Food for thought at Solent business summit

Levi Roots with Solent Business Growth Summit sponsors at the Hilton Ageas Bowl, from left: Santander Corporate & Commercial Bank Portsmouth Office Team Leader and Relationship Director Andy Wright; law firm Trethowans' Senior Partner and Head of Employment Simon Rhodes; guest speaker Jan Ward,founder of Corrotherm International; property specialists Hughes Ellard's Managing Director Gary Jeffries and accountancy and investment management group Smith & Williamson Partner Andrew Edmonds who specialises in Assurance and Business Services

Flamboyant food entrepreneur and reggae musician Levi Roots gave an audience of Solent business leaders food for thought at an annual growth summit.

“It is all about the brand,” he told an audience of more than 100 at the Solent Business Growth Summit at the Ageas Bowl, near Southampton.

Reggae Reggae Sauce guru Levi, 56, who is currently opening a string of Caribbean Smokehouse ‘rastaraunts’, recounted his journey from cooking his grandmother’s recipe in Jamaica to the well-known food brand loved today.

He said: “Make your brand a part of you – it has to become an extension of who you are. Build your powerful brand and you can sustain growth.

“I wanted my brand to be me, a Brixtonian Rastafarian with three-foot dreadlocks, songs and food – and it has all sprung from there.”

The breakfast event, promoting business growth to decision-makers, senior management and business leaders, was co-sponsored by four companies with a strong operational presence in the city region.

Santander Corporate and Commercial Bank, accountancy and investment management group Smith & Williamson, commercial property consultancy Hughes Ellard and law firm Trethowans co-hosted the summit.

Father-of-eight Levi, who was the last of six siblings to join his immigrant parents in the UK from Jamaica in 1970, related his inspirational story from being an ‘uneducated, bad boy teenager’, to running a pop-up restaurant at the Notting Hill Carnival and then gaining fame and fortune after starring on Dragon’s Den in 2007.

The summit keynote speaker, who even treated the audience to a rendition of his Reggae Reggae Sauce song played on the same guitar he used on the BBC show, said he would always be grateful to Dragon Peter Jones.

“My TV appearance was a disaster; my guitar strings kept breaking and the ‘orders’ for sauce I said I had were proved to be false, but Peter Jones invested in Levi Roots not Reggae Reggae Sauce, that’s my branding – me.”

Jones put in £25,000, matched by fellow dragon Richard Farleigh.  His sauces really took off when Sainsbury’s put in an order for all 607 stores – for 250,000 bottles.

“At the time I was still producing it in the kitchen, making 65 bottles at a time with my kids to my secret recipe so it was a steep learning curve. I could not have become a success without Peter Jones. Mentoring is so important – you can never learn too much.”

Millionaire Levi, real name Keith Valentine Graham, added: “Business is not my forte. I rely on Peter and my team, but he could never be me – he can’t sing.

“You will always need someone who knows more than you. I will never buy Peter out – he is an archetypal businessman. I would not go out on my own, that would be very foolish.”

Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) board member Jan Ward CBE, founder of Corrotherm International Ltd, gave attendees an overview of Solent region trading conditions and stressed the importance of businesses hiring good staff.

Jan, whose Southampton-based Corrotherm International company specialises in the supply of high quality alloys to niche markets worldwide, said there were 50,000 businesses in the Solent region, an area acknowledged as an international gateway

Award-winning Jan, Non-Executive Director at Hampshire Chamber of Commerce and a past President of the Southampton and Fareham Chamber of Commerce, said the region was enjoying a 2.8% growth forecast and employment was up by 3%, but productivity was below both the south east and national average.

“The overall outlook is good, but we are facing stiff national and international competition and we can’t be complacent. The answer for growth is structure, innovation and skills.”

Smith & Williamson Partner who specialises in Assurance and Business services,  Andrew Edmonds said: “It was brilliant to bring together a room full of entrepreneurs and further to be inspired by two ultimately successful business people.”

Trethowans Senior Partner and Head of Employment Simon Rhodes said: “The Solent Business Growth Summit started last year and was an idea coming out of the recession to put some inspiration and motivation back into the Solent economy through the words of inspirational people.”

Hughes Ellard Managing Director Gary Jeffries said: “It has been a fantastic event. Levi Roots has clearly got an inspirational story that he shared with the audience here today.”

Santander Corporate & Commercial Bank Portsmouth Office Team Leader and Relationship Director Andy Wright said: “It is an excellent event with a great audience, the basis of which was our two fantastic speakers who both had incredible journeys to talk about – they have done things in hugely different ways, but the results are very similar.”