a Madonna or a Richard Branson. This contributes to her media appeal, but from time to time, the more emollient approach of husband Mark is needed so as “not to frighten the horses” (or bank managers, or business clients).

Dawn’s corporate approach appears to have been driven by personal experiences. Her father’s death resulted from his exposure to hazardous industrial processes, and left her with a belief that prevailing coating technology must be replaced with more benign processes and materials. The belief translated into a powerful vision which guided Flowcrete’s subsequent innovations and success.

Flowcrete becomes part of RPM

In 2008, Flowcrete became part of a multinational American organization RPM, although retaining its current management team, with Mark Greaves continuing as group managing director.

Dawn was quoted as saying

“Flowcrete has been a central part of my life for 25 years but I am glad it is being transferred into the ownership of such an entrepreneurial company as RPM, under a deal that gives the company a platform for growth, stability and success.”

For whatever reason, one of England’s more colourful entrepreneurs is now moving into a new phase in her life. It is unlikely to be one without plenty of surprises and business creativity.

A presentation of Dawn Gibbins: Going with the Flow

The following was prepared for MBA leadership studies, and for Dawn Gibbins’ 50th Birthday Celebrations, June 14th, 2008. Acknowledgements to our ‘moles’ at Flowcrete for some of the most personal images.