Entrepreneurial spirit: matching mission with vision

As head of a multi-subsidiary specialist in operational risk, compliance and safety solutions, Rosalind Benjamin of the Helix International Group has never lacked the self-belief to confound expectations.

In the mid-1980s, at the age of 17, Rosalind Benjamin had a burning ambition: to make a million before her 25th birthday. Back then, her entrepreneurial spirit was an oddity. Now, as CEO of Helix International Group, she has far surpassed that milestone, founded multiple companies, and is looking to expand the group’s provision of operational risk, compliance and safety solutions to major organisations.

“If you were female and under 30 with no degree, you were stereotyped as a secretary,” she recalls. “There was no interest in women leading a business, let alone a young woman. There wasn’t a start-up culture, and no one wanted people with big, bold ideas.”

Her first break was a sales role in a distribution company. Six months later, she was ready to start out on her own. With no access to finance, she built a business from the ground up. “It was painful. I used to buy one or two products and then sell them, and then try to get a line of credit. There were no holidays, I was working 80-, 90-, 100-hour weeks. But I reached a net worth of one million and had a very successful business.”

A serial entrepreneur is born

Since her first start-up, Benjamin has been unable to resist a potential business idea. “I was excited by where an idea could go. I was looking at a Filofax one day. Filofax had amazing statistics, all these business professionals using them in those days, and I thought, there must be an opportunity. I started a small company to sell advertising on the page dividers, with advertisers paying £12,000 to £20,000 – a lot of money in those days.”

She founded seven companies, including a headhunting agency and client-prospecting business, Firetecnics Systems, a fire safety firm, and health and safety specialist Ark Workplace Risk. The latter two then became her main focus. “I realised I wanted to actually build a business. I didn’t just want to come up with ideas anymore.”

Having done just that, she took a detour into film production, feeding her creative side while leaving a management team to handle the businesses. “When delegating the running of a small business, you go for individuals who will give you known outcomes. But it got frustrating for me because they weren’t very ambitious.”

Despite a turnover of £5m, the group was going through challenging times, and Benjamin returned to the helm. “Within a year, I had turned it around and made a substantial profit. I built a strong team, able to function in a wider-scale operation.”

Filofax had amazing statistics, all these professionals using them in those days, and I thought, there must be an opportunity. I started a company to sell advertising on the page dividers, with advertisers paying £12,000 to £20,000

Rosalind Benjamin, CEO, Helix International Group

Health and safety rises up the agenda

Benjamin’s rekindled drive has been matched by a growth in demand for operational risk, compliance and safety support. The unprecedented disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the frailties in many business models and accelerated the uptake of new technologies. “Companies now want to do more, faster, with less. They don’t want a business-as-usual capability. They want a supplier that can not only deal with the contentious, the complex, the critical, but can bring new innovation to market. That’s something we’ve become known for in our field.”

In the UK, the post-Grenfell landscape has also put health and safety under the spotlight, and Helix International Group subsidiaries are providing solutions. “A home should be safe no matter who lives there. It’s about providing a level of safety and treating individuals in a socially acceptable way. Residents, the supply chain, the customer chain all have a voice now. Clients want to be future-proofed. The scrutiny is great for us, because we’re the gold standard, and that’s what clients expect.”

With technology adoption now a common strategy for a company’s survival and growth, Helix International Group’s proprietary QUOODA software platform is taking off. “It offers 360-degree situational awareness. It’s about clients knowing where they are in terms of risk or compliance and having easy ways to improve. For example, people are working more flexibly, so we’ve launched a mobile capability where clients can have their workforce capturing data on the move.

“We’ve created a technology ecosystem that can plug and play with our clients’ ecosystems to give them situational awareness in near or real time. We’ve developed links with other software offerings that our clients use, and that’s made our product far more competitive in the marketplace."

Core values and shared purpose

After three decades in business, Benjamin is still energised by new ideas, and retains her entrepreneurial spark. “It’s about taking the excitement of an idea, a vision, and aligning your team to that mission.” One of the major challenges she’s faced has been creating the leadership teams to realise her visions. “You need to hire slow and fire fast. I’ve been guilty of breaking that rule, but that’s what you have to do to build talented teams.

“Alignment is very important, making sure you have a consistent thread through the organisation of people sharing your core values. For me, it’s not just about my success: it’s about seeing other people feeling they belong to something with real purpose, and going home at night proud of the company, their colleagues and, importantly, proud of themselves.”

Beyond building the right team, how does Rosalind measure business success? “Twenty years ago, I would have said how much profit you’re making and your enterprise valuation. Now, I’d say it’s the footprint you leave behind you – on employees, the supply chain, customers and the environment. How much have you contributed to making people’s lives better?”

The footprint Helix International Group leaves behind will be drawn over the next two years, with the fruition of a 36-month plan. “The vision is a group of companies providing major and global clients with a capability that they haven’t previously had in compliance, whether through technology, knowhow, or competence. We’ve also set ourselves a very ambitious target of a high market valuation.”

And when she reaches that hundred-fold target of her original goal, the plan is to step back into a chairperson role, overseeing the Helix subsidiaries. “First of all, I want to take a holiday for three months with no responsibilities!” Then she plans to focus on new projects, including property and business investing. “And I’m deeply passionate about helping children and vulnerable single parents who find themselves in hopeless situations. I want to be able to use my innovative brain to come up with a way to help make their lives better.”

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