Simone went into business with her brother Arthur and his university friend Alastair in 1991. Previously, Simone and Arthur’s father ran a thriving stationery and office equipment group, but sadly, just as it was gearing up for growth, the recession of the late 80s hit.
The company was put into receivership in 1991, so Simone, Arthur and Alastair stepped up to the challenge and relaunched as Commercial. At that time, they focused exclusively on business-to-business stationery, copiers and office furniture, starting life in a one-room, one-phone office.
Arthur had already been working in his father’s business, but Simone had to make some sacrifices. She’d been competing as an international swimmer since the age of 15, winning two gold medals in the World Student Games and another for the UK at the 1986 Commonwealth Games. After the Commonwealth Games, she embarked on a career in fashion but this had to be cut short when she was asked to join Commercial full time. The personal strength and tenacity she’d developed in her sport ultimately played a fundamental role in the company’s future success.
Fast forward 27 years to 2018, and the business now employs almost 300 people across three locations and offers a broad portfolio including IT services, managed print services, print, workwear, interiors and technology as well as office supplies. The three founders are still at the helm, and their personal characteristics are very much evident in the business.
Simone was responsible for steering the business ethos towards a more sustainable stance following her ‘Al Gore moment’ in 2006. After attending one of his An Inconvenient Truth lectures with longstanding client Sky, she arranged company-wide viewings of the documentary version and persuaded the Board that ‘sustainability and profitability had to go hand-in-hand’.
It was a critical turning point. Since those early days of C02 reduction, Commercial has made the transition to a leading light of sustainable business in the UK. This was firmly underlined in 2018 when the business won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development.
Today, environmental aspects of sustainability are still at the forefront of Commercial’s agenda. It’s currently in the early stages of an ambitious programme to eradicate single-use plastic from the supply chain, and it continues to take part in ground-breaking trials of low-emission delivery vehicles. But social sustainability takes an equal footing. In 2015, the business founded a social enterprise, Commercial Foundation, to help disadvantaged young people develop personal resilience and practical workplace skills via its NoLimits programme.
Commercial Foundation is close to becoming self-sufficient, thanks to the success of its print offering, We Do. Print where the young people benefit from life-changing work experience opportunities. Recently, the Commercial Foundation model has evolved again offering young people the chance to develop valuable technology skills. They work with IT Schools Africa to overhaul and upgrade computer equipment that Commercial IT Services’ clients no longer require after systems upgrades. The computers are then shipped to Africa where they enrich the learning opportunities of schoolchildren.
Simone recently took on the new role of Managing Director at Commercial, to focus her efforts as the business heads towards its £100m milestone target. Her achievements are testament to the fact that when strong values and strong business sense work in unison, the results can be transformational.