Q&A with Neil Crowther
Neil Crowther founded Ardent in 1993 with a clear vision in mind – to give customers complete peace of mind knowing that their people and vehicles are in safe hands. Here, Neil discusses how Ardent became the company it is today, his view of the vehicle fire protection market and what drives him personally.
How would you sum up the purpose of Ardent?
Our mantra is ‘Do the right thing’, because we’re all about protecting people and saving lives. If we put that at the centre of every decision we make, we can’t go wrong.
How does this purpose manifest itself in the organisation and what you offer?
It means we only specify systems we know will work in every instance, without exception. We don’t under specify even if it means losing out on a job. And we only offer the best FM approved products on the market because they’re guaranteed to do what they promise.
We’ve walked away from jobs where clients have tried to push a lower specification that isn’t right. We’ve also turned down offers from system manufacturers who don’t have the right approvals. It might mean less profit in the short term but we know it makes long term sense. We’re in the business of saving lives, not just selling fire suppression systems.
What changes have you seen in the industry?
Opportunist businesses spring up so there’s a lot more competition. I try to have a ‘bring it on’ attitude as it keeps us on our toes. I need to be very aware of what the competition is doing as it drives us to keep getting better and keep invigorating ourselves.
What changes would you like to see in the industry?
It amazes me why there aren’t better standards and regulations. As an engineer, I worry about some of the products on the market and the claims being made, when it comes to protecting lives. Regulations need to improve.
What drives you personally in business?
Although what we offer is very serious, I do really enjoy the game of business. It’s like chess – constantly trying to work out the best strategy, to move into the right space, to come up with our edge and to keep asking, ‘How can we be better’? For me our ‘Do the right thing’ mantra makes it easy and it means we have an authentic point of difference.
What gives you a sense of satisfaction at Ardent?
It’s having people happy in their work. I want people to come here and enjoy what they do. That means I need to listen to the team. Sometimes it means having difficult conversations if people aren’t happy and are not in the right role.
What do you consider important when recruiting new people?
Attitude is number one. Of course ability is important but if someone has the right attitude I think you can teach them pretty much anything. They’ve got to fit in with our culture. When we assess people it’s not just on their effectiveness but their values. We might ask ‘Can you demonstrate how you’ve recently made a customer’s life easier?’ for example.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt?
It’s to be yourself and enjoy yourself. Then it’s easy to be consistent. I don’t think it’s fair to be a Jekyll and Hyde when running a business. We spent a lot of time working on our values at Ardent and they’re very much what I’m naturally about and so they feel good.
What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur?
Work for someone else initially and soak up as much as possible. Then know your strengths and find two or three really good people who can fill in the gaps.
What energises you?
When I’m learning something new and it can be anything, and stepping outside my comfort zone.
And finally, when are you at your happiest?
When I’m doing whatever I want to do in that moment. It might be in the business but I’m also very comfortable on my own and do feel I need solitary time. It’s nice to step away so I can see the bigger picture.