InBiz founder’s classic journey from zero to hero
UNEMPLOYED, no income and no entrepreneurial flair: Terry Owens’ ideal recipe for a new start-up venture. JEZ DAVISON catches up with him
Business philosophy: What goes around comes around. Treat people with respect.
My other car: A Mark 6 Bentley - same age as me but wearing a bit better!
Strengths: Taking risks. I’m also a good manager because I respect people and inspire loyalty.
Limitations: Not taking enough risks!
Downtime: Listening to pre-Seventies music and checking out classic cars.
Greatest gripe: Government’s continual focus on fast-growth, hi-tech firms. These firms wouldn’t exist without start-ups.
HE could have been the next Elton John.
In the 1960s, Teesside pubs and clubs reverberated to the sound of Terry Owens’ piano and he’s been living the rock and roll dream ever since.
Although the Wingate-born wannabe couldn’t emulate the Rocket Man, Terry’s talent for helping fledgling companies has struck a chord with entrepreneurs and politicians across the country.
After creating business advice firm Inbiz in June 1990, the 60-year-old has helped more than 22,000 start-ups. Only 10% have failed while 80% have still been trading after three years.
The organisation – a business enterprise, social regenerator and philanthropic motivator all rolled into one – has just passed its 18th birthday. But Terry believes the principles behind it haven’t changed. And he remains keen to explode a few myths surrounding start-ups.
He said: “Cash, confidence and credibility: the three Cs still hold today. People think they can’t start a business without money or entrepreneurial talent. It’s a fallacy. More often than not, people just need an injection of confidence and some training - then they’re flying.”
He’s also champing at the bit to explain why one-man bands and businesses with one or two staff are the heartbeat of the national economy. “They make up 95% of the UK’s lifestyle businesses. We should never take our eyes off start-ups.
“Maybe five or six out of every 100 ventures will become significant growth businesses. But how did they start out?”
Terry’s ability to base rational arguments on sound empirical evidence has convinced many doubters - senior Cabinet ministers included - of the value of business start-ups, many of which grew from the ideas of former regulars in the dole queue. For Terry, the non-working population represented not failure, but Britain’s future.
When he established InBiz with the help of a £50,000 injection from Middlesbrough Council, Britain – and Teesside - was tunnelling through the dark days of recession. The decline of major industry in the 1980s had sparked a rise in unemployment and the organisation’s sole aim was to get people back into work.
The funding had been secured on the basis that 50 people would be eased back into self-employment within two years. Terry and business partner Trevor Adams achieved it “by the skin of our teeth”.
But the model had worked. In the mid-1990s it was extended throughout Teesside and beyond and soon began to prick the conscience of Government ministers. Terry recalled: “Michael Meacher, the former Labour Shadow Chancellor for Work and Pensions, asked me to help him draft a paper on micro-businesses. When I later saw a leaked version of New Labour’s manifesto, I realised I’d written part of it!”
An unassuming character, Terry’s influence behind the walls of Westminster has been immense. Inbiz was showcased as the model for the Government’s New Deal Self-Employment programme. Introduced in 1998, it became the largest national provider of self-employment support in the UK.
In recent years, Terry has taken a back seat at Inbiz to concentrate on other interests, including his commercial and residential property portfolio and ideas for a new eco-friendly building firm which uses recycled materials. He also offers business advice to Redcar-based Argot Accountants and, with wife Gill, has established G & T Developments, a start-up support consultancy that lobbies Government.
While Terry freely admits he’s missed the boat to fame and fortune in the music business, he has maintained a commercial interest by helping his son David establish internet record label Big F Music.
While his passion for music still chimes clear, his other love - cars - dominated the formative years of his career after he “blew it” at school.
He left academia behind at 15 to become a car mechanic at Fred Dinsdales, in Stockton, before honing his sales patter at motor retailer Cowies. A quick learner, he went on to manage a main dealership and a car auction at the tender age of 23.
A year later, with a wife and two kids, he chose to go self-employed and started selling cars from home before establishing The Used Car Centre at Thornaby. He also launched Dryden Insurance Brokers before selling up to a major plc in 1985.
A few years later he also cashed in on his vehicle retail business. Now, with the hard sell behind him, he’s indulging a long-standing interest in classic cars. His latest toy, a sleek, black Bentley, is parked up outside his leafy Yarm headquarters. Its pristine appearance and low mileage belie its 60-year existence and suggest it’s had an easy ride. In contrast, Terry’s classic journey from school zero to business hero has been anything but.