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It can be easy for growing businesses to become like their competitors in terms of attitude and goals, and lose that spirit that spurred their growth, says Jon Feingold, at Gazprom Energy. He asks, how do you retain entrepreneurial spirit?

Growing your business through mergers and acquisitions might be the ultimate goal for a small business owner. And according to recent stats, reaching this stage is more likely now than ever. The ONS recorded ‘notable increases’ in UK M&A in 2016, with the figure rising from 145 deals the year before to 227. This saw a value of M&A reaching a record high of £187 billion.

As a business merges or gets acquired, the number of third parties involved in key decision making can increase, and the initial values of your business can fade over time. Acquisition based growth and integrity don’t always go hand in hand, but by addressing different areas of the business you can hold onto your original spirit.

Whether you’re a start-up or a well-established corporate, establishing your ethos and values can set you apart from competitors. As a co-founder of Pennine Natural Gas, I knew it was important to have an ethos that shaped our business approach. ‘Think like a customer,’ or ‘TLC,’ is the view that we don’t make any business decisions without applying the thought – what would the customer want? What are their challenges? How can we help overcome them? When we were acquired by the Gazprom group and became Gazprom Energy, we were keen to keep hold of our ethos. It gave us a way of standing out amongst competitors.

It can be easy for growing businesses to become like their competitors in terms of attitude and goals, and lose that spirit that spurred their growth. Take LinkedIn for instance, which despite having grown to over 9,000 members of staff, encourages employees to drive changes in the organisation regardless of their seniority. No matter how big and powerful the leadership team becomes, all employees are enabled to ‘act like an owner.’

Marc de Grandpre, general manager of the New York Red Bulls, says that he keeps entrepreneurial spirit alive by nurturing voices across the business regardless of employee ranking. That way, you capitalise on the growing number of staff and encourage people from all walks of life to bring innovative ideas to the table. Giving employees this confidence and empowerment is key to getting them to think like those running the business. It can ensure that they understand the company’s vision and deliver it with their own passion. Recruiting on the basis of this vision can help to ensure your spirit isn’t lost among the growing number of employees.

As your business ploughs ahead with its growth strategy, mirroring how you ran a smaller business can help you retain your original values. You can do this by running elements of your business as microbusinesses, and getting different functions to collaborate on projects. It’s important to encourage communication between departments so they can work together more effectively, and to ensure that important messages and news don’t get lost. Look at how you can replicate what you did as a smaller business.

It can be tricky defining your values and communicating them to employees, but this is how they will drive your entrepreneurial spirit. But equally, don’t be afraid to see how you can reinvent. “…because we’ve always done it this way” is a dangerous ethos and you can’t ignore the inevitable changes that growth and acquisitions spur. Perhaps a new company you’re working with introduces you to new ways of doing business that aligns with your values. Embrace this and you could find that it strengthens your approach.

A history of growth means you’ve developed a successful approach to doing business, and even if you haven’t explicitly defined your values, chances are they have helped you grow. Becoming a bigger player in the market doesn’t have to mean losing this approach and copying the way that competitors do business. There’s potential for you to keep hold of these values and apply it on a greater scale.

Jon Feingold is chief commercial officer at Gazprom Energy. Feingold co-founded Pennine Natural Gas, a business energy supplier, before it was acquired by the Gazprom group in 2006, becoming Gazprom Energy.