MO ASWAT, founder and director of the Mosaic Partnership, a leading UK and International Place Management Consultancy, is the man behind the new proposed Torbay Tourism and Retail Bid.
QWhat is your role with the proposed new Torbay Tourism & Retail BID (TTRB)?
AI will be heading up a team that will be advising on and developing what will be the largest BID (Business Improvement District) in the UK with potential revenue exceeding £1 million per annum for five years, (£5 million). If businesses give it the go ahead in the ballot in 2015, this new revenue will be very welcome to support the tourism and retail sectors, both of which are so important to Torbay.
A BID is a mechanism by which businesses decide what improvements they want to make in their location over and above what the public sector provides. The businesses decide how they want to manage and deliver these services and how much they are prepared to pay. This all goes into a formal and detailed business plan that is then voted on in an independent and confidential ballot. If the majority vote yes then the BID is set up. There are over 180 such BIDs in the UK including Great Yarmouth and Bournemouth and over 1,500 in the US including the major tourist centres of New York and Florida. It is my view that the development of the proposed new TTRB presents a major and exciting new opportunity for Torbay.
QWhat is its main aim of the TTRB?
AThe new TTRB will allow businesses to have more control and be more involved with the marketing and management of Torbay and be a major player in its strategic development. The ultimate aim of the TTRB is to ensure that Torbay attracts more visitors, more spend and more investment so that existing businesses prosper and new ones choose to locate here. The exact projects and activities which the TTRB undertakes to achieve this will be decided by businesses through a major consultation exercise including the online survey circulated recently.
The new TTRB's activities are likely to include activities such as marketing and promotion, improving access and signage but can be anything that businesses choose. For Torbay, The Mosaic Partnership are proposing the development of what we are calling a 'super' BID. This involves tourism and retail working more closely together and the existing three retail BID's and Brixham tourism and retail businesses included as part of the proposed new TTRB. This will allow for revenue opportunities to be maximised to support the promotion of Torbay as a leading UK destination.
QWhat else is the TTRB trying to achieve?
AThe new TTRB is trying to ensure that Torbay's tourism and retail sector are in a position to compete effectively with other destinations through the activities it undertakes. We want to make sure that the set up to do this is fair and equitable so that everybody who benefits from the services provided by the new TTRB pays the agreed levy. We will make sure that Torbay's tourism and retail businesses are fully involved in the development and running of the new TTRB and that the new TTRB is fully accountable and can operate independently.
QWhat major challenges are you facing?
A The biggest challenge is securing the majority vote needed to make the new TTRB happen and to convince all the potential levy payers that they will get a return for their money. The new TTRB could have over 3,000 businesses included so meeting and talking to as many of these businesses as we can during the consultation phase will be a major task.
Fortunately in Torbay there is a great number of organisations and individuals who are active and forward thinking and are working with us as partners, to ensure that a sustainable future for both the tourism and retail sectors is in place. I am hugely encouraged by the range of organisations that have shown their support so far to our initial proposals, including Torbay Council, English Riviera Tourism Company (ERTC), Torbay Town Centres Company and the Torbay Business Forum. Working together I am confident that we will get a yes vote at the TTRB ballot planned for 2015.
QWhat is your background?
A I was born and educated in Yorkshire before completing my first degree at Surrey University. I then did an MBA at Nottingham in the early 90s and completed a thesis on public, private partnerships, when this really wasn't fashionable at alI. I then got a post setting up such an organization, the Cambridge City Centre Management Company and then went on to work in Bedford in 2000.
While there, Bedford was selected as one of the 20 locations in the country to be part of the National BIDs Pilot (2003-05) which introduced the concept to the UK and helped write the UK legislation. After Bedford became one of the first BIDs in the UK in 2005, I set up The Mosaic Partnership which has now worked with over 100 locations in the UK, Europe, Asia and the USA. I am also a Director of a long established family property development company which has significant commercial holdings, including in hotels, in the UK and abroad.
QWho has been your most significant mentor?
A There would be a number of people I would say I have drawn on and I continue to meet people that inspire me. When I worked in Cambridge, I did so with a woman called Lydia Bowman who frightened the life out of me! But Lydia taught me much about having focus and turning knowledge and drive into real action.
The second person is a Peter Smith who has had a 50 year career in property holding and management, owning major shopping centres and commercial property in the UK and central London. He has a one of the sharpest, most successful business brains I know but retains an easy charm and enthusiasm to this day for both work and people.
On a more personal note, my dad who came here from India in the early 1960s and built a hugely successful business through sheer hard work and from nothing. As I get older it is fascinating to see and learn how younger people see place in light of all the new technology and improvements and how we are going to adapt to keep pace with this.
QHow would you describe your management style?
A The people I have talked about as mentors all have some things in common. They are focused and incredibly knowledgeable about what they do, but have an easy and collaborative style and I hope I am like that. I am told by clients and people I work with that I have the ability to bring things and people together. I am not really hierarchical in nature or professionally and believe that if you are good at what you do and fair, your staff and clients will pick up on it and respect you even if they don't always like what you do.
QHow do you keep enthused and keep things fresh?
A I have a real passion both around places, seeing how they survive and thrive, and people, how they come together to ensure these things happen, so it is not that difficult. People ask me exactly what I do many times and it is not always the easiest profession to describe in a few words. I have done everything from being up at the crack of dawn counting bins for a contract to having met Nelson Mandela in this line of work. Places are so different and exciting in what they offer and do and there are so many people in this field, young and old always doing good and innovative things. You would have to be a real closed book not to be continually fascinated, inspired and enthused. A lot of times it doesn't even feel like work!
QWhat awards have you (or the company) won?
A I won the Town Centre Manager of the Year Award when I was working and Bedford Town Centre Company won numerous partnership and industry awards while I was there. The Mosaic Partnership hasn't put in for any awards since we started. However in nearly a decade, we have never actively marketed to get work. All our work has come through word of mouth or reputation, both here and abroad. Also in the 65 locations we have developed BIDs we have always had a YES vote. I like to think that this is some kind of accolade.
Q What other organisations are you involved with?
A I have been a board director of the Association of Town & City Management and still sit on their Advisory Council and a member of the International Downtown Association. I am also a Fellow of The Institute of Place Management at Manchester University. I have also worked with political parties of all colours to advise on policy development in relation to places such as town centres.