ENTREPRENEUR Eddie Black should be running on empty after a year of leading non-stop expansion of his Eco business.
Yet after steering his 70-strong team through the unchartered territory of a coronavirus pandemic he’s as energised as ever.
In the last 12 months Eddie has built a brand new state-of-the-art HQ for his Eco business (set to open later this year), launched a new industrial solutions business, acquired an IT business, launched a range of innovative solutions and new products, purchased a garden room brand, and recruited several new staff.
It’s all been achieved without winning any government or public sector contracts - just through sheer hard work and a determination not to allow the pandemic to sink all he had strived so hard, and so long, to achieve.
Eddie is clear that it’s his previous career as a fishing boat skipper which is behind his survival instincts and agile business decision-making.
He’s not alone. James Watt, CEO and Co-Founder of BrewDog, recently said that his time as the captain of a fishing boat on the North Atlantic, taught him so much about people, leadership, teamwork and adversity.
For Eddie, like for James, survival is always the first step to business success. Quick and decisive leadership are also key.
Eddie, who skippered boats out of Cornwall, Aberdeen and Peterhead, said: “You faced difficult life and death decisions when you were out at sea.
“The longer you waited to make a decision the more dangerous the situation got.
“It taught me to make those decisions quickly and not to put them off.
“In business once you have taken everything into consideration and made your decision, if you don’t go for it, and back yourself and give it everything you have got, then someone else will, and you will have missed your opportunity.”
And, after a rare moment to pause and reflect on a busy 12 months, Eddie adds another vital component for successful business growth:
“A lack of fear.
“For me no business decision now is ever as hard as it was when I was out at sea.
“If you have a problem out at sea, like an engine failure in the middle of a storm, that’s when you were really worried.
“Your decisions at that moment are a matter of life and death, not just for you, but also for all of your crew.
“The sea is the big unknown. Take that out of the equation and you see things clearer.
“Don’t get me wrong, I have had tough decisions to take in business. Things haven’t always gone well. I have made mistakes. But I’ve always had that ability to learn from them, to get back up and to carry on.
“I’ve always had that belief to go for it. And I put that lack of fear down to my time at sea.”
Eddie’s approach has led to a strategy of diversification for his business which started out more than ten years ago as Eco-Genics Ltd specialising in blast cleaning with Dry Ice and now growing into the Eco group of companies providing solutions to a wide range of industry challenges.
“In the early days of the company we were taking phone calls at 2am from the bigger clients asking if we knew anyone who could help them with a problem.
“We were often able to put them in touch with people who could help.
“After a while we thought we might as well service that need ourselves.
“We now offer bespoke solutions for some major international companies, including sanitisation products for factories which have operated 24/7 throughout the pandemic, one of them supplying materials for visors for key workers in the NHS.”
The right people, in business, like at sea, are vital. Eddie knows he and his Eco business are only as good as his crew.
And he has built an impressive team across Eco’s divisions who are all rowing in the same direction to achieve their shared goals.
Eddie said: “What the pandemic has highlighted is that at Eco we have really great people who have a brilliant attitude and want to give back to the business and to the community.
“Everyone has done everything humanly possible to make a positive difference. It shows what you can achieve if you pull together as a team.
“We have fought to get where we are, to get into this strong position. There’s no luck involved in it. It’s down to everyone’s hard work.
“It has created a lot of trust between the team and a lot of trust in the business.”
It was this can-do attitude from the team which saw Eco respond to the nation’s PPE crisis last year by supplying one million items of PPE to care homes across the UK within seven days.
Ghyll House Upholstery, part of Eddie’s other interests, has been busy supporting surgeries, hospitals and other essential businesses from its base in Cumbria by fitting easy-clean materials to help the fight against coronavirus.
Eco has also donated sanitiser to care homes, 250 visors to a local hospice, and equipment to schoolchildren to help them during the pandemic.
“The pandemic has highlighted even more why it’s so important not to just talk about doing something, but to implement it,” said Eddie.
Later this year Eddie will unveil a brand new state-of-the-art Eco headquarters at Annan in south-west Scotland largely planned, designed and built by his own team.
Eddie has recently set up a new company Eco Axess with fellow entrepreneur Lancashire-based businessman Darren Cardwell.
Eco Axess recently acquired garden room brand YouKube and the duo are designing and manufacturing eco-friendly, sustainable, long-lasting, bespoke garden rooms, an ideal solution for those looking for extra space for their home.
Recent expansion also includes the acquisition of Carlisle-based technology business Integrity IT Solutions. It’s an ideal fit for Eco Comms, an independent telecoms provider and IT consultancy offering tailored telecom and IT solutions.
Through what in many ways has been a defining year for his business and his team, Eddie is grateful for the support of his family.
Wife Nicola, daughters Ebony, Estelle and Elkie and son Ethan are all a major motivation to Eddie, with many working in the family business.
“Close family drive me on. They trust me, and they have stood by me when times have been tough,” said Eddie.
Looking back to when he left school at 16 with no qualifications Eddie knows what it’s like to have nothing.
Football might have offered opportunities. As a teenager he was a talented midfielder with Annan Athletic and Carlisle United youth teams.
But at 16, Eddie chose to go to sea on the fishing boats.
“It was a tough environment. As a 16-year-old, you had to grow up quick.”
Little did he know then, it would be the making of him.